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“If you’re breastfeeding, going back to work presents some extra challenges.”

Returning to work can be a daunting experience for many mums after any period of maternity leave. There are so many changes – from the morning routine, to the inevitable changes in the workplace. But one of the biggest changes is of course, in the amount of time that you are spending with your baby.

If you’re breastfeeding, going back to work presents some extra challenges. If you decide that you want to continue to provide breast milk you will have to consider whether your baby can take a bottle/cup and whether you are able to express the amount of milk that you will need.

I have recently returned to work on a full time basis. My baby is six months old and feeds somewhere between 8 – 10 times in a 24 hour period. During the week I am usually with him for more than half of his feeds. I know I am lucky – breastfeeding is something that has come naturally for me. I am able to express milk fairly easily and my baby is comfortable taking a bottle. All these things mean that my expressing journey is thankfully pretty straight forward.

Laura Fraser Hardy. Image supplied.

This is my second return to work journey. I had my first child in 2010 and returned to work when my baby was almost seven months old. When I returned to work that time, I can’t recall giving much thought to the amount of time it would take me to express, the number of times I should express during the course of the day and whether there were other steps that I should consider taking to ensure that my pumping would be something that could be incorporated into my working day. Unfortunately, I didn’t express for too long after my return to work. I continued to breast feed a couple of times a day and my daughter had formula for the rest of her feeds. I gave my daughter her last breastfeed the week before she turned one.

This time around, having learnt from experience, I got myself organised. I have borrowed a dual pump, I have a pumping bra/tube which allows me to do other things while I am expressing (can you believe that I actually sit at my desk and work while expressing!), I have negotiated a change in my hours so that I start and finish my working day an hour early, I have a bar fridge in my office to hold my breast milk, I have blinds on my window and a lock on my door for some privacy. But more importantly I have discovered that my best bet at maintaining supply is to try and mimic times of day that I am pumping, with the times that my baby is feeding at home. Inevitably this means a series of text messages (with the odd photo) from my husband telling me ‘We will feed in five. Love you”.

I acknowledge that I am particularly lucky in my job. I hold a senior position in my firm, I have a desk job with my own office, and my workplace thinks that there is a benefit to having me back at work and therefore are willing to engage and negotiate around how that can be best managed.

But not everyone is this lucky and so I think it’s really important to know your legal rights around breastfeeding and pumping when you’re back at work. Understanding your rights can help you feel more confident in your choice and may also help to improve workplace practices to make it easier for you and for other women at your work.

Image via iStock.
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Your legal rights.

Generally the law regarding breastfeeding and work outlines what employers cannot do, but does not provide any positive requirements that must be met. Employees may make a request for flexible working arrangements. Some employers have policies in place for women who may want to express at work.

The Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of breastfeeding (including expressing) and permits special measures to achieve equality for women who are breastfeeding.

In Queensland, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) provides that employers must not discriminate against people on the basis of pregnancy, parental status, breastfeeding or family responsibilities.

Some workplaces, like Queensland Health for example, have paid lactation breaks for women who are breastfeeding at work, provided for in the policies of the Queensland government. Other workplaces have clauses in workplace or enterprise bargaining agreements that provide for lactation breaks.

Accommodations for breastfeeding or expressing breast milk are recommended by the Fair Work Ombudsman’s best practice guide for employers regarding employees’ flexible working arrangements for returning to work after maternity leave. There is no legislated requirement for this however, and employees must negotiate it with their employer if it is not provided for in their agreements or contracts, or policies of their employer.

The best way to start a discussion around these issues is for you to first set out for yourself what you think is going to assist you to breastfeed or express at work. This can then set the basis for your discussions with your employer.

Tips to make it work for you.

Breastfeeding and pumping at work is not for everyone but if it is something you’re keen to do here are my tips.

The decision to express while at work can be costly. In particular an investment in a good quality breast pump (preferably a dual pump) will set you back a fair bit. I would recommend hiring or borrowing one before you invest. Also, check out second hand breast pumps as there are plenty around.

You need to think about:

  • How you can fit in pumping with your work
  • Where you are going to store your pumped milk
  • Whether you have enough bottles to have at home and at work
  • Whether your baby is going to take a bottle

While not completely necessary, I have definitely found that a handsfree breastfeeding bra has worked really well for me. I feel comfortable and I like that I don’t have to completely stop working to pump.

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Image via iStock.

And, after my most recent experience, I know that it can take a good week or so for your breasts to get used to a new pump and I recommend that you don’t get really concerned after it takes you literally hours on your first day back at work to express. It is really important that you give yourself and your body time to adjust to the massive difference.

I also know that I am able to express when I am not feeling stressed or angry. Having a supportive workplace definitely helps in that regard.

Looking back now at when I returned to work after having my first child, I know that I wasn’t really prepared. So I encourage you to pick up the phone and have a chat to your friends who have expressed while at work. Talk about it, normalise it and be open and honest with your colleagues when they have questions about breastfeeding. I know that by returning to work while pumping myself, I have shown my colleagues and support staff that pumping in the workplace should be normal for mums who wish to return to work while still providing breastmilk for their children.

Encouraging working mothers.

I encourage all employers to invest in their working mothers. It makes sense to support women to return to work after maternity leave and that includes taking steps to support women who want to be able to express at work! Having conversations with women before and during periods of maternity leave about whether they may want to express on their return to work will assist in normalising the issue.

Women’s workforce participation can only be strengthened by supporting women on their return to work, including by given women options in the event that they wish to continue to provide breastmilk to their child. Wanting to continue to breastfeed and provide breastmilk to your child after returning to work should not be a reason for women not to return to work. I look forward to seeing more of it in workplaces in the future!

Laura Fraser-Hardy is a Queensland based lawyer, mother of two and a candidate standing in next year's Federal Election.. You can follow her on facebook.

Did you struggle with breastfeeding and work? How did you manage?

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