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Back to work and breastfeeding

Kelly Dorgan of the Canterbury Breastfeeding Advocacy Service encourages mothers to talk with their employers about their intentions to breastfeed, and to make plans to support the whole whānau. By Kate Barber

There’s often a lot of stress and guilt around returning to work when you have a baby – about leaving your pēpi to the care of others and, for many, about the logistics of continuing to breastfeed. “We know that returning to work is one of the main reasons women discontinue breastfeeding earlier than they had planned or wanted to,” Kelly says. 

“Having paid parental leave extended to 26 weeks is a step in the right direction,” she says. However, making the transition back to work at this time isn’t easy because at six months, babies are only starting on solids, and breastfed babies are heavily reliant on breastmilk. 

“Theoretically and legally, women should be able to continue to breastfeed after returning to the workforce,” says Kelly. Workplaces are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of breastfeeding, and “when practicable” must provide conditions (such as separate breaks and appropriate spaces) for expressing or feeding. Yet some workplaces are not set up to support mothers through this transition, and many managers aren’t even aware of the challenges.

When breastfeeding parents do not have a private and comfortable space, or sufficient time, breastfeeding or expressing can be very stressful. Added to the negative impact that stress has on breastfeeding, Kelly says, “the usual hormonal switch that happens to turn everything on doesn’t happen when you’re expressing at work without your baby. Oxytocin is a really shy hormone, so creating the right environment in the workplace is really important.”

Kelly works alongside employers to help remove barriers to breastfeeding in the workplace. “It’s about offering a private, safe, comfortable space, making sure there are adequate breaks, appropriate means to store milk, and that there is staff education.” 

The Canterbury Breastfeeding Advocacy Service is situated at Te Puawaitanga ki Ōtautahi Trust, a kaupapa Māori provider of a range of health, education and social services. The Service is available to support all parents through the challenges of breastfeeding and going back to work.

Kelly’s advice for parents wanting to continue to breastfeed their babies

  • Before you go back to work, have conversations with your employer about your plans to breastfeed and what sorts of things you’ll need for that to happen. 
  • Think about what supports are around to ease this transition for your whole whānau.  If you’re thinking of expressing milk for pēpi once you return to work, seek guidance from a lactation consultant or your Tamariki Ora/Well Child provider.
  • Think about how other people will be feeding your baby to help protect your breastfeeding. Make sure carers are simulating breastfeeding as much as possible – that they’re giving baby lots of breaks and holding them close – so when your baby comes back to you, they’re still happy to feed at the breast.  
  • Have conversations with ECE services about how they support families in this situation. We hear of some centres that are incredibly accommodating and supportive, e.g. where there’s a sofa for Mum to breastfeed when she leaves and when she returns. 
  • Talk to other families. There are lots of online parental support sites, and I see great advice and encouragement on these. 
  • Share your stories. This helps other mothers feel able to ask for support and grows awareness. We have had managers approach us and make changes, only after they realised the extreme lengths an employee was going to in order to continue breastfeeding her baby.
  • Contact us – we can support women and families through this transition. 


Sleep safe, my baby

SIDS and Kids New Zealand is dedicated to saving the lives of babies and children during pregnancy, birth, infancy and childhood, and supporting bereaved families. The organisation delivers on its vision through world-class research, evidence-based education and bereavement support, and advocacy.

Remind everyone who cares for your child:

  • Sleep baby on their back
  • Keep head and face uncovered
  • Keep baby smoke-free before and after birth
  • Safe sleeping environment night and day
  • Sleep baby in a safe cot in parents’ room.

SIDS and Kids provides a range of safe sleeping education and support services as well as a national 24-hour sudden infant death helpline.

0800 164 455 / sidsandkids.org.nz

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