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Breastfeeding: mums returning to work

0-18 months

Lots of mums returning to work keep breastfeeding. It has benefits for you, your baby and your employer. Planning ahead and talking with your employer about your needs can help make it part of your routine.

Mums returning to work: breastfeeding options

There are many ways to keep breastfeeding for mums returning to work. What works for you will depend on your workplace and child care arrangements.

You might be able to keep breastfeeding your baby while you’re at work, or you might consider doing a mix of:

  • breastfeeding – for example, before and after work and at night
  • bottle-feeding – for example, during the day when your baby is in care.

You could also express milk at work so that you can keep up your milk supply, and leave this milk for your baby while you’re working.

Or you might be lucky enough to have your baby nearby you at work so you can have her brought to you for breastfeeding as needed.

Breastfeeding and returning to work: talking with your employer

If you want to keep breastfeeding when you return to work, the Australian Breastfeeding Association recommends discussing your breastfeeding needs with your employer well before you go back to work.

You might talk with your employer about the issue before you go on parental leave. Or if you visit your workplace to introduce your baby to your workmates, this could be a good chance to make time to chat to your manager. 

If you haven’t kept in touch with your employer during your parental leave, try to make a time to discuss your needs about two months before you go back. You can confirm your breastfeeding or expressing needs just before returning.

For mums returning to work, it’s a good idea to check your employer’s attitudes and knowledge of breastfeeding policies. If you need to, you can discuss it with the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Officer or Human Resources Department at your workplace.

Expressing breastmilk at work: practical issues

Here are some practical things to think about if you want to express milk at work.

What you need to express
If you’re expressing at work, an electric breast pump can make expressing milk quicker.

There are also certain things you need in your workplace:

  • a private area (not the toilet) with a comfortable chair
  • a refrigerator or freezer for storing expressed breastmilk
  • somewhere to store an electric or manual breast pump
  • a power point close to a low table, next to the chair (if you’re using an electric breast pump)
  • a wash basin to wash hands and rinse out pump parts
  • enough time to express milk during your lunch break and any other breaks if needed.

When to express
You might like to express your breastmilk at work at similar times to when your baby usually feeds.

When you’re getting started, it can be helpful to have flexible work hours and breaks if you can. Once you’re used to expressing at work during breaks and lunch time, things should get easier to manage.

The number of times you need to express at work will depend on the age of your baby. For example, most babies aged 1-6 months don’t need extra expressed breastmilk as they grow. And as solids begin to replace breastmilk, your child will need less expressed breastmilk.

How to transport expressed breastmilk
To safely transport your breastmilk home, breastmilk can travel:

  • in an insulated container like an Esky or cooler bag with a freezer brick
  • either frozen or fresh – if the milk has thawed, use it within four hours and don’t refreeze it.

Place the labelled breastmilk in the refrigerator as soon as you arrive or in the freezer if it’s still frozen.

Video

Common breastfeeding questions: enough milk, too much milk, expressing

4:58

This video answers common questions about breastfeeding. A lactation consultant says most mums can make plenty of milk for their baby. She talks about typical weight gain, and how to know whether your baby is getting enough milk. She talks about changes in the amount of milk you produce in the weeks after birth and whether you need to express milk. 

Expressing and storing breastmilk might seem difficult at first, but given some time to get used to it, most working mums say they improve very quickly. If you’re finding expressing difficult, you might want to use a photo of your baby or a piece of clothing he’s worn (so it carries his smell) to help your let-down reflex.

Other feeding options for mums returning to work

Breastfeeding or expressing at work might not be practical for you.

Another option is to breastfeed your baby whenever you’re together – for example, before and after work and at night – and feed your baby infant formula, or solids if she’s old enough, while you’re at work.

Continuing to breastfeed outside work hours maintains the bond between you and your baby, and it can be very rewarding for both of you when you’re together at the end of the working day. If you do this, your baby will still be getting the many benefits of breastmilk.

Consider all your options – try to be creative, persistent and positive.

Breastfeeding and employers

Australian employers are improving their attitudes to breastfeeding and are getting better at supporting mums returning to work who want to keep breastfeeding.

But some employers might not know how to start a conversation about breastfeeding at work. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to talk to your employer about breastfeeding. After all, breastfeeding and expressing at work isn’t just good for you and your baby – it’s good for your employer too.

Benefits of breastfeeding for employers 
When employers support their workers to breastfeed, the benefits include increased staff retention, reduced costs, improved staff satisfaction and morale, and reduced sick leave and absenteeism.

Breastfeeding and your rights 
For some mums, it’s important to know that you have the law on your side.

According to the Federal Sex Discrimination Act, it’s illegal to discriminate against a woman on the basis that she is breastfeeding. Employers must make reasonable attempts to accommodate you if you want to breastfeed or express milk while at work.

Some workplaces are now accredited by the Australian Breastfeeding Association as Breastfeeding Friendly Workplaces. These workplaces make it easier for breastfeeding mums returning to work. For more information about which workplaces are already accredited and how you can go about getting your own workplace accredited, see Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace.

Carers and breastfeeding

Your baby will have some adjusting to do when you start to express or breastfeed at work.

If a carer will be looking after your baby when you return to work, try to organise for the carer to give your baby some expressed milk via a cup or bottle before you go back to work. This can help your baby get familiar with the carer and the change in feeding routine.

Sometimes babies will refuse a bottle from their mums or will refuse if they know their mums are nearby. If this happens, your carer might introduce the bottle or cup to your baby. Leaving the carer with a piece of your clothing can also help to settle your baby if he gets upset because you aren’t there.

Plan ahead and start expressing a few weeks before returning to work so you can have some expressed milk in reserve.

Getting help

If you’re having any difficulty with breastfeeding and returning to work, help is available.

Useful contacts are your child and family health nurse, GP or a lactation consultant. An Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) counsellor can also help – phone the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268.

You’re bound to get lots of different advice – take the advice of the person or organisation you trust most, and stick with it.

Video

Breastfeeding: getting support

6:00

In this video we hear from a counsellor and lactation consultant who says that if you’re having problems with breastfeeding, get support early. Mums talk about having mastitis, nipple pain and attachment issues – and about getting help. One mum says she was about to give up on breastfeeding but got help from a lactation consultant. This meant she could look at her baby breastfeeding and smile for the first time.

If you’re having other issues with breastfeeding, you could check out our articles on attachment techniques, mastitis and blocked milk ducts, sore nipples and nipple infections, how to increase milk supply and how to manage oversupply and engorgement.

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Last updated or reviewed
12-09-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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