Returning to work when you’re still breastfeeding can seem a challenging decision. However with good advice and organisation it can be done!
Baby Hints & Tips breastfeeding expert, Lynne-McKensey Hall IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) shares her tips for success.
Returning to work when breastfeeding takes some planning. It can be scary and exciting as you prepare. Exciting as you anticipate adult conversation and potentially a welcomed increase to the bank balance. Yet, scary as you contemplate how you will juggle several balls in the air at once. You will be leaving your baby, ongoing breastfeeding, working and maintaining a home life balance. It’s a very full plate!
That said, don’t panic! Anything is possible with some planning, organisation, patience and a sense of humour (not always easy!).
- Decide how you’re going to feed once you go back to work
It’s worth considering all your breastfeeding options when you return to work. Continuing to breastfeed maintains the bond between you and your baby, and it can be very rewarding for both of you when you’re together. Of course, it will also mean your baby will keep receiving the many benefits of breastmilk for as long as you choose.
There are many ways to keep breastfeeding for mums returning to work. What works for you will depend on the type of work you do, your workplace and your child care arrangements.
There are a number of factors which will impact your decision including the age / stage of your baby and whether you wish to comp with formula or exclusively breast feed.
Depending on your situation you may choose to:
- breastfeed before and after work and at night only
- bottle-feeding with expressed breastmilk or infant formula during the day when your baby is in care
2. Find a balance that works
Ongoing breastfeeding or providing breast milk is possible and worthwhile, however, whatever and whenever you can manage. Return to work when breastfeeding is about making a plan and then being able to adjust it as necessary.
The key is finding the balance that works for you within your family unit. Whatever works best for you is the best decision. If this is stressful or causing anxiety, you may wish to re-think or adapt your plan.
3. Get the right equipment
Depending on what path you choose to take in continuing feeding you will need different equipment to do this. This might include a breast pump, bottles or milk storage bags, an insulated carrier bag and breast pads.
Assess what you will need and make sure you have all the equipment (and have used it before crunch time) well in advance of returning to work.
4. Get the right clothes
This might seem silly but your pre baby work clothes may not be ideal for if you need to express in the office. Having to fully unzip and pull down to your waist that old favourite shift dress might mean that needs to hang in the wardrobe a little bit longer.
Consider what you already have that will make expressing in the workplace easier. If you don’t have something that will make the process more simple consider buying something.
5. Inform your manager or HR of your intentions so they can assist you
Many workplaces proactively support breastfeeding and expressing as the means of encouraging their female employees back to work. While legislation has facilitated this in government settings, other workplaces still need encouragement to improve their support of women when they return to work.
If you want to keep breastfeeding when you return to work, discuss your breastfeeding needs with your employer well before you go back to work. It’s a good idea to check your employer’s attitudes to and knowledge of breastfeeding policies. If you need to, you can discuss it with the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Officer or Human Resources Department at your workplace.
Ideally your employer will support your decision and provide you with a comfortable, private place you can feed.
6. Plan ahead for your childcare when you return to work when breastfeeding
The main thing to consider and plan for well ahead of time is childcare — either with a family member, a nanny or a childcare centre. What potential or options do you have to work from home full- or part-time? Is job-sharing an option?
If your baby is about to start or is eating complementary foods (solids), can he use a bottle or a cup? Are you comfortable with expressing? Is your pump sufficient to manage your expressing needs? What facilities does your workplace provide to help you breastfeed your baby at work or express and store your breast milk?
Preparing, freezing and storing food prior to returning to work for meals at home or for work can certainly help, regardless of who does the hunting and gathering in your household. How much, how often and where can you outsource the domestic duties to ease the load?
7. Expect baby to change because you have
Think of the early days and weeks of returning to work as a time of transition for you and your baby. Some days may be easier than others. Your baby’s sleep and eating patterns may change in response to the changes in his world, potentially resulting in him waking and wanting more breastfeeds overnight.
If you are working part-time, he may breastfeed frequently on your days off which can be a useful way of maintaining your supply for breastfeeding and or ongoing expressing. Childcare and managing the house may need some fine-tuning.
8. Be proud of what you have achieved
The important thing is for you to remain optimistic and positive about what you are doing for yourself, your family unit and most of all, for your baby. Flexibility will be required and some days will be easier than others.
Breastfeeding, the law and Australian employers
Australian employers are improving their attitudes to breastfeeding and are getting better at supporting mums returning to work who want to keep breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding and expressing at work isn’t just good for you and your baby – it’s good for your employer too!
Benefits of breastfeeding for employers
When employers support their workers to breastfeed, the benefits include increased staff retention, reduced costs, improved staff satisfaction and reduced sick leave.
Breastfeeding and your rights
For some mums, it’s important to know that you have the law on your side. According to the Federal Sex Discrimination Act, it’s illegal to discriminate against a woman on the basis that she is breastfeeding. Employers must make reasonable attempts to meet your needs if you want to breastfeed, express or store your milk at work.
Accredited breastfeeding workplaces
Some workplaces are now accredited by the Australian Breastfeeding Association as Breastfeeding Friendly Workplaces. These workplaces make it easier for breastfeeding mums returning to work. For more information about workplaces that are already accredited and how you can go about getting your own workplace accredited, see thr website Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace.
Returning to Work is the fifth booklet in my Breastfeeding and Baby Matters series.
Lynne-McKensey Hall has over thirty years’ experience in nursing, midwifery, nurse education and lactation management. She now works as an IBCLC in her private practice Better Beginnings in Sydney, Australia.
Lynne has just released Breastfeeding & Baby Matters, a series of eight booklets available from Better Beginnings. She is also available for phone 0419 245 966 and Skype consultations. To see all of Lynne’s articles, click here.
This article was updated in 2020 with additional current information from the Raising Children Network.