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Making It Work

Why is my baby drinking less at day care?

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 6, November-December 2007, pp. 264-265

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

My eight-and-a-half-month-old used to drink nine ounces of my expressed milk at day care. Recently, she has cut way back. Yesterday she drank just three ounces, and today it was about the same. A week ago, we were on vacation so she didn’t get anything from a bottle for seven days. What could be going on?

Mother's Response

It's great that you chose a caregiver who communicates so clearly with you about your baby's day. It's important to be aware of fluid intake and watching out for dehydration.

The best thing is to look at your baby's intake and output over the whole day. Does she nurse a lot in the morning, after work, or overnight? Are her first diapers at the caregiver's wet? Are her bowel movements regular? Is she active, healthy, and in a good mood? These are all signs that she is probably taking what she needs. Babies become more efficient at nursing as they get older, so she may be getting all the nourishment she needs without having to nurse for a long time.

I have been providing childcare in my home for many years, and I find that the breastfed babies and toddlers (including my own) generally consume fewer fluids during the day than non-breastfed ones. You can make sure that your caregiver offers her fluids at frequent intervals, especially in hot weather, and lets your baby decide how much to drink. Also, sometimes at this age, babies are very easily distracted. Feeding the baby close to nap time in a darkened room may encourage her to drink more.

Another thing to keep in mind is that babies, like adults, have variable appetites. Illness, a change in routine, or working on a new developmental milestone might make babies more or less interested in eating or drinking that day. Looking at eating patterns over the course of several days, rather than a single day or feeding, can be a useful exercise now and as your baby grows.

Julie Larose
Prescott ON Canada

Mother's Response

It could be that your daughter is just getting more milk from you in one sitting than she was before, causing less need for a bottle at day care. My son went through the same thing when he was about six months old.

Even though I am no longer nursing, my son continues to drink more in the evening and very little during the day at day care. I attribute it to the fact that he still wants his one-on-one mommy time.

If your daughter has started solid food, she may have less of a need for fluids during the day. As long as she seems content and is growing, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Kristi Altenburg

Mother's Response

From the time my daughter was four months old to seven months old (when she stopped going to day care), she would breastfeed at 5 am and wouldn't drink a bottle all day while she was at day care until just before I got there at 2:30 pm.

It wasn't that she reversed her days and nights when she started day care. She was picky about eating from the day she was born. She nursed only when she chose to. If she wasn't completely hungry, then she didn't want to eat at all. She was also easily distractible and I'm sure the caregiver didn't take the time to sit in a quiet spot with her so she wouldn't get distracted from the bottle by other activity.

Early on I worried about this. As long as she continued to grow and seemed happy, I decided to let it go.

Tualatin OR USA

Mother's Response

My youngest daughter is almost 10 months old. She tends to scale back on the amount of milk she takes right before and while she's teething. Are there any little rogue teeth in your daughter's mouth trying to find their way out?

I have found solace in the sound advice that babies will eat when they are hungry and stop when they are done. If it makes you feel more comfortable, take her to her pediatrician just to rule out an illness or ear infection, which can curb an appetite. In my experience, this is just one of many ebbs and flows that babies' appetites (and much else) will go through.

Kate Munoz
Omaha NE USA

Mother's Response

A number of things could be interfering with how much milk your baby drinks at day care -- other foods taking up space in her tummy or the end of a growth spurt. Perhaps she is eating more than you realize in the evening and during the night. She may be teething, sleeping more than usual at the day care, or drinking water. If the weather is warm, she may be thirsty and drinking, while the heat is making her less hungry. The vacation may also have changed her eating schedule, and she may not have "gone back" to regular days yet.

I knew a nurse who went back to work when her daughter was nine months old. Since her daughter was eating other foods, the mother decided to see what would happen if she just didn't pump at all. (She's a very busy nurse who frequently takes her "breaks" by leaving early.) Very quickly, the mother found that her body adapted and her baby just nursed a lot whenever mom was around.

Maybe your baby is sleeping more and eating less while you are at work, and eating more while you are home.

Linda Clement
Victoria BC Canada

Mother's Response

My nine-month-old did the same thing. He had an ear infection and was up multiple times during the night. He went from sleeping 11 hours in two long stretches to waking two to four times per night. About the same time, he also began refusing the bottle at day care. Because he was only getting four to eight ounces of milk at day care and wasn't all that into solids yet, I didn't worry too much about the night-waking issue since he seemed to need the extra nursing. Since I was away from him all day, I didn't mind nursing him at night again. He was basically taking no bottle or only one bottle at day care each day and nursing several times each evening and at night. He had reversed his days and nights.

The bonus for me was that I was able to stop pumping! I continued for a couple of months, but at that point, it was apparent that the pattern was going to stick, so I stopped pumping at work and just nursed him all night. His night nursing continued until he was 25 months old and self-weaned.

Mary Beth
Ann Arbor MI USA

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