Returning to work after baby is a significant milestone in motherhood.
It could be one that you’re not exactly looking forward to, or one that you’re excited about! Either way, a return to work doesn’t have to mean the end of your breastfeeding journey. With the right information, fears around expressing or feeding at work don’t have to hold you back.
Plenty of mums continue to breastfeed their baby when it’s time to return to work. Here are some ways you may choose to go about it:
• Expressing breast milk so that you have enough stored up and on hand for someone else to feed your baby
• Enrolling your baby to childcare close to work, so that you can easily feed them throughout the day
• Have your baby’s caregiver bring your child to work for feeds
Boobs in the workplace
It’s understandable to feel a little daunted by the idea of whipping your boob out around your colleagues in a professional environment - but don’t worry, it should never have to be that awkward.
By law, your employer is required to provide you with a private space to express or feed, as well as unpaid breaks to do so (it’s reasonable to ask for at least two 20-minute breaks). A good time to mention this is when it’s time for you to discuss your return to work - even better, have this conversation before you go on maternity leave so your employer has time to implement any necessary changes.
Talk to your employer about your requirements around breastfeeding or expressing, explaining that you’ll need a clean, quiet and private room or space with a comfortable chair. It’s preferable to have a room with a door that can be locked, or where you can at least put up a sign to signal that the room is occupied. Don’t forget this room could also require a powerpoint if you’re not using a Milkbar pump and have an electric breast pump without a rechargeable battery. You’ll also need fridge space to store milk (or a space for a cooler bag with ice packs), and a sink with running water to wash equipment.
If you have any concerns, speak up. It’s important that you feel comfortable and relaxed in the space so that you can express or feed effectively. Having open conversations from the start with your employer and other staff will help to develop a supportive and understanding work culture.
Before you head back to work
For the sake of you and your baby, there are some simple steps to think about as you start planning your return to work that will make the transition much easier.
Start expressing: It’s a good idea to start expressing 2-3 weeks before you plan to return to work. It will give you the opportunity to build up some back up supply, as well as adjust to a new routine and feel completely comfortable with expressing.
Find the right pump for you: an electric breast pump will be the most efficient option if you feel like you’re going to be under time pressure at work - particularly a double one as it cuts down expressing time significantly. It is possible to hire a pump so you can try before you buy, but if you intend to express for some time, then an effective, quality breast pump is well worth the investment.
Get baby used to the bottle: give your baby some time to adjust to having expressed milk from a bottle, as well as being fed by someone else, or being fed in different environments.
Keep breastfeeding: continue with a regular feeding routine, particularly before and after work, or on days when you’re at home to maintain a good supply.
Stock up on supplies: ensure you have everything you need to store, clean and sterilise your bottles and breast pump while at work. This may mean finding a suitable bag to carry everything, as well as a chiller bag for storing or transporting your milk. If your workplace has a microwave, a microwavable steriliser can be handy. Breast pads will also be a lifesaver. There’s nothing worse than a sneaky leak in the middle of your board presentation.
Find some comfortable clothes: don’t feel like you have to squeeze back into your pre-baby workwear. Invest in some comfortable breastfeeding clothes that allow you to feed or express discreetly if necessary, while still looking work-appropriate.
Have snacks on hand: get in the kitchen and whip up those lactation cookies, or stock up on some healthy snacks to have stashed in your desk drawer. It can be easy to forget to eat and drink throughout a busy workday, but it’s important that you eat plenty and stay hydrated.
Most importantly, go easy on yourself!
Returning to work after having your baby is a big adjustment for you both, not just logistically, but emotionally. Chat to your girlfriends or colleagues who have been through it, and get their tips on what worked well for them, and their employer. They’ll no doubt have insights to share that can help make the transition easier for everyone!