Many mothers return to work at some point after having a baby.
When this happens, you may wonder if you may be able to combine breastfeeding and work.
Rest assured that continuing to breastfeed when returning to work is possible.
Initially, returning to work and continuing to breastfeed might seem daunting, but it can be a rewarding experience.
You may find that breastfeeding helps you re-connect with your baby after having been away from him while at work.
Knowing that he gets your expressed breastmilk while you are at work can help you feel connected with your baby even when apart.
Here are 8 top tips to help you return to work and continue breastfeeding:
#1: See The Australian Breastfeeding Association’s Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Program
The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) developed the Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace (BFW) program which is a national consultancy and accreditation service that aims to remove the workplace as a barrier to breastfeeding.
Many employers want to support breastfeeding mothers but are unsure how to. You may like to suggest that your employer contacts BFW to help them work out how they can best support you.
The BFW program has developed specific supportive criteria such as:
- Flexible work options. For example job sharing, flexible starting and finishing times, working from home or a gradual transition back to work
- Workplace policy supporting breastfeeding. It is important that this gets displaced and communicated to inform all employees
- Support from employers and colleagues. This is crucial to the success of a breastfeeding policy and can be enhanced by providing information about workplace policies to employees and clear employer support for such initiatives
- Lactation breaks. Time needs to be allocated for you to express breastmilk. Regular milk removal is essential for maintaining your milk supply and for your physical comfort and wellbeing
- Workplace facilities for expressing and storing milk. It is important to have access to a clean, lockable, private area with comfortable seating and a power point, facilities for washing hands and equipment, a refrigerator for storage of breastmilk and facilities for storage of a breast pump and other equipment
BFW has an informative webinar called ‘Breastfeeding and returning to work’ that helps you learn more about what to expect and how to prepare for continuing to breastfeed when returning to work.
#2: Choose A Breastfeeding Friendly Child Care Option
It is of great health benefit that you continue to breastfeed when your child goes to child care. This is especially the case if you can spend some time at the child care setting so that antibodies specific for the child care environment can be passed on to you baby through your breastmilk.
Many mothers (and employers) find that they have less sick days off work to take care of their sick baby if their baby continues to be breastfed when they return to work.
There are a variety of child care options. For example family day care, in home care by a nanny, long day care or occasional care centres. In some cases, grandparents or other relatives may take on the role of child care, and this could be a way in which your baby may be able to be brought to you at your workplace for breastfeeds.
You could ask your employer if they offer anything in the way of child care to assist employees returning to work after the having a baby. For example, some employers provide work-based child care, employer sponsored child care and assistance with finding a nearby child care. All these options can be great ways for you to be able to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.
If child care is reasonably close to your work, you may be able to go to your baby during breaks or have your baby brought to you.
It is important that child carers are supportive of a mother breastfeeding. Some cares are reluctant to care for a breastfed baby, though anti-discrimination laws cover childcare services. Not all cares will feel skilled or confident to care for a breastfed baby.
A child care service that is breastfeeding friendly will:
- Be supportive of your decision to continue breastfeeding when returning to work
- Facilitate you to be able to visit to breastfeed while your baby is at child care
- Ensure the childcare staff are adequately skilled and knowledgeable about breastfeeding support including about how to store and use expressed breastmilk
#3: Start Expressing Breastmilk At The Right Time
Many mothers find it helpful to begin expressing a couple of weeks before returning to work. This can help you become more efficient at expressing and to get a store of your breastmilk in case you have some days at work where you express less.
#4: Choose The Right Breast Pump To Use
The best type of pump depends on how much expressing you need to do.
A manual pump can work well if you don’t need to express often (e.g. up to a couple of times per week).
A quality personal electric pump (eg Medela Swing or Ameda Purely Yours) can work well if you need to express up to a few days per week.
Some personal electric pumps let you pump from both breasts simultaneously (double pumping). This reduces the time it takes to express. These pumps (e.g. Medela Freestyle or Ameda Purely Yours Ultra) work well if you need to express more than a few days every week.
The most durable pumps are pumps that you hire (e.g. Medela Symphony or Ameda Platinum). These pumps are designed for infinite use. Many pharmacies hire such pumps and some local ABA groups do too (call the ABA helpline for more information).
#5: Meet Your Baby’s Expressed Breastmilk Needs
Research shows that between one and six months, exclusively breastfed babies drink an average of between 750 – 800mls in a 24 hour period. Some babies drink less than 500 mL and others over 1000 mL in a 24 hour period.
To estimate how much milk your baby will need each feed while you are at work, work out about how many feeds he has in 24 hours then divide 800 mLs by that number. For example, if your baby has 8 feeds a day, you would make up feeds of 100 mLs of expressed breastmilk.
When expressing at work, expressing at least as often as your baby would typically feed if he was with you is ideal to help maintain your supply and ensure you express the amount your baby needs.
If your baby happens to get less or more milk than he needs while you are at work, breastfeeding him whenever he needs when you are at home will help balance things out.
Many mothers find that on some days they express less at work. If this happens, breastfeeding your baby more often on your days off will boost your supply again.
#6: Encourage Your Let-Down Reflex
The let-down reflex is where the hormone oxytocin allows the milk stored in your breast to be released out through tiny openings in your nipple. When expressing, it is important for your milk to let down so that you can express a good amount of milk.
Some mothers find it difficult to stimulate their let-down reflex when expressing. If this is true for you, here are some tips that can help:
- Deep-breathing, calming music or a warm drink can help you relax
- Apply warmth (e.g. with a heat pack) to your breast and/or the breast shield of your pump for a couple of minutes just before expressing
- Gently massage your breast towards the nipple before and during expressing
- Routine. Some mothers find it helpful to express at the same time(s) each day while at work
- Your baby. Think of your baby while expressing. Smell a blanket or clothing that has been on your baby or look at his photo
#7: Know What The Law Says About Your Rights As A Breastfeeding Employee
Under both the Federal and State legislation it is unlawful to treat a woman less favourably because she is breastfeeding. This means it may be against the law for an employer to refuse to make arrangements to accommodate your breastfeeding needs.
However, the onus is on you to negotiate with your employer around your individual breastfeeding needs and the organisational needs of the employer.
Employers are obligated to take reasonable measures to accommodate your needs and must show that what you are requesting is ‘unreasonable’ if they refuse to accommodate your needs. Of course the word ‘unreasonable’ is open to interpretation and is based purely on the individual circumstances at the individual workplace.
It is generally against the law for an employer to refuse to make arrangements to assist you to breastfeed at work, if these are reasonable. For example, it may be discrimination if your employer:
- Does not provide you with suitable facilities for breastfeeding or expressing
- Does not allow you to organise your work breaks to facilitate breastfeeding or expressing
- Insists that you work night shifts when other shifts are available that would allow you to continue breastfeeding
- Tells you that you must wean her baby before you can return to work
#8: Try To Negotiate ‘Lactation Breaks’ At Work
There is no national legislation in Australia to give mothers in the paid workforce the legal right to paid breastfeeding breaks.
However, expressing while away from your baby is essential for your health. Therefore preventing you from doing this could be considered ‘indirect’ discrimination.
While there is no law that indicates an employer has to provide you with lactation breaks, they do have to accommodate her breastfeeding needs. Again, it is up to you to negotiate with your employer about your needs. If your employer does not accommodate your breastfeeding needs, they’d have to be able to prove that it is unreasonable to be able to do so (e.g. due to Workplace Health and Safety reasons).