Many mothers continue to breastfeed when they go back to work after maternity leave. Returning to work may take some planning and readjustment.
Breastfeeding when returning to work
There are lots of ways you can continue to breastfeed when returning to work. This will depend on your baby's age and how often they feed during the day.
You can breastfeed in the mornings and evenings. You can then express milk during the day or in the evening. Your childminder or crèche can give the expressed milk from a cup or beaker while you are at work.
If your baby needs feeds during the day and no breast milk is available, your childminder or crèche can give your baby formula when you are at work.
Expressing breast milk
Planning ahead will help you continue breastfeeding when you go back to work. Start giving your baby an occasional feed of expressed breast milk from about 6 weeks old. This will allow you to become comfortable with expressing your breast milk.
Parents often use a bottle to give expressed breast milk to their baby. Your partner or another family member should help with these feeds if possible. This will help your baby get used to taking breast milk from someone other than yourself.
Paced bottle feeding may help a breastfed baby to take a bottle.
If you plan to take maternity leave beyond 6 months, this may not be necessary. Try and get your baby used to taking milk from a bottle or a cup before you return to work. An older baby may take expressed milk from a cup or beaker. You can do this from around 6 months.
Your baby will still get the same health benefits from expressed breast milk as they will from direct breastfeeding
A month before you return to work
Begin to introduce an occasional feed of expressed breast milk. Use a cup or bottle for these feeds.
Practice expressing and preparing expressed breast milk feeds. You may want to freeze expressed breast milk to build up a stock to have on hand when you return to work.
2 weeks before you return to work
Begin leaving your baby with your childminder or crèche for short periods to help them get to know each other. You can give the person looking after your child expressed breast milk for feeds.
When you give expressed milk to your childminder, store the milk in smaller batches to avoid discarding. Use a slow flow teat and encourage paced feeding.
Nurse your baby before leaving your home. Ask your childminder or crèche to hold off with a small feed so that you can breastfeed your baby as soon as you arrive.
When back at work
When you go back to work, you may need to express milk during the day. This will relieve breast fullness and help maintain your milk supply.
If you decide to express breast milk during the day, make a plan for how you are going to pump and store the milk. For example, you can store your breast milk in a fridge or cooler bag with ice packs.
Have breast pads and an extra top in case of milk leakage. Wear 2-piece outfits to make milk expression easy and have a jacket handy to cover up if needed. Patterned or dark coloured tops will hide leakage.
Accept all offers of help, especially during the early days of returning to work. It may be helpful to make a gradual transition to your work routine and work for shorter hours at first.
Breastfeeding breaks and support
Talk to your employer about breastfeeding breaks. Ask them how they can help you to continue breastfeeding.
It may also be possible to breastfeed your baby if there is an onsite creche at work or your childminder is available nearby.
If you choose not to breastfeed while you're at work, your milk supply may reduce as it adapts to the change in demand.
Breastfeeding at work
Contact your employer in writing to let them know you plan to breastfeed at work. You need to do this at least 4 weeks before you return.
You are entitled to breastfeeding breaks during work hours. You may be asked by your employer to provide a copy of your child’s birth certificate or another document confirming their date of birth.
Legal entitlements for breastfeeding
In Ireland, by law, you are entitled to breastfeeding breaks at work up until your child’s 2nd birthday.
You can take up to 1 hour (with pay) for an 8 hour working day.
This time may be taken as:
- one 60 minute break
- two 30 minute breaks
- three 20 minute breaks
You are entitled to have your normal rest breaks as well. Your employer cannot deduct pay for the time you took on a breastfeeding break.
Part-time workers are also entitled to breastfeeding breaks. This is calculated on a pro-rata basis (proportionate to the breaks you would get if you worked full-time).
At the choice of your employer, you are entitled to either:
- breastfeed in the workplace or express breast milk where suitable facilities are available in your workplace
- have your working hours reduced (without loss of pay) to facilitate breastfeeding where suitable facilities are not available
Read more about breastfeeding and work - citizensinformation.ie
How often to express when you return to work
To keep up your breastmilk supply, try to express the same number of times each day as you did near the end of maternity leave. Limit the longest stretch between milk removals to 8 hours or less.