Breastfeeding and returning to work

Breastfeeding and returning to work

Returning to work does not need to be the end of your breastfeeding relationship with your baby.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that breastfeeding continue for six months exclusively and then be complemented with solid foods for up to two years to obtain the optimal benefits from breastfeeding.

The longer your baby has breastmilk the greater the health benefits for you both. These include less likelihood of common childhood illnesses, such as diarrhoea and chest infections for your baby. The benefits for the mother include less ovarian cancer and osteoporosis. Australian Federal and State governments support and protect your right to the continuation of breastfeeding after you return to work and have legislation in place to ensure this important premise is achieved.

The best strategy for returning to work involves being organised. Detailed planning can make this transition back into the workplace easier for both you and your baby. Firstly, start making preparations a few weeks before returning to work, although it is a good idea to have been thinking and planning for months before. The Australian Breastfeeding Association suggests that you have a Breastfeeding and Work Plan, which will assist you in your planning.

Investigate childcare options and find one that suits your family values and principles, as well as supporting your breastfeeding plan. This may be a family member or a professional childcare centre. Important questions you should consider are whether the carer is familiar with storing and handling expressed breastmilk and if your baby needs to be geographically close to your workplace (so you can possibly breastfeed during the day) or close to home (for convenience of drop offs and pick-ups).

Have a talk with your employer to ensure they are aware that you are committed to continuing to breastfeed and want to establish a comfortable relationship within the workplace that includes expressing. Negotiate breaks in the day to express or breastfeed (if baby is nearby) and a suitable space to do either. You will also need to consider storage and transport of expressed breastmilk and your pumping equipment. Think about the clothes you will be wearing to work to enable easy pumping in your breaks. Also remember that leaking can leave marks on light-coloured fabrics.

Purchase a pump that best suits your needs. There are different types of pumps and some are specifically designed for long-term use, such as a working mother. For example, using a double pump kit will be more efficient if you have limited time. Once you have decided on and obtained a pump, before your return to work, practice expressing to become more confident and comfortable, as well as sorting out any difficulties you might have while learning to use it. Some women prefer to hand express and can collect enough expressed breastmilk this way. You can start expressing once or twice a day a couple of weeks before going back to work and store it in the freezer, this gives you a chance to become confident with expressing and also gives you a good store of EBM.

Give your baby an opportunity to try drinking milk from either a bottle (trying a variety of teats) or cup as some breastfed babies can initially be fussy when offered milk from anywhere other than the breast. This will give you peace of mind when you are at work. You might choose to give your baby expressed breast milk or both EBM and formula. Discuss with your Child Health Nurse or GP the volume of milk your baby needs each day. This will depend on the age and weight of your baby.

See the tables for guidance on how to store and transport your breastmilk.



Ultimately it is yours, and sometimes your baby’s, decision about the duration of your breastfeeding relationship. Breastfeeding at the end of a work day can be a great way for you and your baby to reconnect and provide comfort and reassurance to you both.


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