Work and breastfeeding
The information on this page has been developed for Queensland Health and Queensland Government staff, but it can be helpful for any mother returning to work and intending to continue breastfeeding her baby/child. Continuing to breastfeed after returning to work has benefits for mother, baby, and employers:
For mothers continuing to breastfeed after returning to work
- Healthy baby – mothers have fewer trips to the doctor or sleepless nights tending to a sick baby and spend less on health care. This means they have improved wellbeing and are more productive at work
- Healthy mother – mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of developing health problems such as ovarian cancer and pre-menopausal breast cancer
- Cost effective – formula can cost more than $1,200 per year, while breastmilk is free.
For employers supporting mothers to continue breastfeeding their babies
- Reduced absenteeism – breastfed babies are unwell less often, resulting in fewer days off work to care for a sick baby
- Increased productivity – employers who support breastfeeding mothers enhance employer-employee relations resulting in a more motivated, committed and productive workforce
- Lower staff turnover and reduced training and recruitment costs, or loss of skilled workers, as mothers are more likely to return, or return sooner, from maternity leave
- Positive corporate image – there will be a more cost-effective recruiting capacity due to a ‘good employer’ reputation and a positive corporate image.
Both employees returning to work and employers have responsibilities in arranging breastfeeding and work options. Ideally, this should be discussed before employees go on maternity leave.
What to expect
Workplaces can expect employees who are returning to work and continuing breastfeeding to:
- Negotiate an agreement with their employer about lactation breaks
- Provide all their own breastfeeding equipment
- Organise safety check and tag of electric breast pump (if a requirement of the workplace)
- Be responsible for cleaning of any equipment and areas used
- Clearly label and date all breastmilk stored in the workplace shared areas (e.g. staff fridge)
- Take breastmilk home at the end of each workday
- Ensure the breastfeeding agreement complies with workplace health and safety practices
- If the baby/child is brought onsite for feeding, the employee is responsible for:
- Advising caregiver who brings baby/child onsite that restricted access may apply
- Supervising the baby/child and caregiver at all times when they are onsite
- Ensuring that the baby/child and caregiver leave the work area after the lactation break.
Mothers continuing to breastfeed while returning to work can expect workplaces to:
- Support the employee’s decision to continue breastfeeding
- Provide paid lactation breaks
- Support the arrangement of flexible work options
- Provide appropriate workplace facilities (as negotiated with the employee):
- Suitable, clean room (may be multi-purpose) that can be locked and has privacy signage
- Seating and table/bench
- Access to a sink, fridge (may be multi-purpose), microwave, and power point.
Under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld), workplaces must ensure that they do not discriminate against people on the basis of parental status, family responsibilities or breastfeeding status. The employee is entitled to access a suitable place to breastfeed or express. When suitable workplace facilities are not available for expressing or breastfeeding, alternative arrangements should be investigated, negotiated and agreed upon by both the employer and employee.
Paid lactation breaks
The Queensland Government Work and Breastfeeding Policy and the Queensland Health C5 Flexible Working Arrangements Policy (PDF, 385kB) both provide that all Queensland Health employees are entitled to one hour of paid lactation break for every eight hours worked. The lactation breaks are paid on a pro rata basis based upon one-eighth of a work day, so will differ depending on an individual’s work hours. Whether the lactation break is taken at once or split into separate breaks during the day should be negotiated between the employee and employer, considering the needs of the mother, workplace, and other employees. Employees are entitled to paid lactation breaks regardless of the age of the baby/child.
Negotiating options at work
Mothers experiencing challenges returning to work may consider:
- Making an appointment with the line manager to discuss flexible work options, paid lactation breaks, or negotiate workload
- Talking to colleagues about plans to breastfeed and providing posters or pamphlets for more information. Having support from colleagues can make it easier to continue breastfeeding when returning to work
- Recognising that the practicality of providing lactation breaks can be challenging in some service delivery areas.