Breastfeeding and Work – Making it work

The World breastfeeding Week theme this year is ‘ Breastfeeding and Work. Let’s Make it Work.’ The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) is calling for concerted global action to support women to combine breastfeeding and work. WABA states, “whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal or home setting, she needs to feel sufficiently empowered to claim the right to breastfeed on behalf of both herself and her baby. “

Increasing numbers of women are making breastfeeding work as they return to paid employment but for many the decision is fraught with worry about how they will manage to maintain a milk supply as well as the practical aspects of expressing, storing and transporting their ‘liquid gold.’

Sarah, mother of a ten month old returned to work when her baby was five months old. She says, “ I remember stressing about having to express and what that would mean for me, how I would cope, if it was going to be easier to just stop breastfeeding. She says, once I started work and got into a routine it was fine and I realised I was worried about nothing. We are still breastfeeding as much as ever.

Cara, mother of a four month old started back at work last week. She says, “our company has a soft landing policy so I work from home in the morning and then go into the office at lunch. We have a nursery room so it’s pretty easy to pump in the office. The biggest challenge is finding time to pump so I schedule it in my diary and have even started walking out of meetings if I need to. I pump in the morning and then breastfeed my baby and head into the office around 12. She has two x 120mls bottles of expressed milk whilst I am gone and then feeds normally at night. The only trouble I have found is if I have a late meeting or work event but I have a nanny so I get her to bring her to me so I can feed her. Over the next few months I will add an hour until I am back in the office full time.

While Sarah and Cara make breastfeeding and employment seem relatively straight forward, for other women, facilities and circumstances in a workplace can be much less accommodating for breastfeeding women. Hayley returned to work when her baby was 6months. She says, “when I asked the manager where I could express while I was at work she said I was more than welcome to grab a stool and sit in the disabled toilets.  I ended up expressing twice a day in my car the three days a week when I was at work. I wish I had told her it wasn’t appropriate to offer toilets as a place to express but I didn’t want to cause any issues with my job. It was a casual position and I needed the money.”

Sydney lawyer, Cassandra Censigh, regularly appears in courts across NSW as part of her job. She says, “unfortunately the court system does not supply facilities for working mothers to breast feed or express. Often the only private place to express is a public toilet where the conditions are absolutely abhorrent.” Cassandra has notified the Women’s Lawyers Association about the conditions and created a petition in an effort to encourage the legal profession to provide facilities for mothers who return to work. Sign the petition HERE .

Working it out

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.

Although 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 – you may need to multi –task during your lunch break (tip: a double electric pump and a hands-free nursing and pumping bra that holds your pump flanges in place will make things much easier); and support from co-workers (inappropriate comments should be reported to HR, this is discrimination).

It can be helpful to suggest that your workplace apply for Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace accreditation. This is awarded by the Australian Breastfeeding Association to organisations that provide three simple criteria to support their breastfeeding employees – space, time, and support. It will help your employer understand and implement breastfeeding friendly practices and you could be making it easier for other women to consider breastfeeding when they return to work.

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