So, you’ve successfully initiated and nurtured your breastfeeding relationship with your baby and now it’s time to return to work. You’re probably wondering whether you will you be able to continue breastfeeding when returning to work. You’re also probably wondering if it will be hard. Thankfully you can absolutely continue to breastfeed your baby on your return to the workforce if that is what you want to do. It may present some challenges but with a bit of information and expert advice, you’ll be well placed to overcome the obstacles.
Your right to continue breastfeeding when returning to work
Before you consider the available options for feeding your baby when you return to work, it’s important that you first understand your rights in this space. Most developed countries have laws surrounding breastfeeding that dictate these rights. Some examples are below:
- In Australia, your right to breastfeed is protected by the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which states that it is illegal to discriminate against a woman in any way because she is breastfeeding (https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2016C00880). This means, for instance, that you cannot be refused a service because you choose to breastfeed and nor can you be forced to abide by a workplace condition that disadvantages breastfeeding women. This law protects mothers who direct-latch breastfeed as well as those who express milk to give to their baby at a later time. The States and Territories have also implemented legislation that further protects the rights of breastfeeding women. The Australian Breastfeeding Association has a useful page about your legal right to breastfeed (https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/breastfeeding-and-law/legalright). It is also worth noting that it may constitute discrimination and/or breach work health and safety laws if a workplace does not provide adequate facilities and breaks to enable employees to breastfeed or express milk (https://www.fairwork.gov.au/leave/maternity-and-parental-leave/returning-to-work-from-parental-leave). The Fair Work Ombudsman can provide advice and assistance if you believe your workplace is not meeting its legal obligations with regards to breastfeeding in the workplace.
- In the UK, your right to breastfeed in public is protected by the Equality Act 2010 (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents). This law also makes it illegal to discriminate against a breastfeeding woman in a public place. If your employer provides services to the public, then this legislation also forbids discrimination against you in your workplace. There is no legal requirement for workplaces to provide time off work or facilities for breastfeeding and expressing but you do have the right to ask for flexible work. Additional protection is also available to women breastfeeding a child under two in publicly accessible places in Scotland (https://www.maternityaction.org.uk/advice-2/mums-dads-scenarios/6-breastfeeding-rights/breastfeeding-in-public-places/). Maternity Action has a useful page on continuing to breastfeed when you return to work (https://www.maternityaction.org.uk/advice-2/mums-dads-scenarios/6-breastfeeding-rights/continuing-to-breastfeed-when-you-return-to-work/).
- In the US, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 (29 U.S. Code 207) was amended in 2010 (by the Affordable Care Act) to make it a legal requirement for employers to provide reasonable breaks and a suitable area for female employees to breastfeed and express milk for a year after a child’s birth - unless the employer has less than 50 employees and meeting these requirements would impose ‘undue hardship’. In addition, all fifty states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, have implemented laws that allow women to breastfeed in public and private locations. Various states also have additional laws that provide services and protection for breastfeeding mothers. The National Conference of State Legislation has a useful summary of all the US laws relating to breastfeeding in public and in the workplace (http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/breastfeeding-state-laws.aspx).
If your right to breastfeed your baby in your workplace is not protected in legislation, you will need to talk to your employer about their breastfeeding policy to determine if continuing to breastfeed is going to be feasible if/when you return to work.
Why might you continue breastfeeding when returning to work
In order to successfully continue breastfeeding when you return to work, it is helpful to also consider your motivations; the reasons why you wish to breastfeed when you go back to work can affect how you go about doing so. There are, of course, a variety of benefits to continuing to breastfeed when you return to the workforce:
- If your baby is less than six months of age, not exclusively feeding baby with breast milk can introduce a variety of risks for both you and your baby. Recent research has shown that breastfeeding or express breastmilk bottle-feeding reduces the risk of SIDS, gastrointestinal infections, respiratory infections, ear infections, cavities and obesity. Breastfeeding also helps to reduce your risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/health-outcomes-associated-infant-feeding. However, every situation is different and if you are not able to breastfeed and you can certainly still support your health and your baby's health.
- If your baby is less than 12 months of age and has started eating solids, breastmilk or formula still provides the majority of his or her daily nutrition and you may prefer it if this nutrition continues to come from your breast milk.
- If you would like to enrol your child in a daycare centre, breast milk will support Bub’s immune system and help him or her fight the many germs he or she will be exposed to in the centre. This is true regardless of your child’s age. Of course, this is also true even if your child is cared for in a different way (such as by relatives) but daycare centres are hotbeds for germs because of the large number of children.
- Suddenly being cared for by someone other than Mom can be a shock to many children. Continuing to breastfeed your child during this transition will provide a great deal of comfort, helping to ease the transition.
- Breastfeeding is cheaper than formula even when you consider the cost of a breast pump should you choose to use one to express your milk.
- Some families elect to have Mom take some time off work to care for their newborn immediately after birth and then have Dad (or Mom’s partner) take over at a given point. Continuing to breastfeed and expressing breast milk for feeds that occur while you’re at work will enable your partner to feed Bub with expressed breast milk (EBM). This will encourage Bub to associate those feeds with the comfort of breastfeeding with you and thus can help fathers and other partners bond with Bub in a new way. Take a look at this video of some fathers getting in on the feeding action!
- Your child may not be ready to give up breastfeeding.
Things to consider and keys to success if you decide to continue breastfeeding when returning to work
Now you know your rights and have considered what you want to achieve by breastfeeding when you return to work, let’s take a look at what you might need to consider in order to make it happen.
- Direct-latch breastfeeding. If part of your goal is to provide comfort for your little one and/or you want the most cost-effective solution to feeding your baby, you may wish to attempt to continue direct-latch breastfeeding during work hours. Should this be something you want to pursue, you’ll need to investigate care options that allow this. If your workplace has a daycare facility within it or nearby, this may be straightforward. Especially if your organisation provides breaks for breastfeeding. If this isn’t an option, a different form of care may be more appropriate. Perhaps a family member could care for your child and bring him or her to your workplace so you can breastfeed or you might hire someone who can do the same thing. I know of one mother who worked in real estate and so hired a nanny who would look after her newborn in the car while she inspected homes etc. and then she would breastfeed Bub in between clients. Thinking outside the box might allow you to come up with a unique plan that really works for your family.
- Expressing. If your primary goal is to provide nutrition, boost Bub’s immune system, avoid health risks and/or provide comfort but direct-latch breastfeeding isn’t an option, then expressing milk while you’re at work may be the way to go. This will enable someone (indeed pretty much anyone) to feed your baby with EBM while you are working and thus ensure Bub gets all of these benefits. It won’t provide the same level of comfort as direct-latch breastfeeding but it is better than formula or cow’s milk in that regard. It may also be easier to accomplish than the above option. If you choose to express, you can do so by hand or with either a manual or automatic/electric pump. The latter are more expensive but they tend to be the easiest and quickest option, which is particularly important if you need to express multiple times a day. For those who need to save as much time as possible, you can even get double breast pumps that allow you to express from both breasts at once. For those who need to consider stringent financial constraints, expressing by hand is usually slower and may be more difficult for you to accomplish but it is certainly the cheapest option. When you’re not working you can either direct-latch breastfeed or bottle feed with EBM.
- Breastfeed only when not working. If you’re not going to direct-latch breastfeed or express during work hours, you don’t have to give up breastfeeding entirely when returning to work. You do have the option of breastfeeding (either directly or with EBM) outside of work hours. You might choose to do this if your workplace doesn’t, and isn’t required to, provide breaks and facilities for breastfeeding and/or expressing breast milk. Alternatively, many women who wish to continue breastfeeding their toddler when they return to work choose this option as older children that are successfully getting most of their nutrition from solid food don’t usually need to be switched over to formula (though they may need to be offered cow’s milk or a calcium-fortified alternative if they aren’t going to get sufficient calcium from your milk outside of work hours). If you choose to go down this path, you may need to pay closer attention to your milk supply, particularly if you currently breastfeed and/or express throughout the day. This is because suddenly dropping multiple feeds that normally occur during the hours you will soon be working can signal to your body that you don’t need to produce milk anymore. Not all mothers will experience this but to be on the safe side you might consider slowly cutting out the feeds that you won’t be delivering while working in the weeks or months before you return so that the transition is more gradual. This will help maintain your supply and also help your baby with the transition. It’s also worth noting that if your periods have not yet returned, a sudden decrease in breastfeeding may cause them to start up again.
Other things to consider
- Your baby’s age. If you’re thinking of returning to work when your baby is only a few weeks old, it may be particularly challenging to continue breastfeeding on your return to the workforce. This is partly because you will need to breastfeed or express quite frequently but also because your breastfeeding relationship with your baby may not yet be well established. If the latter is the case for you, you may consider delaying your return until you and your baby are completely comfortable with breastfeeding. If this isn’t possible, you may wish to seek extra support to help you get through the first few weeks of your return. If, on the other hand, your child is older, be aware that some children self-initiate weaning when they commence daytime care. If you have an older child and you particularly want to continue breastfeeding, you may need to work hard to keep it going.
- Who will care for your child. The breastfeeding option you choose when you return to work will, to some extent, dictate what kind of care options you have open to you. If you’re not going to breastfeed or express while working you can choose any form of care you like. If you’re going to express, most care options are open to you; you will just need to ensure that the carer or facility is willing to feed your baby with EBM. If, however, you want to continue direct-latch breastfeeding, you’ll need to find a care option that means your child is either close by or can be brought to you for every feed. Many workplace daycare centres have long waiting lists so if that is the option you’re aiming for, be sure to check in with the centre as early as possible to ensure you have the best chance of getting your child enrolled by the time you wish to recommence work. It’s also worth noting that, in some areas, daycare centres vary substantially in their knowledge about and support of breastfeeding. As such, if you wish to enrol your child in a daycare centre, it’s a good idea to thoroughly investigate your preferred centre’s policies and setup. For instance, can you breastfeed your child at the centre before and after work if you wish? This would help your child feel more comfortable in the centre and also expose you to the germs that your child will be exposed to allowing you to develop specific antibodies for those illnesses that can then be passed to your child through your milk. (Without this, your milk will still boost their immune system but you won’t be able to produce specific antibodies to illnesses until your child has already contracted them.) Similarly, if you want your child to be fed EBM, does your preferred childcare centre have a suitable fridge to store it?
- How many hours you will work. Many workplaces will offer part-time and/or flexible working arrangements to mothers returning to work and in some areas, this is required by law. Whether you worked full- or part-time before having your baby, you may wish to consider working fewer hours on your return, at least initially. This can be valuable for any mother, especially as it allows you to continue to spend lots of time with your child and engage in special activities, such as swimming lessons, that may only occur during business hours. However, it is particularly useful if you’re not getting enough sleep or need to be able to drop off and pick up your child from care or another activity (such as preschool if your child is a little older) during work hours. If the government in your area offers a childcare subsidy, working reduced hours may also make more financial sense. Often these subsidies only cover fees up to a capped amount or for a specified number of hours per week so working full time can sometimes mean you pay more in childcare fees. In some cases, the cost of childcare may even become more than your income once you pass the subsidy threshold.
Nipple confusion. If you choose to express milk or use formula for feeds that will occur during work hours, you may want to consider the possibility that your baby might suffer from nipple confusion. Nipple confusion occurs when a baby feeds from something other than a real nipple and then either develops a preference for the alternative and starts to refuse the breast, or develops bad feeding habits that make it difficult for the baby to switch back to direct-latch breastfeeding. Generic nipples and common causes of this but thankfully Minbie bottles and nipples are specifically designed to mimic the natural breastfeeding latch and action and so are very good at preventing nipple confusion. This makes them a great choice for mothers wishing to breastfeed when they return to work. Melanie Y. certainly found this to be the case. She told us that:
“I needed to return to work, but my little man refused to take the bottle. These teats are amazing! They allowed me to work one day a week with my little one in daycare on the bottle and breast feed the rest of the time, with no confusion and no trouble switching from one to the other. I've recommended them to all my friends who want to easily switch between bottle and breast when required!”
- Equipment. As you will have gathered from reading the above, if you’re not going to exclusively direct-latch breastfeed and need your baby to be fed with formula or EBM while you work, you’ll need some equipment. If your baby is under six months of age, you’ll almost definitely need some bottles and nipples (Minbie is a good choice if you want to avoid nipple confusion) as well as sterilising equipment. If your baby is older, EBM or formula might be offered to Bub in a cup or your EBM could even be mixed into solid food, such as cereal or mashed potato. If you’re expressing breast milk, you’ll need an insulated container to transport your EBM, access to a fridge to store your EBM while you’re working and you may also want a breast pump (in which case you’ll need access to a tap and basin with which to wash the parts). If you’re using an electric breast pump, you’ll also need access to a power point next to a low table, both of which are next to the chair you plan to sit in which expressing so that you can setup and comfortably use your pump. If you’re not planning to breastfeed or express during work hours, it’s worth noting that you may experience some discomfort when you first go back to work due to an oversupply of milk. As such, you may still need to learn to hand-express in order to relieve the discomfort. Alternatively, you may be able to borrow a pump just until your supply has adjusted to your new routine.
How you’ll prepare. Your chosen method of breastfeeding when you return to work will dictate how you prepare for the transition. If you’re going to continue direct-latch feeding then you’ll just need to explain the new care arrangements to your child. If you’re going to start bottle feeding for the first time, you’ll need to have a few goes before your child starts care otherwise Bub may refuse to feed from a bottle, especially if it’s offered by an unfamiliar carer. You don’t need to commence the process weeks before your first day back at work, especially if you’re using Minbie’s bottles since they so closely resemble direct-latch breastfeeding, but starting a few days beforehand would be a good idea. As noted in the equipment point above, if you’re not going to breastfeed or express during work hours, you may want to gradually reduce feeds during the hours you will soon be working so that your milk supply can adjust and your breasts won’t be too full when you first start back in the office. Doing this will also help Bub make a smoother transition to the new care arrangements.
- Your baby’s sleep routine. If your baby currently breastfeeds in order to fall asleep, you’ll also need to start breaking this habit unless you’re going to direct-latch breastfeed on your return to work. If you don’t, Bub may not be able to nap while you’re at work and that will cause all sorts of problems. If this is something you need to sort out, consider talking to your chosen care provider about their methods of helping your baby to nap so that you can start training your baby to use those methods. If those methods don’t work for you or your baby, you’ll need to find a compromise (either the carer will need to be willing to use whatever method works for you and your baby or you may have to seek alternative care arrangements).
- Energy levels. Looking after a baby is hard work. Returning to work with a little one, especially if you’re not getting enough sleep, can sometimes be even harder. As such, it may be worth considering that you might not have enough energy to breastfeed or express during work hours. Many mothers won’t have that issue but it’s good to have a backup plan in case it’s too much for you. Even if it doesn’t affect you that much, it is also worth remembering that you need more energy when breastfeeding. As such, you’ll need to eat more during work time than you did prior to commencing breastfeeding so you’ll need to plan accordingly; whether that’s packing extra food, ensuring you have enough cash to buy more food or finding extra time to eat more food.
Top tips for continuing to breastfeed when returning to work
- Know your rights
- Talk to your employer about the facilities and support they offer to breastfeeding moms
- Have a plan for how and when you’ll breastfeed and how you might overcome issues that might crop up
- Seek support from friends, family, co-workers and other moms who have been through the same thing you’re about to go through
- Prepare in advance
- Remember to look after yourself when at work
- Do a graduated return to work whereby you do partial weeks for a short time, gradually building up to your agreed upon hours
Share your experience
Have you had some experience of breastfeeding while working? Perhaps you’ve had a chat with your employer or preferred daycare centre or maybe you stopped breastfeeding when you returned to work after a previous pregnancy and would like to continue this time around. Maybe you’ve just returned to work and have some tips you’d like to share with other moms. Whatever your story, we’d love to hear it - why not share it in the comments.
Minbie helps everyday moms continue breastfeeding when they return to work
It's a miracle!!! - I’ve tried over 5 different brands of bottle and my 7 month old baby point blank refused to take them. However I saw the Facebook page for minbie and thought I'd have one last go! Not only does she take the bottle happily, she wants to do it herself! Such a relief with my return to work looming! Sarah K
Love it!!! - Newborn KitMy 3 month old is totally breast fed I tried 4 different types of bottles and he didn't want to latch on to it he wanted it from the source itself. I saw the videos of the other babied that had the same issue as him and decided to order it and see and he actually took it and it's a great lifesaver due to me getting ready to go back to work! I would like to think the makers of Minbie for coming up with this great idea! Kaylen S.
My little girl did not take to any bottle really, until I introduced her to Minbie. She took to it straight away : milk or water in it. So happy as I have to go back to work soon so now I have a bottle she can use finally without no hassle. Definitely would recommend this product. Best purchase I have made for her. Thanks Minbie xx Suzannah W.
I had to get my 8 month old on to a bottle as she is starting creche as I go back to work this week. So it was a bit of a stress finding a bottle that she would actually take and settle on. All the other bottles which I had tried had very minimal success. But with minbie she took the bottle the first time with only a little fuss at the start. I'm so glad she has a bottle that she can have at creche now. (I started her on a slow bottle as she has feeding troubles - but I'll move her up on the teats once she settles into using a bottle) Christine M.
No Better Bottle Around - To say we LOVE the minbie is an understatement. After doing research, and reading all the glowing reviews about minbie we knew we had to give it a try. When looking at prices we were a little skeptical so we figured we would try other cheaper options that were avaliable on the market - Nukk, Avent, etc. - but after time and time again our daughter kept having such issues with all other brands. So we knew it was time to try the minbie bottles. Of course as mentioned the pricing is a little much compared to others, but it is SO WORTH IT. Our daughter goes from breast to bottle with such ease I am honestly so impressed! Not to mention the teats are truly soft to mimic a mother’s breast! DO NOT let the pricing fool you! You are truly paying for what you receive, and for working momma’s like myself that are fearful of returning to work when having an exclusively breastfeed baby these bottles will be your lifesaver! SO happy we caved and purchased! WE MOST DEFINITELY RECOMMEND THE MINBIE!! Do not waste your time with trial and error with other bottles! Save yourself and just purchase the minbie!” Nydia S.