Returning to work: breastfeeding options
There are many ways to keep breastfeeding when returning to work. What works for you will depend on your workplace, working arrangements, child care arrangements and baby’s age.
For example, you might be able to keep breastfeeding without changing your feeding routine by:
- having your baby brought to you
- visiting your baby to breastfeed when you need to
- working from home.
Or you might be able to adjust your routine and do a mix of:
- breastfeeding before and after starting work and at night
- giving your baby expressed breastmilk or infant formula during the day when you’re at work.
After about 3 months, you and your baby might be able to go longer between breastfeeds. This is because babies get better at taking more milk at each feed between 1 and 3 months.
And as babies get even older, they typically won’t look for as many breastfeeds if you’re not around. They might be happy with solid food and water while you’re working and breastfeeds when you’re at home together.
It’s good to be flexible and consider all your breastfeeding options when you return to work. Continuing to breastfeed means your baby keeps getting the benefits of breastmilk. It can also help to maintain the bond between you and your baby, and it can be very rewarding for both of you when you’re together.
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 breastfeeding before you go on parental leave. 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 discuss whether your workplace provides lactation breaks. Try to confirm your breastfeeding or expressing needs with your employer before 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 things to consider
If your baby will drink expressed breastmilk, you might be able to express at work and safely store the milk for your baby to have another time. Expressing at work can also help you maintain your milk supply.
What you need to express
You can express breastmilk by hand, but a manual or electric pump can make expressing easier. A double pump can make it quicker.
You’ll need certain things for expressing at your workplace:
- a clean private area (not the toilet) with a comfortable chair
- a clean refrigerator or freezer for storing expressed breastmilk
- somewhere secure 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 and soap to wash hands and rinse out pump parts, and paper towels or a hand dryer
- 15-30 minutes 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, but you don’t need to.
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 baby 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 chilled – if the milk has thawed, use it within 4 hours. Don’t refreeze it.
Make sure your breastmilk is labelled with the date it was expressed. Place the labelled breastmilk in the refrigerator as soon as you arrive or in the freezer if it’s still frozen.
Most working mothers learn to express and store breastmilk very quickly. But if expressing isn’t working as well as you’d like, you might want to use a photo of your baby or a piece of clothing your baby has worn (so it smells like baby) to help your milk flow.
Breastfeeding and employers
Australian employers are improving their attitudes to breastfeeding and getting better at supporting mothers returning to work and 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 mothers, 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 of 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 mothers returning to work. For more information about workplaces that are already accredited and how you can go about getting your own workplace accredited, see Australian Breastfeeding Association – Breastfeeding Friendly Workplaces.
Carers and breastfeeding
Breastfed babies usually don’t mind having expressed milk from someone other than their mother.
But if a carer will be looking after your baby when you return to work, you can help your baby get familiar with the carer and the change in feeding routine. One way to do this is by organising for the carer to give your baby some expressed milk via a feeding cup or bottle before you go back to work.
And when your baby is with the carer, it might also help to leave a piece of clothing that you’ve worn. This can help to settle your baby if they get upset because you aren’t there.
It’s a good idea to start expressing a few weeks before returning to work so you can have some expressed milk in reserve.
Babies who are fully breastfed tend to expect the breast. They might need help to learn to drink expressed milk from a cup or drink expressed milk from a bottle.
If you’d like more information and support for 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 or use ABA LiveChat.
If you think you’re being discriminated against and need advice, 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 techniques, mastitis and blocked milk ducts, sore nipples and nipple infections, how to increase milk supply and how to manage oversupply and engorgement.