If baby is to be bottle fed in your absence, introduce the bottle prior to returning to work. It is best to breastfeed a baby exclusively for the first three to four weeks, however. This allows the mother's body to establish milk production prior to separation from the baby, and it helps to avoid "nipple confusion" between the breast and the artificial nipple. Introducing the bottle for substitute or supplementary feedings prior to four weeks has also been found to contribute to a decrease in milk production.
How you introduce the bottle in preparation for returning to work may depend on the length of your maternity leave. If you must return to work within four to eight weeks of giving birth, start by adding a bottle of your expressed milk about one or two weeks beforehand. Choose a feeding when you may normally be away from your baby and only provide a bottle to him or her during that time. This may help the baby adapt more easily to the change, as it will have become a part of his or her regular routine. However, you may want to limit the amount in the bottle, so the baby will be ready to breastfeed within two to three hours.
For a longer maternity leave, you may want to introduce a bottle with your milk by eight to 10 weeks, but there is no need to offer it on a daily basis or at a time when you will be away at work. That can wait until one or two weeks before your return to work.
Some babies will not take a bottle from their mother. It may be necessary to have the baby's father, or someone else, give him or her the bottle. This will also help the baby adjust to someone other than the mother providing the feedings. Also, not all bottle nipples are alike. Some tend to be more compatible with breastfeeding than others, and some babies prefer one type over another. Talk with your baby's doctor or a lactation consultant about recommendations.
If you do not have to return to work until the second part of your baby's first year, you probably can avoid introducing a bottle altogether. Older babies often do well when drinking directly from a cup or a sipper-type cup.