Can you return to work and still breastfeed?

I decided to attempt breastfeeding despite needing to return to work, with the idea that I would provide the best possible nutrition for my children. I continued to breastfeed and express whilst working despite occasional obstacles over the years, with the help that ABA provided and because of the health advantages it provided the children. I was motivated in doing this by feelings of intimacy and bonding that nursing my children created despite my separation from them. It was a nurturing and comfort only I could give.

Many mothers successfully combine work and breastfeeding. Our work environment continues to change, and as many more women return to the work force, many workplaces now have greater awareness of the importance of individual family responsibilities, and include this in workplace policies. Unfortunately breastfeeding still tends to be left up to the woman to discuss with her employer on an individual basis. Legislation exists in most states to guarantee that no employer may discriminate against individuals with family responsibilities.

A free information sheet designed for employers is available from your local ABA group. It contains information about the importance of breastfeeding for employees and employers, and requirements of breastfeeding employees. Information is also available via our Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace website.

First steps towards breastfeeding and working

  • Discuss your breastfeeding requirements with your employer well in advance of your return (ideally before you go on maternity leave, ie while still at work.)
  • You will require a private room (not the toilet area) with a comfortable chair, a refrigerator where you can store expressed breastmilk, somewhere to store an electric breast pump or manual breast pump, and time to express milk during lunch break and other breaks if necessary. Time could be made up at the end of the day.
  • If you have an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Officer, Human Resources Group or Personnel Group, or are a member of a union, check their attitudes and knowledge of breastfeeding policies.
  • You may be able to have your baby brought to you at work. Talk about this with your employer. Discuss the possibility of breastfeeding during breaks and lunchtime, and flexible work hours and breaks.
  • Consider all options. Be creative, be persistent, be positive.
  • Consider the purchase of an electric breast pump to make expressing sessions at work quicker.
  • Be aware that expressing may seem difficult at first but most working mothers say they improve very quickly, and the benefits are worth the initial effort.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association' booklet Breastfeeding: Women and Work contains worthwhile discussion on childcare options, choosing a caregiver, how to express by hand, by hand pump, and by electric pump. There are ways to encourage your let-down reflex to yield maximum milk and tips on storing and transporting your milk. The booklet also covers the challenges of the different stages of babyhood, and indispensable hints to get your baby to take the bottle, as well as time- and energy -saving strategies to make your life easier. Another useful resource is ABA's booklet Breastfeeding: expressing and storing breastmilk. Both booklets can be obtained by contacing the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

You may also like to register for the Breastfeeding and Returning to Work Webinar which covers all the information you need to successfully combine breastfeeding/expressing breastmilk and paid work.

© Australian Breastfeeding Association - reviewed  July 2016