For many mothers, maternity leave ends and they must return to work at some point after having a baby.
If you are coming to the end of maternity leave, you might wonder how you will continue to feed your baby breast milk and work at the same time.
Rest assured, many breastfeeding mothers successfully combine breastfeeding and returning to work. Although it might seem daunting initially, it can actually be a very rewarding experience.
Knowing that your baby will get your expressed breast milk while you are at work can help you feel connected with even when you’re apart. And breastfeeding when you are home from work is a wonderful way to reconnect again.
The most important factor in going back to work and continuing breastfeeding is planning ahead.
Here are our 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 go about it. You might like to suggest that your employer contacts BFW to help work out how best to support you.
The BFW program has developed specific supportive criteria such as:
- Flexible work options – for example, job sharing, flexible working hours, working from home or a gradual transition back to work
- Workplace policy to support breastfeeding. It is important that this is displayed 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 employers providing information about workplace policies to employees and showing clear support for such initiatives
- Lactation breaks. Time (separate from your allocated lunch break) needs to be allocated for you to express milk. Your workplace must also provide suitable facilities (i.e. a private space) for you to do so
- Facilities for you to store fresh milk. It is important there are facilities for washing hands and equipment, a refrigerator for storage of breast milk and facilities for storage of a breast pump and other equipment
BFW has an informative webinar called ‘Breastfeeding and returning to work’, which will help you learn more about what to expect and how to prepare for continuing to breastfeed when you go back to work.
#2. Choose a breastfeeding friendly child care provider
If your return to work means you will use formal child care, continued breastfeeding will benefit your child. Antibodies that protect your child from illness are passed to on through your breast milk. Continued breastfeeding also benefits your employer, as fewer instances of illness in your child means you will have fewer sick days off work.
There is a range of child care option: family day care, in-home care by a nanny, long day care or occasional care centers. In some cases, grandparents or other relatives might take on the role of child care; this could be a way in which your baby might be brought to you at your workplace for breastfeeds. If your child care center is reasonably close to your work, you might be able to go to your baby during breaks or have your baby brought to you.
A child care service that is breastfeeding friendly will:
- Be supportive of your decision to continue breastfeeding when returning to work
- Facilitate visits, so you can breastfeed while your baby is at child care
- Make sure childcare staff are adequately skilled and knowledgeable about breastfeeding support, including knowing how to store milk.
#3. Start to express breast milk before returning to work
Many mothers find it helpful to begin expressing a couple of weeks before returning to work.
Doing this will give you time to practise pumping if you have been exclusively breastfeeding to this point. It also allows you time to build a supply of expressed milk before going back to work.
#4. Choose the right breast pump
Working out which is the best type of breast pump for you will depend on how often you need to pump.
A manual breast pump can work well if you don’t need to pump breast milk very often (e.g. up to a couple of times per week). An electric breast pump will be more suitable if you are returning to work in a part time capacity that requires you to be separated from your baby for a few days per week.
#5. Know your baby’s breast milk needs
Research shows that between one and six months, exclusively breastfed babies drink an average of 800 mls in a 24 hour period. Babies over six months will have a combination of breast milk and solid foods.
To estimate how much milk your baby will need while you are at work, divide 800 ml by the number of feeds your baby usually has in one day. For example, if your baby has 8 feeds a day, you would make up feeds of 100 ml of expressed breast milk.
When expressing at work, aim to pump at least as often as your baby would typically feed if you were together. This will help maintain your milk supply.
Many mothers find they are not able to express as much milk on some days at work. If this happens, breastfeeding your baby more often on your days off will boost your milk supply again.
#6. Encourage your let-down reflex
The let-down reflex occurs when oxytocin is released in the brain and the milk stored in your breast is released through your nipple.
Some breastfeeding mums find it difficult to stimulate their let-down reflex when expressing at work.
If you have difficulty, here are some tips that can help:
- Breathe deeply, listen to calming music or a have a warm drink to help you relax
- Apply warmth to your breast or the flange of your breast pump for a couple of minutes before expressing
- Gently massage your breast towards the nipple before and during expressing
- Think of your baby while expressing. Smell a blanket or clothing that has been on your baby or look at a photo.
#7. Know your legal rights as a breastfeeding employee
Under both Federal and State legislation, it is unlawful to treat a woman less favorably because she is breastfeeding. This means it might be against the law for an employer to refuse to make arrangements to accommodate your breastfeeding needs.
It is your responsibility, however, to talk to your employer about your individual breastfeeding needs.
Employers are obligated to take reasonable measures to accommodate your needs. It is generally against the law for an employer to refuse to make arrangements to assist you to breastfeed at work.
It might be discrimination if your employer:
- Does not provide you with suitable facilities for breastfeeding or expressing milk
- Does not allow reasonable break time to facilitate breastfeeding or expressing milk
- Tells you you must wean your baby before you can return to work.
For more helpful information on breastfeeding and returning to work, you can read these BellyBelly articles: