Many breastfeeding mothers return to work while they are still breastfeeding and an increasing number of women return to work within the first year of their baby’s life.
It is possible to combine working and breastfeeding.
There are even return to work laws to support breastfeeding employees.
Read on to find out about breastfeeding return to work laws.
Return to work laws, what it means for breastfeeding mothers
In Australia, federal law protects the rights of breastfeeding women in the workplace.
The Federal Sex Discrimination Act (1984) states that any person who discriminates against breastfeeding mothers is breaking the law. It is against the law for an employer to refuse to make arrangements to assist an employee to breastfeed or express breast milk at work.
Arrangements to assist an employee to continue breastfeeding while working can include:
- Providing a private space to express milk; this must be a private room other than a toilet stall
- Providing a reasonable break time to express milk; this must be separate from an existing lunch break.
For more information, you can read Going back to work | Australian Breastfeeding Association.
Are lactation breaks paid or unpaid?
Currently in Australia, there is no legislation that gives nursing mothers the right to be paid for pumping breaks. Because the legislation around specific break time allowances for expressing breast milk is unclear, you should negotiate this directly with your employer before you return to work.
In America, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) includes the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, which requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk. This act states that employers are not required to compensate employees for work time spent expressing milk.
You can read more about the fair labor standards act in Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act – Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision, and the nursing mothers act in FLSA Protections to Pump at Work.
In the United Kingdom, the Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulation requires employers to provide break time for breastfeeding mothers to pump breast milk. Similar to the laws in Australia and America, the nursing mothers law does not require employers to pay for breaks to breastfeed or to express breast milk for later use.
You can read more about what the law does to support breastfeeding employees in the UK in the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service’s Accommodating breastfeeding employees in the workplace document.
In Hong Kong, two 30 minutes lactation breaks are granted for each 8 hour shift. Pumping session are counted within normal paid hours and employees are not required to make up the time in overtime.
You can read more in the Government of Hong Kong Department of Health Employers’ Guide – to Establishing Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace.
What employers can do to support nursing mothers
In Australia, the Australian Breastfeeding Association offers an initiative for workplaces to gain a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace (BFW) accreditation.
In order for a workplace to be awarded a BFW accreditation, there are certain workplace support criteria they must meet.
The workplace must:
- Provide breastfeeding mothers with adequate break time to pump breast milk at work
- Provide a private space for employees to breastfeed or express milk
- Create a supportive and inclusive workplace culture and environment.
An an employer, in order to prove the workplace is supporting breastfeeding employees at a standard to be awarded with a BFW accreditation, you must:
- Contact the Australian Breastfeeding Association and submit an application for assessment
- Complete the required preparation for accreditation
- Undergo a workplace assessment by an Australian Breastfeeding Association representative.
Once accredited, your workplace will receive a certificate of accreditation, promotional materials for display, assistance in developing breastfeeding policies, and ongoing support from the Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace team.
It is in an employer’s best interest to support the continuation of breastfeeding when employees return to work. Breastfed babies have fewer illnesses, meaning that nursing mothers have less sick leave and lower health care costs.
Organising breastfeeding and work
It is up to you as an employee to discuss your breastfeeding needs with your employer.
Get in contact with your employer while you are still on maternity leave, to discuss your needs when you return to work, rather than wait until your first day back at work.
As well as a private space for you to express milk, you might want to consider your additional needs. This could include access to an electrical outlet, a small table on which to place your breast pump and parts, somewhere you are able to wash your pump parts and a place to store your expressed breast milk.
It can help to have a small supply of frozen breast milk before you return to work. This takes away the pressure of having to pump enough milk for your baby’s next bottle feed when you express milk at work.
What if I don’t have time to wash pump parts or have access to a sink and water to wash parts?
Legally, your employer has to provide you with ample break time to pump breast milk and clean your pump equipment afterwards.
As previously stated, employers are not obligated to pay you for pumping breaks.
They do not have to provide you with equipment to wash your pump parts if this is not feasible within your place of work.
If you do not have access to a sink and hot, soapy water to wash your pump parts after use, you might consider purchasing an extra milk collection kit. That way, after your first pumping session at work, you can wipe your pump parts and store them in a zip lock bag ready to wash and sterilise when you get home. Then, you can use the second milk collection kit for the next pumping session.
Can I store my pump parts in the refrigerator between pump sessions while at my workplace?
If you have access to cleaning facilities at your workplace, then it is ideal to wash your pump parts each time you pump breast milk.
If you don’t have access to cleaning facilities but do have access to a refrigerator, storing your pump parts in a zip lock bag in the refrigerator will help slow the growth of bacteria.
Where can I store breast milk at my workplace?
The best place to store fresh milk at work is a refrigerator or freezer.
If you do not have access to a fridge or freezer, bring an insulated cooler to store your expressed milk until you get home.
For more information on expressing and storing breast milk, refer to the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s guide to storing expressed breast milk.
What are my rights as a breastfeeding employee?
It is against the law to discriminate against nursing mothers on the grounds of breastfeeding. This means that your employer must make reasonable allowances to accommodate breastfeeding or expressing breast milk in the workplace and cannot encourage or ask you to wean your child from breastfeeding before returning to work.
If you feel you are being discriminated against, you can seek advice from the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Fair Work Ombudsman, or the anti-discrimination agency in your State or Territory.