There are many ways you can keep breastfeeding your baby once you return 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) and bottle-feeding (for example, during the day when your baby’s in care). You might also need to express milk at work so that you can maintain your milk supply and leave milk for your baby while you’re working. Alternatively, you might be lucky enough to be able to have your baby nearby and be able to continue to breastfeed her as needed.
A step-by-step guide
First step: discuss it with your employer
If you want to continue 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. If you visit your workplace to introduce your baby to your old workmates, this could be a good chance to make time to chat to your manager. You might even want to speak to your employer about the issue before you go on parental leave.
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.
Note that the number of times you’ll need to express at work will depend on the age of your baby and your hours of work. This means you’ll have a better idea of the amount of time you’ll need just before going back to work.
Next steps: practical issues
The next step is to make sure you can access the things you’ll need to breastfeed or express milk at work:
- a private area (not the toilet) with a comfortable chair
- a refrigerator 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.
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.
Some useful extra things to know
You might like to express your breastmilk at work at similar times to when your baby usually feeds.
Once you’re used to expressing or breastfeeding at work during breaks and lunchtime, things should get easier to manage. To help you to get into the swing of it, it can be helpful to have flexible work hours and breaks if you can. You might even be able to have your baby brought to you at work.
Consider hiring or purchasing an electric breast pump to make expressing milk quicker.
Expressing might seem difficult at first, but given some time to get used to it, most working mothers say they improve very quickly. If you’re finding expressing difficult, you might want to bring a photo of your baby or a piece of clothing he’s worn (so it carries his smell) to work to help your let-down reflex. You can also read more about expressing and storing breastmilk
Combining work and breastfeeding
Australian employers are improving their attitudes to breastfeeding and are getting better at supporting mums to keep breastfeeding when they return to work. But some employers might not have systems in place to start the conversation about breastfeeding at work. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to talk to your employer about this issue. After all, breastfeeding and expressing at work isn’t just good for you and your baby – it’s good for your employer too.
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.
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’s breastfeeding. Employers must make reasonable attempts to accommodate you if you want to breastfeed or express milk while at work.
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 reunited at the end of the working day. By doing this, your baby will still be receiving the many benefits of breastmilk.
Consider all your options – try to be creative, persistent and positive.
Some workplaces are now accredited by the Australian Breastfeeding
Association as ‘Breastfeeding Friendly Workplaces’. These workplaces
make it easier for breastfeeding mothers to return 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 mum or if they know mum’s 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 she 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.
If you’re having any difficulty with breastfeeding, help is available. Useful contacts are your family and child 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.