Know your rights
Simply put, it is unlawful for any person to discriminate against you in your employment because you are breastfeeding or expressing milk, as per the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) and s10A, Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
Unfortunately, there are no clear standards or legislative requirements in relation to providing facilities for expressing, lactation breaks or bringing babies into the workplace; so, it is a case of negotiating with your employer around your breastfeeding needs.
Employers must take reasonable measures to accommodate the needs of breastfeeding mothers. Failure by your employer to provide you with suitable facilities for or allow you to organise your work breaks to accommodate, breastfeeding or expressing milk, may constitute discrimination. Being told to express in the toilets is simply not okay. Nor in a public or non-lockable space.
Take your baby with you
I took my daughter to work with me from when she was about 2 months old until she was 11 months. I didn’t plan it that way, nor did I make history by passing any Senate motions while I was at it, but a combination of wanting to return to work and a baby who refused to take a bottle meant that if I wanted to work, my daughter needed to come with me.
My employer was very supportive – if I couldn’t take my daughter with me, I wouldn’t have returned, and they were happy for me to make whatever contribution I could. It was a win-win.
I decided on day one that if I was going to take my daughter to work, I was going to breastfeed her whenever and wherever she needed feeding. I did exactly this outside of the office, so why would it be any different in the office?
Some women prefer privacy while breastfeeding and I can well understand that breastfeeding in the office of a traditional, still largely male-dominated law firm may feel slightly different to breastfeeding on a park bench! If that’s the case for you, set up a private, comfortable place for breastfeeding (see below for more on this).
The point here is to think outside the box. If you’re returning to work when your baby is still quite young, is it feasible for you to take your baby with you? If not, can you arrange for the baby’s carer to bring them to you for feeds (even one during your lunch break and one at the end of the work day can help) or can they be cared for on-site? On-site care doesn’t have to involve setting up a crèche and baby-proofing the entire office.
I simply had some toys and rubber mats in the corner of my office (or in the middle of the open plan room!) and on the days when I needed an extra pair of hands, my husband hung out in my office or strolled around the city and local parks. It’s not a long-term solution, but it doesn’t need to be. Breastfeeding a baby doesn’t last forever!
Invest in a good pump
If taking your baby with you isn’t an option, the most important thing you can do is invest in a good pump. Many women prefer a double, electric pump which saves time by enabling them to express from both breasts at the same time. It is also worth investing in a hands-free nursing bra, so you can multitask while pumping.
Different women respond differently to different pumps, so it may be a good idea to hire a pump before you commit to buying one.
Practice bottle feeding
Some (brave!) women give their babies a bottle for the first time on the day they return to work. I, on the other hand, tried for months to get my daughter to take a bottle and she simply refused. I tried all the tricks: different bottles, warm milk, cold milk, room temperature milk, me feeding, me out of the house, giving her my t-shirt… you name it, I tried it. My intention is not to worry you, rather to warn you that the bottle may take some getting used to, so introduce one well in advance.
Find a comfortable place to express
Some organisations have breastfeeding rooms, but most don’t. Many women express in their office or in a spare conference room. What’s most important is that you find a place that is comfortable.
If you’re pumping in your office, it is worthwhile telling your colleagues if you would like privacy while you’re pumping. If so, look for a room with a lock or perhaps put a sign on the door. If you’re comfortable expressing in front of people, make that known too.
Discussions with colleagues can be a good, hands free way to pass the time while pumping, but most people will probably leave you alone unless they know you’re comfortable with them being around. Oh – and there is every likelihood that your colleagues might not be comfortable – so you may like to warn them before you start attaching a breast pump in front of them.
If you intend to work while you pump you’ll need to be set up with whatever tech you need – a computer, internet access, telephone.
Many women find it helpful to look at photos or watch videos of their baby to help with their milk let down and flow, so if you are struggling, forget about work, think of your baby and try to relax.
Develop a routine and schedule pumping sessions
As most working parents will agree, time in the office is precious and must be used wisely. It can be easy to get caught up in work and forget to express (much like those toilet breaks that we often leave until the last possible moment!).
It helps to schedule pumping sessions in your calendar, so you remember to express and also, so your colleagues can avoid booking meetings for you during those times. You’ll develop your own routine in time, but a good starting point is to express at the times your baby would usually breastfeed.
Pumping and Court
I recently read some comments online about court appearances and expressing. The consensus was that this was difficult to say the least. Court breaks in the middle of the day didn’t fit well with pumping schedules and the short recesses barely allowed enough time to express.
The advice from those who managed to make it work was to ask the court in advance for extended breaks. If you know you will be appearing in court, contact the associate before the matter commences and request additional breaks to accommodate expressing.
Cleaning and storage
Instead of cleaning your pump, bottles and parts after each pumping session, store them in an air-tight container or zip-lock bag in the fridge during the day and then wash them once at the end of each day.
Some women express directly into bottles and then replace the pump with lids, others transfer the milk into freezer-safe bags after each session. Depending on your child’s needs and your supply of breastmilk, you could transport the milk home each day or freeze it at work during the week and take it home frozen at the end of the week.
Of course, you’ll need a fridge or freezer, so talk to your employer about this if necessary.
Understand reverse cycling
No, I’m not referring to the air-conditioning! Reverse cycling is where babies who are away from their mother during the day drink less milk during the day and then nurse more overnight to catch up on their calories.
This magical and little-known phenomenon sees many breastfeeding mothers through their return to work and enables them to continue breastfeeding and express less often. Our milk supply also has a magical way of adjusting to the changed circumstances relatively quickly.
In my case, I was able to leave my bottle-refuser all day from when she was about 9–10 months. She ate a little during the day but made up for the lack of breastmilk overnight and on my days off.
Lucy Dickens (pictured) is a senior associate, business administrator and manager at Birman & Ride, and also the co-host of The Juggle podcast.