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Breastfeeding & Returning to Work by Pinky McKay

Breastfeeding & Returning to Work by Pinky McKay

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 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.

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. 

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 four 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.

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 which expresses both breasts at once as this will shorten the time required to express and also stimulates milk production more effectively.  A wearable pump such as Bubka can be a game changer. The Bubka Pro 2 wearable double electric breast pump gives you freedom to express breast milk hands-free, without power cords.

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.

Pack some healthy snacks and drinks such as Boobie Bikkies™ and perhaps an insulated drink bottle of Boobie Tea™ to keep you hydrated and maintain your energy - breastfeeding (making milk) requires an extra 200-500 calories a day depending how old your baby is and whether he is exclusively breastfed or is feeding less. 

It can be helpful to consider a ‘distraction’ so you can relax as you express: download an audiobook or podcast onto your phone, or you can simply scroll social media or make a phone call.

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 – your breast milk composition changes to meet your baby’s changing nutritional and immunological  needs). 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 is 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 of your baby or smell an article of his clothing as you express.

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 of 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! And remember, rude comments are discrimination, so should be reported to HR.


Pinky McKay is one of Australia's most recognised and respected breastfeeding experts and Creator of Boobie Foods, all natural and organic foods for breastfeeding mums. She's an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), mum of five and best-selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby, Parenting By Heart and 100 Ways to Calm the Crying.

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