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Returning To Work And Continuing To Breastfeed

The baby’s gotta eat but mama’s gotta work. Know your rights and how to continue breastfeeding when you go back to work.

Many women call our national Breastfeeding Helpline asking, “Can I return to work and continue breastfeeding?” The answer is yes.

There are many options available depending on your personal situation, the age of your baby, your type of work, how often you work and how your baby is cared for. The age of your baby is your biggest consideration and will influence how often you need to feed or express.

As babies get older, they do not breastfeed as often as they will be having other foods as well.

Does My Employer Have To Give Me Time To Breastfeed Or Express?

Under both 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 assist an employee to breastfeed at work or accommodate their breastfeeding needs (including expressing).

However, the onus is on the individual to negotiate with their employer around their breastfeeding needs and the organisational needs of the employer. Employers are obligated to take reasonable measures to accommodate these needs, and if they refuse, they must show that what an employee is requesting is unreasonable.

Of course the word ‘unreasonable’ is open to interpretation and is based purely on individual circumstances.

It may be discrimination if:

  • Your employer does not provide you with suitable facilities for breastfeeding or expressing milk.
  • You are not allowed to organise your work breaks to facilitate breastfeeding or expressing milk.
  • Your employer insists that you work night shifts when other shifts are available that would allow you to continue breastfeeding.
  • You are told you must wean your baby before you can return to work.

Breastfeeding and expressing should only be done in areas that are suitable for food preparation. Suitable facilities must be private, lockable and not a bathroom or toilet, as these are considered unhygienic and may compromise the health of the mother and baby.

The number of times a mother will need to breastfeed or express will vary depending on the age of the baby.

We recommend lactation breaks are based on the needs of the mother and baby. Ideally these are included as work time, but again this is dependent on individual workplaces.

How Do I Approach My Employer?

Find out what provisions your workplace has for breastfeeding employees and whether they have a breastfeeding policy or breastfeeding/expressing facility. Your workplace may provide maternity information, which might mention this, or you may need to ask your manager or human resources department.

It is best to do this before you return to work so both you and your employer are prepared for this aspect of your return.

If your workplace does not have any supports or facilities, inform your employer of what you would like and see how they can help support you. You can also provide them with information from the Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace website.

One thing to point out to your employer is that your request to accommodate your breastfeeding needs will not last forever, and as your baby ages your needs will reduce.

What Is The Best Option For Your Personal Situation?

This depends on your work options, childcare options and whether you will be going to your baby to feed, having your baby come to you, or expressing.

Some women find a mix of all of these things is suitable for them.

Some are able to do shorter shifts that fit around the times their baby needs to feed, while others develop a compromise solution where they breastfeed when they are with their baby and the baby has formula when they are apart. By continuing some breastfeeding, the mother can keep that closer link to her baby and the baby still gets immunities from the breastmilk.

Expressing

For some mothers, work is a fair distance away from where their baby is being cared for, or their workplace is not safe for a baby to visit, so expressing is best for them.

If your baby is under six months old, you need to express for every missed feed. This breastmilk can then be used on another of your workdays. Freshly expressed breastmilk can be stored at room temperature for six to eight hours (up to 26°C), in the refrigerator for up to 72 hours or in the freezer for up to three months.

Many women find it difficult to express. This doesn’t mean they don’t have enough milk or won’t be able to express, just that they might need some extra help with this or may need to be creative in their return to work.

A breast pump is the best option, but again not everyone has the same success with breast pumps. However for most women, this becomes easier over time.

Returning to work and continuing to breastfeed can be hard work, but the rewards outweigh the negatives. It is possible to continue with some breastfeeding for many months.

Further Reading

You can find out more information about your breastfeeding rights at work at:

Australian Breastfeeding Association

Australian Human Rights Commission

A factsheet on how to approach your employer is available at:

Australian Breastfeeding Association

For more information on expressing and storing, see:

Australian Breastfeeding Association

For information on the best breast pumps to use visit:

Australian Breastfeeding Association


Words by Tracey Kelly

Guest Contributer
Guest Contributor
guest@childmags.com.au