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How To Return To Work Successfully While Breastfeeding

Returning to work after having a baby can be an extremely daunting task. Leaving your baby, sometimes for the first time, to go back to a life you had pre-baby is a scary prospect and learning to juggle the logistics of being a working mum can take time.

The decision to continue breastfeeding after returning to work can also pose some new challenges, at least at the start. Expressing or pumping means that your baby continues to receive the nutrition and goodness of breastmilk and allows you to continue breastfeeding when you're at home as well. The challenge is finding the time and space to express milk in the workplace, in order to maintain your supply and provide milk for your bub.

Top tips for returning to work and expressing

Preparing to pump

  • You'll first need to work out how many feeds your bub will be missing while you're at work and how much milk you'll (approximately) need to express to meet those needs. This will usually depend on how old your baby is and whether they're being exclusively breastfed, mix fed (formula and breastmilk) and/or have started solids.
  • Once you've got an idea of how much milk you need, you can work out how often you'll need to express.
  • Begin pumping a few weeks prior to returning to work so that you have a stash of milk already built up. This will help you ease into your new routine with a minimum of stress. Many mums use the Haakaa Breast Pump to easily create that first stash of breastmilk in anticipation of returning to work. You can find out more about using the Haakaa here.
  • Consider investing in some comfortable, pump-friendly clothes so that you don't need to spend huge amounts of time trying to access your actual boob! Buttons or shirts that can be easily pulled down or up are a breastfeeding mamas best friend. A nursing cami is also a great option as it can be worn underneath your clothes, offers easy breast access and keeps your belly etc covered even during pumping.
  • Make sure you discuss your breastfeeding and expressing needs with your employer before you return to work. Be realistic about the time and how often you will need to express – you’re not going to be able to relax and express effectively if you’ve only given yourself five minutes before the weekly staff meeting, and everyone is next door complaining loudly about the utter boredom of staff meetings!
  • The Australian Breastfeeding Association has some really helpful templates to guide you and your employer through the return to work process.
  • You may want to try introducing a bottle to your bub before your actual return to work. You can check out our guide to introducing a bottle here and also some info on using nipple shields to help transition bub, here.

Pumping in the workplace

  • Make sure you've got an area (not the toilet!) that is private and comfortable, ideally with a chair, table and powerpoint if necessary.
  • Communicate with your co-workers and let them know that you'll be out of action for a period/periods during the day while you pump. This can ensure you're not interrupted when you're trying to relax and get the milk flowing!
  • A battery pack can be very handy if you're using an electric pump and powerpoints are hard to come by.
  • While some women prefer to wash their pump after every use, you can safely use your pump multiple times a day without washing in between. To do this, all you'll need to do is store the pump parks in a ziplock bag or tupperware container and pop them in the fridge between use. Then just wash as normal at the end of the day.
  • Sometimes headphones and a meditation podcast or audiobook can help you block out work stress and background noise so you can relax.
  • Stash some extra breast pads in your desk/pumping bag to use during/after pumping to catch any leaks!
  • A hands free pumping bra, like the Pump Strap Hands Free Pumping Bra, is a great option for the workplace as it can be worn over a nursing bra or nursing top meaning you don't need to fully undress every time you want to pump!
  • A hands free pumping bra, like the Pump Strap Hands Free Pumping Bra, is a great option for the workplace as it can be worn over a nursing bra or nursing top meaning you don't need to fully undress every time you want to pump!

 Storing your milk

  • An insulated cooler bag with ice blocks or bricks is ideal for transporting your pump and milk to and from work.
  • Discuss with your employer where you will be able to store your milk during the day and stock up on storage bags or bottles. We love Junobie Reusable Silicone Breastmilk Storage Bags as an awesome, plastic-free and re-usable storage option.
  • Brush up on the milk storage guidelines so you know how and where to store your milk safely.

Breastmilk Storage Guidelines

Breastmilk Room Temperature Refrigerator Freezer

Freshly Expressed into a closed container

6 - 8 hours

(26o C or lower)

If refrigeration is available store milk there

No more than 72 hours

Store in back, where it is coldest

2 weeks in freezer compartment inside refrigerator (-15o C)

3 months in freezer section of refrigerator with separate door (-18o C)

6 - 12 months in deep freeze (-20o C)

It seems like a lot to start with but it does get easier as you get used to a new routine. Make sure that you give yourself enough time and space to express and that you use your lunch break for, well, actually eating some lunch!

It is worth noting that all Australian states have legislation that protects your right to combine breastfeeding and paid work. This means it may be against the law for an employer to refuse to make arrangements to assist an employee to breastfeed at work or accommodate an employee’s breastfeeding needs (including expressing).

It is your responsibility as an employee to negotiate your individual breastfeeding needs and how these can fit with the organisational needs of the employer. Employers are obligated by the above legislation to take reasonable measures to accommodate your needs under law. Chat with your employer about how you think it will best work and put a plan in place from the get-go so that everyone is on the same page. This will mean issues are less likely to arise down the track.

Good luck as you return to work and remember that you have the hardest job on the planet – working mum – and it might not always feel like it, but you are doing a great job!

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