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Feeding baby when mum isn’t there

When you’re looking after baby, you may feel a little unsure.

Our guide can help you!

grandpa and baby

Understanding breastmilk and breastfed babies  

Breastmilk is the normal food for babies. It looks different to cows’ milk or formula. Unlike milks that have been processed, which always look the same, breastmilk will form layers after standing. This is normal. Gently swirl the breastmilk to mix it again.  

Breastfed babies may take different amounts of expressed breastmilk at each feed. They often have smaller feeds than babies who are fed other drinks. Be guided by the baby’s mother and the baby as to how much to feed at one time.  

For health reasons, the expressed milk that the mum provides should only be used for her baby. Milk from different mothers should not be mixed together.  

How you can help mum  

You can be a big help to the baby’s mum if you are positive about her leaving breastmilk for her baby. Some mums find it easy to express milk. For others it takes quite a lot of effort, but because it is very important, they want to continue. Your support can make a big difference, especially if she is coming to your home or centre to feed her baby. The baby will settle more quickly, too. 

There are times when a baby may go through a fussy period and for a few days may seem to need more milk. If you find this is happening, you can let the mum know and she can provide more expressed milk. The fussy period should stop in a few days. If the mum knows you support her efforts to give breastmilk to her baby, you will be taking very positive steps to help her continue breastfeeding. 

Preparing feeds

It's important to prepare expressed breastmilk feeds carefully.

Getting baby to feed

Most babies adjust more quickly if they know their caregiver well, so it can help to have met the baby a few times, including a feed time, before they are left with you. If the caregiver is the only person to give the baby a bottle, the baby will get used to this and will accept it more easily. 

Some babies may take time to get used to feeding from a bottle. A teat feels and tastes very different to their mother’s skin. 

If the baby refuses to drink from a bottle: 

  • Try feeding the milk in a small cup or from a spoon. 

  • Take the teat off and use the bottle as a cup. Hold the baby in a sitting position and give small sips at first.  

  • Older babies may have success with a straw or sipper cup. 

  • Gentle rocking or walking around may help settle baby so they will feed.   

If the baby is still refusing, ask the mother to leave you some clothing that smells of her. If the baby cuddles into this while feeding, it may help them to accept the milk from the bottle. 

Pacing bottle feeds

Breastfed babies are used to being able to control the flow of milk as they feed. They may find it quite stressful feeding from a teat with a fast flow. It may look like the baby is very hungry and gulping the milk down.

However, they might just be swallowing fast so they don't choke. One way to avoid this is to pace the feeds

Settling the baby

Many breastfed babies are used to being cuddled or rocked to sleep.  

  • Fast, gentle back patting combined with slow side-to-side movement may soothe baby.  

  • Using a front-carry baby sling may help you settle baby. The baby should be held high in this type of sling, close enough that you could easily kiss the baby’s head. 

grandfather holds sleepy baby

When mum is returning soon

If the baby becomes unsettled, try holding and talking to them softly. A small amount of expressed milk given from a clean bottle, small cup or with a spoon may also help keep baby calm until mum arrives.

When she returns, she may want to feed her baby as soon as possible — for her own comfort and to help her milk supply. 

What to do if you're running out of milk

Feed the baby the last of the expressed milk. If they need more to drink before their mother returns you should always contact her before giving any other liquids to her baby, including water. She may be able to return sooner or send extra milk.  

If the baby is eating other foods, you may be able to give something that the baby has had before. However, please check this with the mother first. 

If you need further help  

Contact the mother if you need urgent information about breastmilk feeds for the baby you are looking after. Call the Breastfeeding Helpline if you have questions about storing, preparing or feed a baby expressed breastmilk. 

To give baby's carer

The Carer's guide to the breastfed baby is a downloadable leaflet with tips for storing, preparing and feeding expressed breastmilk, great for giving to anyone caring for your baby. 


© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2022