Continuing to breastfeed when you return to work is an increasingly viable choice, as the work environment becomes more responsive to the special needs of women who are parents. Balancing breastfeeding and work can be achieved in a number of ways and there are many benefits in doing so.
As you know, a breastfed baby is a healthier baby which means fewer days off work, fewer sleepless nights tending a sick baby, fewer trips to the doctor and less spent on health care. It also means you are better able to concentrate on your work, because you know your baby is well.
Breastfeeding promotes bonding between you and your baby. Combining breastfeeding and work allows this special mother/baby relationship to continue for longer. It also reduces your risk of ovarian cancer, pre-menopausal breast cancer and osteoporosis. And it can be done at very little cost.
At present in Australia there is no official policy on breastfeeding for women who return to work. In some states, legislation protects employees from discrimination on the grounds of family responsibilities.
Some workplaces have adopted family-friendly policies and practices. However, as the Nursing Mothers' Association of Australia (NMAA) points out in its Breastfeeding Women & Work booklet, 'Unfortunately, it seems the issue of breastfeeding and working women is still left up to the woman to discuss with her employer on an individual basis.'
If your workplace supports you in balancing breastfeeding and work, you are more likely to consider returning to work. This means you will maintain your job skills and your employer does not lose a valuable employee.
Deciding how you balance breastfeeding and work is partly determinate on the kind of work you do and the length of your working day. You can keep your baby close to you by working from home or bringing your baby to work. You can then continue to breastfeed and will not have to express your breastmilk.
Other options are using on-site childcare if available or childcare close to work. Or you can have your caregiver bring your baby to work to be breastfed.
You may also consider delaying your return to work until your baby can go without breastfeeds during your work hours, working flexible hours (so work time can be fitted around your baby's needs) or working part-time.
Alternatively, you can negotiate work conditions so that you can express at work. Breastfeeding or expressing at work is usually only going to be necessary for a few weeks or perhaps months. You will probably need to breastfeed or express at work until your baby is taking solids and other fluids. First solids are usually started at six months with other fluids started a bit later.
Before your baby is born, talk to your supervisor/manager about your maternity leave and return to work entitlements. Find out if there are any breastfeeding-related workplace facilities where you work, then discuss what you think you will need when you return to work.
If you have been permanently employed for at least 12 months, you are entitled to 12 months' maternity leave . However, there may also be other entitlements.
Once you have had your baby, it is worthwhile talking again to your supervisor before you return to work about how you would like to balance breastfeeding with work. You may need to consider a suitable caregiver and/or childcare centre that supports breastfeeding.
You may also need to learn how to express and store your breastmilk and to make sure your baby will take expressed breastmilk from a cup, bottle or spoon.
If you choose to express breastmilk while at work, you will need to consider whether to hand express, use a hand pump, battery-operated pump or electric pump.
Your choice depends on your personal preference based on what works best for you, whether you can afford to buy or hire a breast pump and the availability of breast pumps in your area. Whichever method you choose, it will help if you get used to expressing before you return to work.
At work, you will need to express in a clean private room (eg the first aid room), store your expressed breastmilk in a clean covered container and store this in a fridge or freezer. If a fridge or freezer is not available, an insulated container with a freezer pack or crushed ice will be suitable until you get home.
While you are at work, try to express as often as your baby would usually feed and express as much as you can each time. A breastfed baby usually needs about 150ml breastmilk per kilo body weight per 24 hours but this can vary widely.
If you are unable to express sufficient breastmilk for your baby, there are several things to try:
You will also need to give your baby's caregiver instructions on the use of your expressed breastmilk, such as:
By Ellen McIntyre