SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Many women successfully combine breastfeeding and paid work.
- Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission laws say that an employer must make reasonable efforts to meet the needs of an employee who is a breastfeeding mother.
- Discuss your breastfeeding requirements with your employer, ideally before you go on maternity leave.
Many women successfully combine and paid work. You need support from your employer, colleagues and family, and some flexibility in your working arrangements.
If you wish to continue breastfeeding after you return to paid work, you are legally entitled to support from your employer. Victorian law says that employers must ‘reasonably accommodate’ employees who wish to continue breastfeeding.
Work-related obstacles to breastfeeding
Some of the work-related obstacles to breastfeeding include:
- Early return to work – one study found that mothers who intended to return to work within 6 weeks of giving birth were less likely to start breastfeeding in the first place.
- Insufficient paid parental leave – only about half of Australian workplaces offer paid parental leave, with 10 weeks being the average period of paid leave. Women are entitled, by law, to 52 weeks of unpaid parental leave. Employees can also get up to 18 weeks' Parental Leave Pay from the Australian Government, which is paid at the national minimum wage.
- Inadequate facilities in the workplace – for example, lack of privacy or no access to a fridge.
- No lactation breaks – a mother needs breaks to express milk or go to feed her baby.
Combining breastfeeding and work
If you would like to continue breastfeeding after you return to work:
- Ask your work supervisor, the equal employment opportunities officer, human resources manager or your union about your workplace’s breastfeeding policies. Try to do this before you go on parental leave.
- Discuss with your employer your intention to continue breastfeeding, ideally before you go on parental leave.
- If you cannot go to your baby for feeds during working hours, decide how often you will need to . The number of times per day will depend on the age and needs of your baby. If unsure, speak with your , , or counsellor.
- To express breastmilk at work, you will need a clean, private area (not a toilet), access to a fridge to store the milk, an area to store your manual or electric pump (if you use one), somewhere to wash your hands and regular opportunities for breaks.
- Choose an appropriate method. Breastmilk can be expressed by hand or with a manual or electric breast pump. An electric pump with a double pumping kit is the fastest, which could make it the best choice for use at work.
- Consider buying or hiring an electric pump. Speak with a lactation consultant or the Australian Breastfeeding Association for information and advice on the best choice of breast pump for you.
- Look for childcare or a babysitter close to your work (rather than close to your home). That way, you may be able to visit the childcare centre during breaks to breastfeed your baby or else have the babysitter bring your baby to your workplace. Discuss these options with your employer and the baby’s carer.
Expressed breastmilk – safety
- Use clean hands and clean equipment.
- Express into clean containers. These may be glass or plastic containers or sealable plastic bags.
- Label each container with the time and date the breastmilk was expressed.
- Refrigerate the breastmilk within one hour of expressing. If no refrigerator is available, you can store your breastmilk in an esky with a freezer brick.
- Freshly expressed breastmilk can also be stored at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours (26 ⁰C or lower), if necessary.
- Freeze excess breastmilk.
- Keep the milk cold on the commute home. For example, pack the milk in an esky with a freezer brick.
- Don’t use a microwave to thaw or reheat breastmilk. Thaw or warm it by putting the bottle or bag in a container of hot water. Then test the milk on the side of your wrist – it should feel about the same temperature as your skin. Breastmilk can also be given at room temperature.
Discrimination laws and breastfeeding
It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you (treat you differently or unfairly) because you are breastfeeding or expressing. Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission laws (2010) say that an employer must make reasonable efforts to accommodate the needs of an employee who is a breastfeeding mother.
Try to negotiate a reasonable agreement first, but if your employer makes it difficult for you to continue breastfeeding, speak to your union representative or contact the Australian Breastfeeding Association for advice.