Being a breastfeeding and working parent can have its challenges, but a supportive workplace and having the resources you require can make a big difference. On this website, you will find:
Tips on how to prepare prior to maternity leave/returning to work, along with tips on conversations to have with your employer, Information on expressing and storing breastmilk, along with resources designed to support employees. You can also read about how other people negotiated this journey and the types of situations that they found helpful or unhelpful.
Before you go on parental leave, talk to your employer/manager/HR department about flexible work options available for when you return. We have created a quick editable checklist to help with your planning – click here to download the template.
There is no requirement for employees to inform their employers if they intend to breastfeed or express when they return to work, however, the more you can plan for before baby arrives the smoother your transition back to work will be, it also allows your employer plenty of time to make any necessary arrangements.
It helps to discuss with your employer that arrangements for managing breastfeeding and returning to work are not permanent; each baby’s breastfeeding pattern is different and will change over time. The pattern in which you feed or express at one month is different at six months and different again at nine and twelve months.
Somethings to consider may:
• Talk with your family/whānau about how they can support you
• Work part-time or flexible hours
• Work some hours from home
• Your partner or other carer brings the baby to you at work for feeding
• You meet the baby and carer at an appropriate close site
• You go to where the baby is to feed, e.g., home, crèche, carer’s place, etc
• You express and store breastmilk at work, to be fed to your baby the following day
• You feed the baby before and after work and on days when you are not working
Arrange to have a ‘return to work’ meeting about a month before you plan to return. On return to work, confirm arrangements. Be prepared to change them if it is not working out. Keep your manager informed of how things are going.
In recent years, the proportion of employees with some form of family responsibilities has grown and employers have been responding to this trend with family-friendly policies and practices. Requesting breaks or space for breastfeeding/expressing fits with what many top employers are doing anyway in supporting staff’s caring responsibilities or achieving a work-life balance. However, the introduction of breastfeeding breaks and facilities may be new to some organisations; employers and managers may not have considered this specific scenario previously.
If you have an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Officer, Human Resources Group or Personnel Group, or are a member of a union, you may want to talk with them first about the company’s breastfeeding policies before discussing with your employer.
Below is some helpful information and tips that will assist you in discussing the issue with your employer:
• Know your entitlements: The Legislation, terms of employment, and relevant company policies and practices.
• Discuss your overall wishes well in advance (before you go on leave). Discuss your options during your leave, and then your more specific needs in plenty of time before you return to work.
• Understand areas of common ground between you and your employer. You want a job where you can be successful and happy. Your employer wants you to be successful and happy in the job, so you will be productive and continue to work there.
• Be the one to frame the issue as this will often determine the type of solution devised. An issue that is presented as a problem, for example, “lack of a dedicated breastfeeding room” is more likely to result in a different or less desirable solution than the same issue defined as, “need for some private space for 15 minutes twice a day”.
• If you can give an estimated time frame for your request e.g. “I expect to be feeding three times a day for the next 3 months and then probably twice per day for 6 months.” This will help your employer understand how much time you need, and in many cases, it won’t be as much as they might have thought!
• Don’t be pressured into accepting conditions you’re not happy with. If you do feel pressured, ask for some time to think about it.
• Suggest your preferred options for combining breastfeeding and work. You may be the first person to have requested workplace flexibility so that you can breastfeed, and it may, therefore, be that initially, the organisation does not know how to react.
• If you feel comfortable continue to be open with your employer about your needs. Review the situation with them regularly.
What if I have a problem?
• You have the right to ask for support and your employer should respond positively.
• Under the Employment Relations (Breaks, Infant Feeding and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2008, employers are required, so far as reasonable and practicable in the circumstances, to provide appropriate facilities and breaks to an employee who wishes to breastfeed either at work or in work time.
• If your employer does not allow you any or some of your requests/entitlements put your request to them in writing and ask for a written response.
• Seek advice from your organisation’s Grievance Officer, EEO Manager or externally (try your union, the Human Rights Commission, Working Women’s Resource Centre, or Community Legal Centre). They may be able to give you advice on dealing with the issue yourself or may be able to talk to your employer on your behalf. Sometimes it may simply need some creative solutions to balance both your needs and the needs of the employer, and sometimes a simple phone call to your employer to remind them of their legal obligations will be enough to make sure you get your entitlements.
• If you feel harassed or discriminated against, keep a log or diary of all incidents. Wherever possible talk to the person or people involved first and try to resolve the issue. If that doesn’t work or isn’t possible, talk to your direct manager and/or the Human Resource manager. Find out if your workplace has a policy to deal with workplace grievances.
• If internal methods are not successful you can get help from your union, Human Rights Commission, or Community Legal Centre.
• Remember that it is unlawful for you to be bullied, harassed or discriminated against because you breastfeed as well as it being unlawful for you to be harassed or discriminated against for standing up for your rights.
This section provides you with information on collecting, storing and using expressed breastmilk. However, your midwife, a La Leche League leader, or a Lactation Consultant are the best people to show you the correct way to express breastmilk and how to store and reheat it.
Here are some basic tips to remember before you get started:
•Try to have breastfeeding well established before beginning to express breastmilk. For most people, this is around 8-12 weeks after your baby is born.
•Begin expressing 2-3 weeks before your planned return to work. This will allow you to build up a back-up supply to provide some peace of mind on those days when you aren’t able to express as much as usual.
• Expressing by hand is usually the most comfortable way to collect breastmilk, but it can take more time. Electric breast pumps are quicker and more efficient than manual ones but also more expensive. They can be bought or hired from a chemist, lactation consultant, hospital, on-line or at some maternity stores. Try borrowing or hiring different breast pumps before you buy one.
• Frequent breastfeeding at home, before and after work and on days when you are not working will help to maintain your supply. Your baby will always get more milk than a breast pump can.
• If possible, make the first week back to work a short one by returning late in the week. Use the weekend to rest and prepare for any challenges you didn’t anticipate.
• Sterilise pumps and containers by boiling in water for 5 minutes or soaking in a sterilising solution for one hour. Some can be sterilised in a microwave.
• If possible, shorter, more frequent expressing breaks may be better for your supply than longer breaks further apart. E.g., express three times for 10-15 minutes versus two times for 30 minutes if you’re away 8 hours. This way you’re expressing about the same number of total minutes, but you’re stimulating the breast more frequently, which triggers more milk production.
• If your baby is very young or you have been breastfeeding frequently, you may find you need to express more frequently at first, so you don’t feel uncomfortably full or start to leak.
• Remember to wear clothes that will allow you to express easily.
• Ensure you have some breast-pads readily available to deal with any leaks.
• Drink LOTS of water and remember to eat throughout the day.
• Having a place where you feel comfortable expressing is essential.
• Find ways to relax to ensure a let-down reflex; close your eyes, listen to soothing music, visualise your baby, call the baby’s carer and talk to them about the baby, etc.
• Using a double or twin breast pump to express from both breasts at the same time can help cut down the time needed to express.
• Using a breast pump shouldn’t hurt so if it does try different positions or if it has different suction settings, set it to the lowest setting first and gradually increase.
• If you start to leak milk at an inappropriate time, apply firm pressure (e.g. use the inside of your wrist) directly on the nipple for a minute or two. This can be done discreetly by folding your arms across your breasts. Try and express as soon as possible.
• You may also want to consider expressing at home after each feed when you are not working.
• Your body will gradually adjust to the new schedule over a short period of time.
Storing and using expressed breastmilk
• Always wash your hands before expressing.
• Express your breastmilk into a clean container, use a sterilised container if your baby is under 6 months.
• Date and time all stored milk, and label with your name if storing in a communal fridge.
• Refrigerate in the back of a fridge or store in a chilly bin with ice packs until you get home.
• Wash and rinse pumps and containers in very hot water. Sterilise if possible/necessary.
• When you get home, the milk can be kept at the back of the fridge (where it’s coldest) for up to 48 hours or frozen for 4-6 months (4 months for self-contained freezer compartment with separate door, 6 months for a deep freeze, only 2 weeks for a freezer compartment inside a fridge).
• Thaw frozen milk gradually, preferably by letting it de-frost in the fridge overnight. Never microwave breastmilk as this can destroy the nutrients in it. Thawed milk should be kept refrigerated and used within 24 hours.
• Do not refreeze after thawing.
Support for Formula Feeding
Many of the support systems for breastfeeding mothers are just as valuable for parents returning to work who formula feed their baby and want to maintain the attachment established during maternity leave. You may want to negotiate with your employer to take regular breaks to feed your baby at work or to visit your baby during the day.
Try to have open and honest conversations with your employer about your wishes to continue feeding your baby in person once you return to work. Use the resources in the (employees section) of this website to assist you with negotiating with your employer.
Here is a comprehensive guide to feeding formula to your baby if this is what you choose to do: https://www.healthed.govt.nz/resource/feeding-your-baby-infant-formula
Positive stories where breastfeeding and working was supported
I work for a publishing company where they not only allowed me to breastfeed at work but bring my daughter in every day. We would arrive at work at 8 am where she would get a feed and then go to sleep until 11.30 when I fed her again, then dad would collect her. I expressed milk in the afternoon then arrived home for her evening feed. My boss was very generous in his support during this time and I am ever so grateful for that.
A grandfather of eight, the manager, had no problems with me breastfeeding at work, commenting ‘expressing in the locker room was not on’. Counties Manakau Police– Employment Today
I negotiated a gradual return to work and my baby daughter came with me for 8 hours per week for 3months. I had key ‘offices’ where I could go and feed her. When she stopped coming to work I expressed and had a fridge available for storage of breastmilk. I was given a lot of support by my manager. Because of the support (of a family friendly manager) in the early days, I breastfed my daughter exclusively to 6 months and continued to breastfeed till she was 2½ years. – WHA survey
HR were nothing short of extraordinary. I asked for a space (broom closet would do) and was given a spacious, dedicated room with electronic swipe card for privacy, complete with a new couch, fridge and even a tape deck to relax by! Even more than all this, I appreciated their attitude that it was a perfectly normal thing to do. – WHA survey
Michelle took paid parental leave and returned to work when her son was 11 months old. She expressed for one month and during that time used an empty office, retained her full pay and didn’t have to make up the time after work. She started back at 70% fulltime with flexibility around starting time. The organisation also gave Michelle an ex-gratia lump sum of six weeks salary on return to work. She was further supported by her husband who shared day-care pick-ups to enable their son to continue to be breastfed. – Employment Today
I’m employed part-time as a hairdresser and am able to continue nursing my daughter fulltime. I have a set schedule at work around her feedings. When I’m at work she has stored expressed breastmilk for one feed then I return home to feed her for the next feed. If I’m at work for more than 3 hours, my employer will mark my book out for 30 minutes and I go into a private room and pump. I can store my milk in the freezer at work until I leave. They are very understanding and have supported me as a working mother.- WHA survey
At the job interview I made it clear I was breastfeeding and that I would continue to breastfeed while at work, they informed me of the office specifically for that use and were very positive about it.- WHA survey
I expressed milk sometimes up to three times a day at work for three months. My male manager was more than happy for me to use his office. I believe that I wouldn’t have lasted that long without the support of my employer.- WHA survey
I am currently breastfeeding my 6-month-old exclusively while working full time in a high-profile corporate company. Lucky for me that I have a company that not only lets me express but have set up a ‘time-out’ room for me to do it comfortably. – WHA survey
A team was set up to find out why so many women were leaving the police service and found that setting up spaces to breastfeed, being flexible with hours and just being 100% supportive had ensured women were being attracted back. –Detective Johnson, Dominion Post
My manager was very supportive & immediately said my husband could bring my daughter in any time she needed me & that I was welcome to use her office if I wanted somewhere private to breastfeed. – WHA survey
Stories that highlight the challenges women face when trying to balance work and breastfeeding
When I returned to work my baby was 3 months old and I asked my boss if there were any problems with expressing at work and he said that was fine. I started using the boardroom, but it didn’t have a lock on the door, so I was always nervous that someone would walk in and the milk wouldn’t flow. I also had comments that other staff wanted to use the room to watch TV and eat their lunch. So, I’m now sitting on the toilet seat lid with my electric pump. Then walking from my desk to the toilets with my rustling plastic bag with all my pumps and bottles and walking past 10 offices and everyone looks up and knows where I’m going! My baby’s still happy she is receiving my milk and I’ll try and keep up with her demand.- WHA survey
I had to express in the toilets as there was no other suitable place. Every break I would rush upstairs to the loo to express and if I could manage have something to eat at the same time. I tried using a little room off the boss’s office but got walked in on and a second time turfed out. I felt like no one really cared.- WHA survey
Vanessa went back to work 2 days a week when her baby was 6 months old. She was breastfeeding which meant expressing milk at work. The experience turned out to be a nightmare. She couldn’t find anywhere to go so she spent every break she had in the toilets, expressing milk. “I just dreaded it in the end. I was sitting between the toilet and a hand basin expressing milk and eating my lunch. It was awful.” A nurse at a private hospital, most of her bosses were women who were sympathetic but didn’t offer any solutions. – Work-Life Balance Newsletter, Dept of Labour
They were not supportive at all. Did not want to provide me with suitable options… Male colleagues felt uncomfortable discussing the topic all together… I fought a fight not only for me but other colleagues also. It worked for a few weeks, but I then had to give up. If they had been more accommodating I (would have) continued breastfeeding longer. – WHA Survey
Additional Resources for Breastfeeding & Working