Breastfeeding & going back to work

by | May 26, 2020

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Going back to work when you’re breastfeeding can be fraught with stress. We asked the experts at the South African Breastmilk Reserve what you need to know.

What should breastfeeding moms know about going back to work?
It will take dedication and preparation – you’ll need a pump or be able to hand express, and time to pump for all missed feeds. You’ll also need suitable storage containers and a cooler bag with ice packs to safely store and transport the milk you have expressed during the day.

In terms of the law, the Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy and After the Birth of a Child (an addendum to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act) states that, “Arrangements should be made for employees who are breastfeeding to have breaks of 30 minutes twice per day for breastfeeding or expressing milk each working day for the first six months of the child’s life.”

Unfortunately, these breaks are limited to women with babies under six months and because this is just a Code of Good Practice, there is no consequence when an employer fails to comply, nor does it specify that these women should be given a suitable space in which to express.

How can breastfeeding moms prepare for going back to work?
As mentioned, you will need to ‘learn’ to express, either by using a breast pump or hand expression, and need the storage containers, etc. Remember that all women are different and a pump that worked for your friend or sister might not work as well for you.

If possible, you could build up a stash of frozen milk for emergencies. This is not a necessity as you can express each day for the next day when you are back at work, but it does help to take the pressure off on, for example, those days when you miss a session.

You’ll need to educate the baby’s caregiver on storing and feeding the breastmilk (paced feeding is recommended when using a bottle to feed a breastfed baby) and prepare your baby for your return to work by introducing a cup or bottle with her expressed breastmilk. This is usually easier when it is someone else feeding the baby and not Mommy!
You should also speak to your employer about your intention to continue breastfeeding, and thus your need to express at work, to create awareness and hopefully negotiate an appropriate space to express (e.g. an empty office, a boardroom, or similar quiet and private rooms).

When pumping milk at work, how often should you pump?
This varies from woman to woman and generally moms are advised to express the feeds they miss while being separated from baby. For most women, this will be about three feeds a day. However, it isn’t advisable to go longer than three hours between pumping sessions.

Some women may have to pump more frequently depending on how much the baby drinks and how much they are able to get at each session, e.g. two-hourly rather than three-hourly. Your pumping needs will also change as your baby gets older and starts dropping daytime feeds.

Are there any helpful tips for moms to help them with breastfeeding after returning to work?
Find yourself a support team, someone who will motivate you when you are feeling downhearted (whether it’s your partner or a colleague who has been through this). Trust your body! It is hard work, but you are doing this to give your baby the best.

If your baby refuses to drink the expressed milk at first, don’t get despondent. Many babies adapt once Mom is back at work and take the milk from a caregiver, while some will catch up on missed feeds once Mom and baby are back together again. Remember that any breastmilk is better than none.

Don’t limit your baby’s time at the breast when you are together. Again, don’t worry about a lack of freezer stash, as you will express each day for the next day.

If you have more milk than you need, what can you do?
Freeze any excess milk (in suitable containers, in small volumes) for emergencies, such as days when you miss a pumping session, or to top up feeds if you haven’t expressed enough for the next day. Alternatively you can sign up to be a breastmilk donor and help save the life of a premature baby. Please visit for more information.