Helpful information about breastfeeding, work and child care
Helpful information about breastfeeding, work and child care
If you’re a breastfeeding mum who’s going back to work, you might be worried about how – or if – you can continue feeding your child in this way.
Although it’s commonly understood that breastmilk is good for babies, and society should support mums to continue breastfeeding for as long as they’d like, it’s not always clear how mums can actually fit breastfeeding into the work and child care day.
To learn more about the benefits of breastmilk, the rights of breastfeeding women, and practical ways to navigate work, child care and breastfeeding, we spoke with the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA).
It’s recommended that babies are breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life. What are the benefits of breastfeeding for both bubs and mums?
There’s a lot of talk about the importance of immunity and gut health at present, particularly around COVID-19, and how to best support infant growth and development when returning to work and sending children to early childhood education and care (ECEC).
Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months provides optimal nutrition (including natural pre- and probiotics), and immunity from breastmilk also helps to reduce illnesses like gastrointestinal, respiratory and ear infections, and childhood cancers – with ongoing health benefits into adulthood.
At around six months of age, the World Health Organization recommends parents introduce complementary foods (solids) that are high in iron and zinc, combined with ongoing breastmilk until two years of age (or beyond). This continues to provide the best nutrition for growth and development.
Mum’s milk is beneficial and protective at any age, and is dose-dependent. So, the more breastmilk, the more benefit, although any is still protective.
Breastfeeding also leads to better health outcomes for mums – with reduced risks of cancers, like breast and ovarian cancer, and a reduced risk of hyperlipidemia, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and reduced maternal depression.
What do we know about breastfeeding and COVID-19?
Research suggests that breastfeeding mums who’ve had COVID-19 produce antibodies, passing on some of this benefit through breastmilk.
Mums with COVID-19 should wash their hands frequently and wear a mask to breastfeed or express – continued breastfeeding is encouraged.
Australia's Department of Health has indicated that breastfeeding women can get an approved COVID-19 vaccine, and don't need to stop breastfeeding before or after their jab.
This mirrors advice from the World Health Organization, however, each individual breastfeeding woman should consult with their doctor about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
What rights do Australian mums have when it comes to breastfeeding at work, child care and everywhere?
Discrimination laws cover breastfeeding anywhere in Australia, so this includes workplaces, where you can negotiate (unpaid) lactation breaks with your employer, and in ECEC services.
This also covers indirect discrimination, so, for example, ECEC services are obligated to support breastfeeding mothers/infants through handling or storing expressed breastmilk.
What are some ways that mums can smooth the transition to child care and continue breastfeeding?
When planning your child’s transition to child care, it’s really important to work with your employer and ECEC service, and the following tips can make things easier, practically and emotionally:
- If your workplace is close, pop in for a feed on your lactation break.
- Breastfeed at drop-off/pick-up time.
- Meet with your educator to enable them to foster a better relationship with your infant.
- Leave a special item for your child to aid the separation transition when you’re away from them.
- Communicate your child’s needs, and your own, to your educator clearly.
- Express milk regularly and store it according to the guidelines.
- Utilise a bottle, cup or spoon for feeding options, and give your educator the Caregiver’s Guide to the Breastfed Baby, which is available on the ABA website, along with other valuable information. The National Breastfeeding Helpline also offers 24/7 support to mums from ABA counsellors.
How do child care providers support and encourage women to breastfeed, and create a breastfeeding-friendly environment?
ECEC educators support breastfeeding mothers within the National Quality Framework. This means professional development in breastfeeding and mixed feeding (which covers handling, storage and heating correctly) is important, as is ensuring that infant feeding policies at the service are kept current.
Supporting and positively working with mothers and infants as a ‘dyad’ is key, because feeding decisions/frequency impacts milk supply. For instance:
- Exclusively breastfed babies shouldn’t have water
- Bottles shouldn’t be heated in the microwave
- Expressed breastmilk (EBM) should be warmed in small lots to body temperature, as this reduces wastage, and
- Services should have a comfortable, welcoming space for mothers to express, and fridge space/labels available for EBM.
Infants and young children should be responsively fed (not on a schedule and allowed to learn hunger and fullness cues), so it’s important for educators and services to be flexible, to cater for individual appetites or variations in growth rates.
What are some practical ways that mums can balance breastfeeding and work, to keep feeding for longer?
Interpersonal and environmental factors support continued breastfeeding, and it’s important that there’s:
- Positive communication, flexibility and practical support from employers, ECEC educators and family to enable responsive feeding and expressing, plus
- Supportive, encouraging environments in the workplace and child care settings.
Interpersonal communication sets the tone for breastfeeding support in the workplace, and research suggests that it can often be more important than formal policies.
To make breastfeeding and work easier, it helps to:
- Choose work clothing that’s practical for breastfeeding. Try on all your work outfits to see how easy it is to access your breasts when wearing them. Patterns (to hide any milk stains), wrap-style clothing and button-up tops are often well-suited, especially if you plan to double pump.
- Don’t forget to wear and pack breast pads.
- Look at your baby’s photos or items to help your milk output. Scroll through, or back up, precious photos of your bub while you pump. Smells also trigger strong emotional responses, and thus aid letdown, so a loved and worn item of your baby’s clothing can help to boost output.
- Allow for flexibility in your feeding schedules when returning to work and starting child care. Allowing time to feed before/upon drop-off and pick-up can aid the transition to child care, and may reduce your need to pump as much. Your child may also wake for feeds more often overnight during the transition.
- Plan ahead as much as possible. Pre-prepping dinners, developing a ritual to celebrate reuniting (such as singalongs in the car) and baby-wearing (especially back-carrying for older children) can help you and your child feel reconnected and ease ‘the mothering hour.’
- And don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from ABA’s Breastfeeding Helpline to work out a strategy or work through transitions (e.g. the move to solids, mixed feeding, increasing supply or expressing milk).
Having your workplace become Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace accredited is also really beneficial.
World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is celebrated every year between 1 and 7 August. What is this year’s theme, and how can families get involved?
WBW is a major advocacy and community outreach campaign for ABA. In 2021, the theme is Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility, with the focus on how breastfeeding contributes to the survival, health and wellbeing of all.
ABA is highlighting how essential a village of support – especially fathers, partners and other carers – is to achieve breastfeeding success and increase breastfeeding duration, plus the long-term effects of this, such as improved health outcomes for mother and baby.
The theme also acknowledges that although support at the individual level is very important, breastfeeding must be considered a public health issue that requires investment at all levels.
The concept of ‘building back better’ after the COVID-19 pandemic will provide an opportunity to create a warm chain of support for breastfeeding that includes health systems, workplaces and communities at all levels of society.
ABA local groups are running their own WBW-themed events and the ABA’s Calendar of Events is the best place for families to see what’s happening.
The calendar also lists many other in-person and online events run by ABA local groups throughout the year, which encompass:
- Breastfeeding education, on topics such as early days with a newborn, sleep, introducing solids, weaning, baby’s teeth care, breast and nipple care, when breastfeeding isn’t straightforward, breastfeeding and returning to work, and
- Breastfeeding support, like ‘Cuppa and Catch-up’ and ‘Chat N Play.’
Breastfeeding gives children a great start to life, and although it can be challenging to return to work and transition to child care with milk on board, it’s definitely possible to continue breastfeeding, and there’s help at hand for families, educators and employers.
This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Wednesday, 04 August 2021
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