Breastfeeding and returning to work

Breastfeeding has been going well: your baby is thriving and happy. But now you are returning to work and feel sad at the prospect of weaning your baby.

Take heart, returning to paid work doesn’t mean you have to stop breastfeeding: your baby can enjoy the health, immunity and nutritional benefits and you will still have that unique connection through the one thing that only you can do for your baby  - snuggling him close as he drinks your milk.

As well as keeping your baby healthy so you won’t be using your sick leave to care for her, one very important factor for choosing to breastfeed when you return to work is the special connection you will have with your little one: However competent her carers are, breastfeeding is the one thing only you can do for your baby.

Real mums' stories:

Sarah, mother of a ten month old returned to work when her baby was five months old. She says, “ I remember stressing about having to express and what that would mean for me, how I would cope, if it was going to be easier to just stop breastfeeding. She says, “once I started work and got into a routine it was fine and I realised I was worried about nothing. We are still breastfeeding as much as ever.”

Cara, mother of a four month old started back at work last week. She says, “our company has a soft landing policy so I work from home in the morning and then go into the office at lunch. We have a nursery room so it’s pretty easy to pump in the office. The biggest challenge is finding time to pump so I schedule it in my diary and have even started walking out of meetings if I need to. I pump in the morning and then breastfeed my baby and head into the office around 12. She has two x 120mls bottles of expressed milk whilst I am gone and then feeds normally at night. The only trouble I have found is if I have a late meeting or work event but I have a nanny so I get her to bring her to me so I can feed her. Over the next few months I will add an hour until I am back in the office full time.”

While Sarah and Cara make breastfeeding and employment seem relatively straight forward, for other women, facilities and circumstances in a workplace can be much less accommodating for breastfeeding women. Hayley returned to work when her baby was 6months. She says, “when I asked the manager where I could express while I was at work she said I was more than welcome to grab a stool and sit in the disabled toilets."

 "I ended up expressing twice a day in my car the three days a week when I was at work. I wish I had told her it wasn’t appropriate to offer toilets as a place to express but I didn’t want to cause any issues with my job. It was a casual position and I needed the money.”

Choosing a carer

To make breastfeeding and working possible from a practical perspective, it is important to choose a carer who is breastfeeding friendly: your carer will need to be motivated to implicitly follow your instructions to store and thaw (if necessary) and feed your milk to your baby.

Also, there is nothing worse than arriving with full breasts to pick up your baby, only to find she has just been fed, so do request that your carer considers this.

She can either help your baby wait (as long as he isn’t upset) or offer a small amount of milk to ‘tide him over’ (rather than a full feed) if you are on your way home.This will also require close communication on your part – perhaps a call as you leave work with an estimated arrival time.

Expressing and returning to work

It is wise to start expressing about two weeks before you return to work. This will allow you to become efficient at expressing and store some milk in case you have some ‘low supply’ days when you are back at work. However, please don’t worry if this happens, breastfeeding according to your baby’s cues on your days off will boost your supply again.


For effective tips to boost your milk supply, download our FREE ebook 'Making More Mummy Milk,Naturally' by Pinky McKay IBCLC Lactation Consultant.


What equipment do I need?

To maintain your milk supply, a good quality electric pump is an investment, especially if you buy or hire a pump that expresses both breasts at once as this will shorten the time required to express and also stimulates milk production more effectively.  

To make double pumping easier - or possible at all - check out a fabulously functional  nursing bra that doubles as a pumping bra: the design allows you to simply unclasp the bra cups in front and attach your pump flanges into a discreet layer that holds your pump securely so you can pump 'hands free'

You will need a private space to express and a fridge or eski with ice packs ,as well as milk storage bags or containers to store your milk while you are at work.

It can also be helpful to pack nutritious snacks in your bag to munch on during expressing breaks -  Boobie Bikkies  are individually wrapped so you can just toss some into your bag and grab to give you a healthy energy boost during your work day.

How much milk does my baby need?

The research shows that from one to six months, breastfed babies take in an average of 750 - 800mls per day (intake doesn’t increase with age or size as the composition of your milk changes as baby grows). This will vary between individual babies but a typical range of breast milk intake is from about 570 mils to 900 mls a day.

So, to estimate how much milk your baby will need each feed, work out about how many feeds your baby has in 24 hours then divide 800 mls by that number. For instance, if your baby has 6 feeds a day, you would make up feeds of 150 mls.

It would also be wise to leave some smaller amounts with your carer - say, about 30 to 50 mls, to offer as a top-up if your baby is thirsty or it is almost time for you to pick her up. Then she will still feed when you arrive and also, your carers won't waste precious expressed milk by starting another full bottle if your baby is a bit hungrier than usual.

Practically speaking…

At work, it can help to look at a picture or video of your baby or smell an article of his clothing as you express (Here's a blog post with helpful expressing tips - see the video link in this).

Besides expressing at work, other options to maintain a good milk supply include asking for some flexibility so that perhaps you work from home one day mid- week ( and breastfeed as your baby needs) or either go to your baby or have him brought to you by his carer for a feed during your lunch break if this is practical.

You will also need to take care that after a weekend or days off work, with more frequent feeding, you express for comfort to avoid engorgement and the possibility of developing mastitis.

Gaining support at work

Although legally in Australia, your right to breastfeed (or express at work) is protected by the federal Sex Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, pregnancy and potential pregnancy, an understanding employer and co workers will make things a lot easier. 

To gain support in your workplace, it’s best to notify your employer of your intention to continue breastfeeding as early as possible, preferably while you are pregnant. The Australian Breastfeeding Association has excellent information to share with your employer about why it’s beneficial for businesses to support their breastfeeding staff, including increasing retention rates, lowering absenteeism, reducing recruitment costs and retaining valuable corporate knowledge.

While many workplaces could potentially be happy to support breastfeeding staff, they may not be aware how to help. Try and make your requests clear and simple: you will need a private comfortable space to breastfeed or express milk; access to a fridge (although you can keep freshly expressed milk in an eski with a cool block); time to express; and support from co-workers (inappropriate comments should be reported to HR, this is discrimination).

If you feel less than assertive about requesting support at work, you can tell your employer that your paediatrician has prescribed breastfeeding for health reasons or to prevent allergic reactions (this isn’t necessarily untrue – your baby may develop health problems or allergies if he is fed formula). 

If your co-workers object to human milk in the office fridge (it has happened), store your milk inside a lunch box with your name on - they will be none the wiser!