Breastfeeding and returning to work

With the right planning and support women can continue breastfeeding when returning to work.

Research shows that breastfeeding is very healthy for your baby, as breastmilk contains nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins and probiotics. Returning to work after having your baby may become challenging when you have to breastfeed or express milk, so it is important to know what to consider if you want to breastfeed at work.

There are many different options for working mums to consider so they can continue breastfeeding. The best option for you will depend on your work hours and childcare arrangements. If you are not able to breastfeed your baby at work, you may consider breastfeeding before and after work and at night. Another option may be to express your milk at work so your baby has enough to be bottle-fed when you cannot be with them. If you are lucky, your baby may be at a daycare near your workplace, so you might arrange a time to go to them and breastfeed.

Breastfeeding at work

Full-time employees who wish to breastfeed are entitled to up to one hour of paid lactation breaks per working day. If you are returning to work after having your baby and plan to breastfeed, you may want to have a meeting with your employer to discuss an agreement regarding lactation breaks and suitable locations to breastfeed. It might be beneficial to do this before prior to having your baby or going on maternity leave. Suitable workplace facilities should be provided for employees who chose to breastfeed their babies or express breast milk at work.

What to consider if you are breastfeeding at work

Where possible, check if these facilities are available to you when breastfeeding at work:

  • A private, hygienic and lockable space that is clean.

  • Comfortable seating.

  • A table for breastfeeding equipment.

  • A power point if breast pump is being used.

  • Access to a fridge for storage of breast milk.

  • Facilities such as a locker for storage of breast pump and other equipment.

A confidential booking sheet is to be available when there is more than one woman using the facilities.

Expressing and safe storage of milk

If you are returning to work or circumstances arise where you cannot be with your baby, it is likely that you will have to express your breast milk. Consider purchasing or hiring an electric breast pump to make this quicker and easier for you. Before expressing milk, make sure your hands and equipment is clean. Labelling containers of breastmilk with the time and date it was expressed may help if you are refrigerating or freezing the milk for later. What makes breast milk available to your baby is known as the let-down reflex. When expressing milk for your baby, you can trigger your let-down reflex by listening to calm music, massaging your breasts or looking at a photo of your baby.

It is also important for you to store your breast milk in a safe way if you must express for future feeding. If you have expressed fresh breast milk into a closed container, it can remain at room temperature (26 degrees Celsius or lower) for six to eight hours, or stored in the refrigerator for no more than 72 hours. Try to store it in the back, where it is the coldest. Alternatively, the milk can be frozen for up to three months or 6-12 months if in a deep freeze.

If you thaw the milk in the refrigerator, do not refreeze. It can be in room temperature for four hours or less, perhaps for the next feeding, or stored in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  If the milk is thawed outside of the fridge in warm water, keep in room temperature of the completion of feeding or hold for four hours or until the next feeding.  Do not refreeze. Finally, if the infant has begun feeding, complete the feeding and then discard any remnants.

What to do if you experience discrimination

Breastfeeding is a protected attribute in Queensland and according to the Australian Federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984, it is illegal to discriminate either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding. This law represents all areas of public life, including the workplace.

If you experience any difficulty regarding your breastfeeding arrangements at work, you may want to discuss the issue with the Human Resources department or the manager of your workplace as a first course of action.

For further support you can call the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s (ABA) Helpline on 1800 686 268 or attend a local ABA group meeting. It is always important to find emotional support through your family, GP or counselling.

Last updated: June 2017

© Women's Health Queensland Wide Inc. This article was written by Emilia Kurylewska, 3rd year Creative Industries (Media, Communications and Journalism) student from QUT and reviewed by the Women's Health Queensland Wide editorial committee

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