Making It Work: Caregivers and Breastfed Babies

Grandmother holding babyAs you return to work after the arrival of your baby, there are many concerns you may have about your baby’s care. That list probably includes questions about feeding and responding appropriately to all of your baby’s needs. You may wonder if the caregiver will be able to comfort your baby as well as you are able to comfort them. After all, you’ve spent many weeks or even months bonding with your little one and learning what works best when they are tired, hungry, or just out of sorts.

Kayla T., mother to a three-month-old, is preparing to return to work. Her mother will be caring for her daughter when Kayla is gone. While Kayla is relieved that her daughter will be with a family member who already knows her daughter and is familiar with her parenting priorities, Kayla is still concerned that her mother won’t be able to respond as effectively to her daughter’s needs.

Kayla asks: “I’m going back to work in a few weeks and am terrified that my mother won’t be able to comfort my three-month-old while I’m away. I’m most concerned about my mother not being able to get my daughter to sleep since she’s used to nursing to sleep. Will she just cry the whole time I’m gone?”

When these questions were posed on social media, not only did parents share how their children adjusted to the transition, but caregivers also offered reassurance that they were able to successfully comfort and meet the needs of the children, while the parents were at work.

We’ve shared highlights of the replies below, and you can read the entire conversation at:

When Brittany P. was preparing to return to work, she found that doing “trial runs” helped the transition go smoothly:

“This was a big concern for me, too, so we did a couple of trial runs before I had to go back to work. My grandma kept the baby for a few hours a couple of times. It really helped ease my anxiety and made the transition easier for everyone. They were able to work out some kinks during a time where I was available to go get her if I needed to. Now we’re four weeks in to me being back at work and everything is going well! She takes a bottle while I’m at work and still takes the breast just fine in the evenings/weekends. My grandma has learned her cues when she’s gassy/hungry/ tired and she sings her to sleep just like she did with me when I was a baby.”

Chris D. has cared for multiple grandchildren over the years and shared what has worked well for her family:

“I’ve looked after two nursing grandbabies. (My daughter) nursed just before leaving. The three of us always made time for nursing snuggles and chatting just before leaving. I did the morning routine; he took the bottle, and went to sleep for two hours. My daughter nursed him as soon as she came home. So now the next baby was not interested in the bottle. He maybe ate an ounce. He made up for at night. Don’t worry. He’s looked after by the best love of a gramma. They really do know you’re part of their mum.”

Chris wasn’t the only grandparent to chime in with her experience of caring for her grandchildren. Mbuya Mavhu echoed Chris’s sentiment that babies do sense the connection between grandparent and parent and offered suggestions for calming both infant and parent:

“My daughter had to leave her exclusively breastfed baby with me at 11 weeks.

I wore my grandson in a wrap for most of the day for the first few days and talked to him a lot just to bond him to me more. He was upset and didn’t eat much the first day, but after that he was fine. I found that dripping a little milk on his lips before giving him the bottle helped him accept it. I also sent lots of pictures and videos to my daughter to help keep her calm and inspire milk to come when she was pumping.”

Linda B., who has cared for three of her grandchildren and is currently caring for the youngest, added:

“As I type, I’m rocking my almost five-month-old granddaughter as she sleeps. I’ve watched her since she was eight weeks old, as I did with her two older brothers, now seven and five. My daughter has nursed all three quite successfully while working full time. Trust that if there are bumps along the way you and your mom will figure it out.”

Some who responded have worked as nannies. They offered simple tips from their years of experience, ranging from keeping baby close to making sure they (the caregiver) stayed calm.

Michelle C. wrote, “As a nanny for seven years, I can say the best thing is to wear baby as much as possible.”

Emily M. added, “I have been a nanny for several babies from 12 weeks on. They are happy to be cuddled, rocked with a full belly. As long as the caregiver has a calming disposition, they get their own groove together that works!”

Some parents suggested keeping familiar items close to baby as a way to soothe them during their absence.

Clarissa C. shared her experience with her children: “I nursed both of my babies with a ‘lovey’ close to them and my mom would give them a bottle with the ‘lovey’ close. They did great. They still have their ‘loveys’, sleep with them, carry them around. It remains their comfort even after we stopped nursing.”

Candice C. added, “Take a shirt that you’ve slept in for a couple nights and haven’t washed. It will smell like you and will help.”

Ryane G. seconded the shirt suggestion and offered several additional ideas:

“Have your mom come over for a couple days in a row so she can see what works for you and baby and so she can care for baby while you’re there to help. The worn t-shirt works, a bath, white noise, going outside or on a walk, car rides, baby wearing, and singing.”

If nursing to sleep isn’t an option, Kristi L. shared what worked for her babies:

“My mom would turn them in a nursing-like position for feeds. Her shirt was always stained, but the babies were happy.” – Kristi L.

Elizabeth C. mentioned that sippy cups worked well when a friend’s baby refused to take a bottle and offered encouragement to Kayla:

“Of course it is hard to leave your baby! I sent my daughter pictures regularly when she first went back to work, so that she could see that baby was fine. She said that it helped. Be kind to yourself during this transition.”

For more information about returning to work and choosing a child care provider, take a look at the following resources from the LLL USA and LLLI websites.


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