Mothers' FAQs

What do I need to do to be able to continue to breastfeed upon returning to work?

In short the confidence and belief that you can do it! With the right planning, information and support, combining breastfeeding with work is easily achievable. Being prepared and organised can make the transition to your return to work smoother and having a supportive workplace can make a significant difference. If you are yet to have your baby, attending an ABA Breastfeeding Education Class is a good first step. If you already have had your baby you might want to start off by joining ABA where you can make contact with your local group who can provide you with ongoing support and information. The ABA booklet Breastfeeding: women and work is also a valuable resource.

What are my legal rights to breastfeed upon returning to work?

All states have legislation that protects your right to combine breastfeeding and paid work. The Federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 also protects this right. The Federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 was amended on 24 May 2011 to further strengthen the laws protecting the rights of breastfeeding women. ANYONE who discriminates against breastfeeding mothers is now breaking the law. A key difference with the amendments is that breastfeeding is now a separate, stand-alone ground of discrimination, rather than a subset of sex discrimination. Under both the Federal and all State legislation it is unlawful to treat a woman less favourably because she is breastfeeding or to treat a person less favourably based on their status as a parent. 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 an employee’s breastfeeding needs (including expressing).

Is my organisation obliged to provide a breastfeeding/expressing room?

It is generally against the law 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 milk
  • you are not allowed to organise your work breaks to facilitate breastfeeding or expressing milk
  • you are told that you must wean your baby before you can return to work.[1]

For more information, download the BFW fact sheet: your rights at work from this page. Some workplaces have a dedicated lactation room. Other alternatives can include sharing along with a First Aid room or a prayer room. An unused office or a meeting room area are also alternatives. The needs of a breastfeeding mother to feed and/or express her milk are minimal and generally short-lived enabling most workplaces to come up with something workable.

What is discrimination in the workplace?

Whilst most employers are aware of their equal opportunity requirements and are happy to embrace workplace diversity, sometimes discrimination does occur. Sometimes employers are not sure how to implement equal opportunity measures. At an accredited Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace you can be confident that you will be supported to combine breastfeeding whilst working. Through the implementation of appropriate policy and procedures, accreditation ensures that the workplace supports breastfeeding employees, prevents discrimination, and builds a supportive workplace culture. National legislation and State and Territory legislation also exists to protect the rights of everyone.

Employees or potential employees may face direct and indirect discrimination. Direct discrimination is where someone with a personal characteristic is treated unfairly because of that personal characteristic. This could include not giving a female a promotion because they are female, pregnant or breastfeeding. Indirect discrimination occurs when a requirement or practice that purports to treat everyone the same becomes unreasonable due to the individual’s circumstances and ends up actually or potentially disadvantaging someone with a personal characteristic that is protected by the law. More information is available here.

If you believe you are being discriminated due to being pregnant or breastfeeding the first step may be to look at your organisations grievance/complaint policy. This normally asks you to address the matter firstly with your manager or HR department.

If you are experiencing discrimination and would like to know more about your rights or the legislation, talk or visit your local Human Rights/Anti-Discrimination Commission or the Australian Human Rights Commission:

How can I approach my organisation to become a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace?

Down load the free BFW fact sheet from this page for information on how to approach your employer.

My organisation is an accredited Breastfeeding Friendly workplace but the lactation room is not up to scratch?

The first step is to bring this to the attention of the person in your organisation responsible for BFW accreditation. This is generally someone in the HR department or in smaller organisations it may be the office manager. If you are unable to resolve your concerns please contact the BFW team.

My organisation is an accredited Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace but are not supporting me as they have done previously, what can I do?

Most employers genuinely want to support their valued employees. However, sometimes when you get a change of staff things may not occur that normally would. Your first port of call is to check your workplaces Breastfeeding Policy which normally outlines the rights and obligations of the employee/employer. If something is not as it should be then usually addressing this with your line manager or HR department would be your first step. Most workplaces have a grievance/complaints process if your initial concerns are not addressed. You may also contact the BFW team for information on BFW accreditation requirements.

Does my employer have to give me paid lactation break?

Australian employers are not legally obliged to provide lactation breaks to their employees, however the International Labor Organization (ILO) recommends that breastfeeding women be entitled to at least one break per day for lactation, and that can also be accessed as a reduction in hours. The ILO further recommends that these breaks should be treated as paid working time. Many Australian employers are recognising that the needs of a breastfeeding employee are short lived, and that providing lactation breaks is a simple way to support them. While lactation breaks are becoming more common, access to breaks and breastfeeding support is still being negotiated on an individual basis in many non-accredited workplaces.

How do I express and store my milk?

There are several options available for you depending on how long you need to keep your milk. You can read our article on the topic here or purchase the detailed booklet on the topic here.

Does my workplace need to supply a fridge to enable me to store my breastmilk at work?

Most workplaces have fridges in the lunch room that are available for staff use. It is a requirement of BFW accreditation that workplace have a fridge available. For those out in the field there are alternative options such as portable coolers.

How do I clean my breast pump at work?

Most mothers simply rinse their breast pump’s milk collection kit in the lactation room sink or staff kitchen whilst at work and then thoroughly clean when at home. Having a couple of milk collection kits allows greater flexibility.

How to I transport my breastmilk from work?

The climate and the duration of your commute from work to home will influence your requirements for transporting your breastmilk. The National Health and Medical Research Council says that freshly expressed breastmilk is safe for use for 6–8 hours when stored at room temperature (26 degrees C) or for 72 hours when stored in the refrigerator. In the cooler months or if you only live a short distance from your workplace you may not need to take any special measures just removing your expressed breastmilk from workplace fridge on your departure and placing in your home fridge or freezer when you arrive home.

When the temperature rises or for those who have a longer commute, you may need to use a small cooler with freezer bricks or similar in it to keep your milk cool during transport.

What resources are available to me as a mother?

The Australian Breastfeeding Association has many resources available to support mothers to breastfeeding:

Resources for working mothers:

Resources for breastfeeding mothers

Are there any resources I can take to my HR Department?

ABA and BFW have a number of resources available for employers. Information is available here.

How do I become an ABA Member?

Get information, support and friendship with Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) membership

Does my workplace need to be accredited to become an ABA member?

ABA personal membership is for individuals and is different from BFW accreditation that is applied for by organisations. Many organisations, including those who have not yet received BFW accreditation value their employees and will often purchase an ABA personal gift membership for staff who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding. What a wonderful gift that keeps on giving!

What is the difference between ABA membership, Breastfeeding Welcome Here and Baby care rooms?

ABA personal membership is for individuals. ABA’s Breastfeeding Welcome Here program and Baby Care Room accreditations are two of the services ABA provides in the community to support breastfeeding mothers.

How many resources can I order/postage costs?

Many of ABA and BFW’s resources are free to download, others are provided at minimal costs. Postage details are included on the order form For large orders please contact our team

How do I approach my employee?

For HR managers the BFW program has developed Come Back Packs for organisations to provide to their pregnant employees to support them during their maternity leave and on their return to work. Keeping in regular contact with staff on maternity leave helps them feel they are still a valued member of your team. Prior to their return back to work many organisations invite their staff in for a meeting to discuss their specific needs on their return to work, this may include the need for lactation breaks and/or flexible work arrangements.  For workplaces that hold BFW accreditation you accreditation includes the option to contact our BFW team to discuss any specific requests or needs you may have or to seek our suggestions on how to support breastfeeding mothers in less common circumstances such as remote area work, FIFO, travel etc.


Last reviewed: 
Feb 2019