Working Mothers: Breastfeeding and Working
When you are going back to work for the first time after having your baby, there’s a lot to think about it. It’s very normal to have some concerns.
Make you sure that you check out other articles in the Working Mother series if you are feeling stressed about going back or putting your child into care, or just the general juggle of trying to do everything.
This article delves into the particularly special juggle that is dealing with breastfeeding and work.
Breastfeeding and work
When you return to work, you may need to face the reality of expressing while you are there. If you want your baby to keep having breastmilk while you are working then you want to keep your supply up.
If you are trying to stop breastfeeding, you still may need to express a bit at work at the beginning for your own comfort, because a whole day without letting some out can get both painful and leaky.
If you are lucky enough to be able to take your baby to work or have them in childcare nearby, then you may be able to actually breastfeed while at work.
For many women, the idea of getting their breasts out at work might be a bit foreign, and it’s normal and quite sensible to be a bit self-conscious about this. Your usual work identity does not involve exposing your nipples for feeding or any other reason, so you may feel uncomfortable about that mum-identity creeping in and confusing things here.
What are your rights?
Every state in Australia has legislation that prevents discrimination on the basis of things like sex, that you are a parent, pregnant or breastfeeding, and there is also a federal law to protect you as well. The Federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 was amended in 2011 to strengthen the law specifically regarding the rights of breastfeeding women.
Talk to someone at your work before your return to let them know that you will need somewhere to express as well as somewhere to store your milk.
You are entitled to a private, lockable space to do this, that is not just the women’s bathroom. If you have the opportunity to actually breastfeed at work then you are entitled to a space to do this.
Failure for an employer to provide a suitable place for you, and allow you to adjust your work breaks to fit with when you need to express/feed, can be considered discriminatory and you may be able to pursue legal action.
All of this depends upon whether your requests are reasonable, or any refusal on the part of the employer to accommodate them is unreasonable when taking into consideration the specific practicalities of the business and workplace.
The onus is on you however to negotiate this. You need to ask for these rights and ensure you are getting them, so it may be helpful to arm yourself with all the relevant knowledge about the laws around this. It helps if you pump up your own confidence a bit too before asking for these rights, or perhaps having a support person coaxing you through it if you think you might struggle.
For an awesome reference on this check out this fact sheet from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
Some tips and hints to help you become a fantastic breast juggler
Get breastpads to wear while you are at work; you will need these and be very thankful for them.
Wear clothes that you can express in (similar to what you would actually breastfeed in). Don’t wear shift dresses or jumpsuits that you will have to take off entirely to get access.
You will need to express in the beginning at the same times that you would normally have fed your baby. You can reduce this after a little time and probably combine them into just one expressing time. Once your baby is on solids and you are feeding less often you may be able to get through the whole day without needing to express.
You obviously need to leave your baby with the amount of breastmilk that he would normally consume if you were together. Helpfully, while he is in childcare drinking this amount, you are at work expressing his feed for tomorrow, so the pattern will continue nicely.
Tip #1: When you get home
When you get home, you may need to express again immediately to relieve discomfort or make sure you have enough for tomorrow. This can be a difficult time because you are just walking in the door, seeing your baby and partner for the first time all day, needing to fix dinner, possibly feed your baby again, then wash and sterilise all your bottles and expressing equipment.
All of this does sound like a bit of a juggling act, but of course, it is all doable. It helps to plan and schedule a little bit so that you know what you are going to be doing when you first get home.
Work out what is most important, and then prioritise everything after that.
Ask for help from your partner whenever you need it, and don’t feel guilty for this. If you need some downtime for yourself, or you would just rather cuddle with your baby than cook or organise the house, then do this, and don’t feel bad for anything you are putting off.
Consider planning your meals beforehand, such as cooking in bulk on the weekend, getting fresh meals delivered, or getting your partner to be cook for the nights when you are working.
Tip #2: If you want to keep exclusively breastfeeding
It helps to get your baby used to a bottle before your first day at work.
The bottles with teats designed to imitate the shape of a breast can be the best transition bottle to use.
It may help if you are not in the room when someone is trying to give your baby expressed milk for the first time. Babies understand that you are right there and have perfectly good boobs which can do this for them, so may be reluctant to take a bottle initially if they know you are around.
Tip #3: If you are going to mixed feed
Introduce formula before your first day of work so he is already accustomed to it. Breastfed babies often struggle a little when moving to formula because of the change in consistency, so you might need to have a few goes, or dilute the formula a bit with breastmilk or boiled water to get them used to the thicker consistency.
Some babies hate the taste of some formulas, and some react to cow’s milk-based ones, so leave a couple of weeks before you start work to try a few formulas until you’ve got one that your baby will happily take.
A personal story
I have breastfed three babies while returning to work. My bubs went into childcare at around 5 months of age so I could keep working. It can be a difficult juggle, but I felt it was worth the effort. Plus I was lucky, I really loved being able to breastfeed.
Each baby was a slightly different story. My first went into a childcare right near my work, so I could duck over and feed him during the day. This made life easier for me (I’m sure he wouldn’t have cared either way) and I did like having a little snuggle with him during the day.
By my second baby, I was at another workplace, and she was a suburb away, so was fully subsiding on breastmilk. I tried to get her to have formula as well so I wouldn’t have to express quite as much, but she wasn’t having any of that discussion. She rejected every formula we tried, and in the end stayed on breastmilk until she 12 months old and we could move her to milk.
By my third baby, I tried to continue to give her breastmilk while I worked, but found after a few months it was all just too hard. Not only was I working and breastfeeding, but I had three kids to look after by now. We switched her to formula at around six months old, purely because I couldn’t keep it all up logistically.
I felt quite guilty about that at the time because the first two babies got to wean themselves in their own time, but my third child is 4 now and a force to be reckoned with, so I don’t think she suffered any.
Do what works, and treat yourself with compassion
Working mums are rockstars, and working mums who breastfeed at the same time are the bomb.
There is a lot going on at all times, and the best thing you can do is be kind to yourself wherever you can. Don’t feel bad if things like ironing or housework slide so that you can prioritise feeding and looking after your baby and managing your worklife as well.
At the same time handling all of this is HARD. If you continue to work and breastfeed that’s fantastic, but if it is too much to manage, then it is completely reasonable to switch to formula if it will save your sanity.