An Employee's Guide - to Combining Breastfeeding with Work
The health benefits of breastfeeding on babies and mothers are well established. The longer babies are breastfed, the more health benefits mothers and their babies will have. According to the World Health Organization's recommendation, babies should be breastfed exclusively in the first six months and continue to be breastfed until two years or above while solid food is being introduced to their diet. Making breastfeeding compatible with work is a real challenge for working mothers. Nevertheless, returning to work would not be a barrier.
Getting Support from the Management and Coworkers
When to Express Your Wish?
- During pregnancy and before maternity leave starts
Discuss with the Management about the importance of breastfeeding and your intention to continue breastfeeding after returning to work. Communicate clearly the specific support you need that enables you to express breastmilk at work. This will facilitate the management to make a better work arrangement for you and better preparation for the workplace.
- After returning to work
Show your appreciation to the management and coworkers for their support to your breastfeeding. Keep your promises about the work arrangement, lactation breaks, use of breast milk expression area and milk storage facility. Talk to your coworkers to understand their con- cerns and work together to find solutions.
How to Communicate with the Management about Your Wish to Continue Breastfeeding after Returning to Work
- Express your gratitude to the management's support at work
Stress the importance of breastfeeding and your decision to breastfeed
e.g. “After speaking with my doctor and other health professionals, I have made the decision to breastfeed as it can provide the best nutrition and protection to my baby. Moreover, my doctor tells me that breast- feeding is important in preventing many illnesses and diseases for both my baby and me.”
- Communicate your specific needs
e.g. “For me to continue breastfeeding while at work, I hope that the company can provide me with the following supportive arrangements:
- Flexible lactation breaks to express milk.
Generally, I need about two lactation breaks, each lasts for thirty minutes, in a working day. If an extra lactation break is required, I will make use of my non-office hours (e.g. before starting work, lunch time, after office hours);
- A private space (e.g. an unoccupied conference room or a cur-tained cubicle) with a chair, a table and an electric outlet for operating a breastmilk pump; and
- A refrigerator for keeping the expressed breastmilk. (the refrigerator in the pantry will do.)”
- Flexible lactation breaks to express milk.
Discuss possible options of work arrangement
e.g. “I would like to work with you in making preparations and finding options that will enable me to continue breastfeeding with minimum work disturbance.”
Practical Tips and Reminders
Gain support from your family
Discuss your decision to breastfeed with your partner and family, and seek their support and cooperation. Your family can feed the baby with your expressed breastmilk while you are away. Remind your family to pay attention to the baby's signs of hunger and fullness and not to over-feed. If a baby is overfed when the mother at work, the desire to direct breastfeeding will be reduced when a mother returns home.
Keep up the milk supply for your baby's need
The production of breastmilk depends on the baby's demand. The more you breastfeed your baby, the more milk you will produce. Frequent direct breastfeeding according to your baby's demands can help you produce sufficient milk for him. If you cannot directly breastfeed your baby, a regular removal of breastmilk every three to four hours by expression is necessary to maintain the milk production. You can get familiar with the techniques to express milk by hand or by pump by referring to the resources on the Department of Health website (www.fhs.gov.hk).
Prepare the equipment: a manual or an electric milk pump, milk bottles or bags and a cooler with ice pack
Get hold of the equipment required for milk expression and storage before you return to work. Make sure all the utensils are properly cleansed before use.
Gear up two weeks ahead of returning to work
Practice makes perfect. The more you practise, the sooner you will get hold of the techniques of breastmilk expression, and the fewer hiccups you will encounter. About two weeks before returning to work, you can gradually adjust the schedule of breastmilk expression to simulate the lactation breaks at work. You may also keep some expressed milk for backup reserve. Usually a day or two's worth of breastmilk, stored in small increments that the baby eats, is adequate for the stash.
Strike a balance between work and breastfeeding
Breastfeed your baby before you leave home. At work, express milk regularly and store it properly. Then, enjoy directly breastfeeding your baby as soon as you arrive home from work. During the weekends and days off breastfeed your baby directly without restrictions.
What can I do if I need to express more frequently at work?
Initially, some mothers may need more frequent and longer breaks for expression because, for example, it needs time for them to get used to expressing milk in the new environment. In that case, you may use your non-working time, e.g. lunch hour, time before starting or after work, for milk expression. Nevertheless, if you need very frequent milk expression, you may have breastfeeding problems such as ineffective expression or overproduction of breastmilk. You should seek professional advice.
Breastfeeding Resources of the Department of Health
If you want to know more about breastfeeding, you may:
- Visit the website of the Family Health Service of the Department of Health (DH) at www.fhs.gov.hk:
- Seek advice from health professionals or Maternal and Child Health Centres
- Call DH's Breastfeeding Hotline: 3618 7450