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

Or you might consider doing a mix of:

  • breastfeeding before and after work and at night
  • bottle-feeding with expressed breastmilk or infant formula during the day when your baby is in care.

If your baby has expressed breastmilk while you’re at work, you might be able to express at work so that you can keep up your milk supply, and leave this milk for your baby while you’re working.

It’s worth considering all your breastfeeding options when you return to work. Continuing to breastfeed maintains the bond between you and your baby, and it can be very rewarding for both of you when you’re together. And your baby will keep getting the many benefits of breastmilk for as long as you keep breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding and returning to work: talking with your employer

If you want to keep breastfeeding when you return to work, discuss 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.

You can confirm your breastfeeding or expressing needs with your employer just before returning.

For mums returning to work, it’s a good idea to check your employer’s attitudes to 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 help 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, 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.

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.

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.

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 meet your needs if you want to breastfeed or express and store your 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 workplaces that 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 it 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 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.

Getting help

If you’d like additional information and support on combining breastfeeding and work, 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.

If you need advice because you feel you’re being discriminated against, contact the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Fair Work Ombudsman or the anti-discrimination agency in your state or territory.

If you’re having other issues with breastfeeding, you could check out our articles on attachment techniquesmastitis and blocked milk ductssore nipples and nipple infectionshow to increase milk supply and how to manage oversupply and engorgement.