How to keep breastfeeding when you return to work

Cheree Sheldon: Find a place at work where you can relax, you don't have to use the toilet! Cheree Sheldon: Find a place at work where you can relax, you don't have to use the toilet!

Breast pumps, storing milk and leaky boobs: returning to work while still breastfeeding can be a messy process.

But it’s not impossible – and we’re seeing a number of large employers step up to offer facilities that can help, such as breastfeeding and pumping rooms, and even breast milk delivery services (thank you IBM!)

According to 2008 data in the Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy report, a good 42% of women have returned to work by the time their child is 12 months old, with 11% by three months and 21% by six months – meaning many are no doubt still breastfeeding. 

Given it’s National Breastfeeding Week this week, we thought we’d share some tips for those who choose to return to work while still breastfeeding. 

Cheree Sheldon is a nutritionist with The Healthy Mummy, responsible for creating balanced meals and ideas for breastfeeding mothers. Below, she offers some ideas on what new working mothers can do.  

First up, Sheldon recommends you sit down with your employer to discuss your intentions for breastfeeding when you return to work. You have three main options: Bring your baby to work and breastfeed on demand while working; having your baby looked after close by and feeding them as needed; or pumping while working and preparing expressed milk for when you are apart. 

"Remember: It is against the law to prevent a woman returning to work while breastfeeding," she says. "However, the number of lactation breaks required by each woman differs, and your needs and expectations need to be made clear when you return. This is best done before you go on maternity leave." But this is still a conversation you can have just before returning to work. 

If you're breastfeeding or pumping in the office, Sheldon recommends you find a quiet, comfortable and private place to do so where you can relax and release the Oxytocin you need. "You do not have to feed in the toilets!" says Sheldon. "If you have your own office, shut the door, put up a sign and utilise your space however you need. If you do not have your own office, your employer is required to find you a space. Your workplace can even choose to become an accredited Breastfeeding Friendly workplace through the Australian Breastfeeding Association."

Meanwhile, if you've got expressed milk to store you'll either need to find a fridge to store it in, or take a cooler bag to work with plenty of ice blocks in it to safely store the milk throughout the day. If you are putting it in a shared friend, be sure to label it. "You don’t want it to end up in someone’s coffee by accident!" says Sheldon. 

You may also want to consider hiring a double electric pump kit from the ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Association) while you are transitioning into your return to work. "They are the fastest and most effective way to pump milk, and will reduce your lactation break time down by half, making more time for an actual relax in your lunch break," says Sheldon. 

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