When to introduce a bottle:
Pumping your milk will enable you to have a small back-up supply in your freezer so that you are not always tied to your baby at the hip. If you do choose to go this route you should introduce the bottle to your baby after your nursing is fully established (to avoid nipple confusion) but while your baby is still able to learn a different way of sucking, ideally this is around 4 weeks old. After that you’ll want to give your baby a bottle every few days so she doesn’t forget how to drink from it. When I did this it was special because I let my older daughters, or my husband (in the case of our first baby) give the bottle. They all loved this opportunity to nurture and care for the baby.
When to pump my milk:
If you are choosing to bottle feed only on an occasional basis, and not for the purpose of going back to work, I suggest to pump milk once a day at a regular time, maybe after the baby goes to sleep and before you go to sleep at night. Or maybe after your baby finishes one side, you can pump the other side. But this will only work if your baby is sure to have enough the next time she nurses. Worse case scenario, you can always feed her the expressed milk if she’s still hungry. If you incorporate a regular expressing time into your schedule then your body will adjust appropriately and assume your baby needs that much milk. Once my baby started having a bit of a stretch of sleep in the beginning of the night, I found that to be the best pumping time for me, because he was sure to have enough milk when he woke up after his longer stretch of sleep.
This time will pass quickly:
With my son I decided to bring him to day-care two mornings a week when he was only four months old, so I could work on finishing my degree. The bottle was a huge help for those mornings. After he started eating food at six months the bottle was almost never needed anymore, since he was not fully depending on my milk. So, keep in mind that this time, as limiting and overwhelming as it can often feel, will pass by rather quickly.
In case you have a surplus of milk:
With my second and third babies I expressed extra breast-milk. I found it relatively easy to fit into my schedule. I pumped anywhere from once to four times a day, depending on how busy I was, weather my baby was going through a growth spurt, how s/he was sleeping at night, how overwhelmed I was feeling, etc. With both babies I had a surplus of milk and ended up donating frozen bags of my breast-milk to the milk-bank at the local hospital. It is usually used for premature babies who can’t digest formula. I do not recommend this to most mothers, as it does add a whole other pressure to your nursing and pumping needs. But if you feel like it is something you can handle it is a wonderful and highly needed service.
If you are going back to work:
If you are pumping to go back to work then follow my advice above for introducing the bottle early enough, most likely before you will actually return to work. It is a good idea to build up a small supply of milk before you return to work, at least enough for your first day back at word. Remember to label each milk bag/container with the amount of milk and the date. Once back at work you’ll have to pump at regular intervals, to help your body know that your baby still needs your milk just as much as before. You may even want to pump more frequently, as it is sometimes more difficult to get all the milk out as efficiently as our babies can. If this is in your future, keep your eye out for my upcoming article on tips for pumping milk for working mothers.