Breastmilk is the ideal food for your baby, and the only food needed for the first six months. Ideally, you should continue to give your baby breastmilk for the first year, and longer if you and your baby wish. Returning to work does not mean that you can no longer breastfeed your baby – continuing to offer breastfeeds can be something special for you and your baby to share, as you both get used to a new routine. However, many mothers have questions about how this can work.

How can I breastfeed when my baby is at an early childhood setting?
If your baby is a few months old and breastfeeding well, they will often manage happily on a mixed plan of breastfeeds and bottles. You can offer your baby breastfeeds in the morning and evening, and provide expressed breastmilk in a bottle for when you are not around. Babies who are seven or eight months old can often drink breastmilk from a cup during the day, and breastfeed whenever you are around. Expressing breastmilk even when you are away from your baby will keep up your supply, and give you milk to use for times you are away.

How can I prepare for my return to work?
Your early childhood setting should have information available with details on how to continue breastfeeding while your baby is in care. It is useful to contact your workplace to ask about where you will be able to express milk. Some bigger businesses have a specific place set aside; in other workplaces, you may be able to use a small room or office, and lock the door for some privacy. Also, check whether there is a refrigerator, for storing the expressed breastmilk. You will also need a small, insulated container and ice brick or frozen water bottle, for transporting the milk. Discuss your needs and the options available with your workplace before you return to work. The early childhood setting will help you manage the new routine for your baby, and offer practical tips on breastfeeding now that you are back at work.

Unless your work is part-time or very close to your baby’s early chiildhood setting, you will probably need to express milk to put in bottles for your baby to have during the day. You can express milk by hand, with a hand pump or with an electric pump. Whatever you decide, you should practise expressing milk before you go back to work and get some help if needed. You will need to express milk at the times you would generally have breastfed. If your baby will be bottle-feeding for the first time, practise this before the first day as well.

Checklist for preparing your return to work:
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  • Contact the early childhood setting and your workplace to check details and arrangements
  • Ask your workplace about where you can express breastmilk, about refrigerator access and whether you can take short breaks whenever you need to express milk.
  • Practise expressing milk with your chosen method.
  • Make sure your baby will take a bottle (or is able to drink from a cup, if old enough).
  • Make sure you have at least a two-day supply of bottles - one day's worth to express milk into, one day's worth to send with your baby to care and perhaps some extras (you may have extra milk, which you can freeze for another time).
  • Make sure you have two insulated containers - one for putting milk in for care and one for brining your expressed milk home from work.
  • Think of a good way to mark your baby's full name, and the date for use, clearly on the bottles, so that it will not come off or run when wet (e.g. a permanent marker or waterproof labels and pen).
How will breastmilk be provided to my baby?
Breastmilk should be brought to the early childhood setting in sterilised plastic bottles – one bottle for each feed, and enough milk in each bottle for that feed. It should be carried in an insulated container with an ice brick or frozen water bottle and clearly labelled (with a waterproof label or pen) with the full name of your child and the date it is to be used.
  • The bottles will be stored in the refrigerator until it is time for your baby’s feed.
  • Your breastmilk is intended for your own baby, and it is important that staff and carers give the milk to the right baby. Before a feed, two staff will check that the name on the bottle is correct and sign your baby’s feeding record.
I am finding it difficult to express milk during the day. What are my options?
If you do not want to express extra breastmilk for bottles, or find that it is becoming too difficult, it is possible to continue breastfeeding only in the morning and evening and offer formula during the day. If breastfeeding has been well established, many mothers can continue to provide enough milk for these less frequent breastfeeds, and many older babies are very happy on this routine. If you do decide to offer formula during the day, you will need to check the setting’s guidelines for this.

Some mothers find it difficult to maintain enought milk for this limited number of feeds, once the feeds and expressing have been cut back. Try expressing more frequently for a while to try and build up the supply again, or perhaps accept that breastfeeding is over for your baby.

At some stage, your baby will stop breastfeeding. Congratulate yourself on a job well done - because although some mothers do it with apparent ease, it is hard work to juggle looking after a baby, going to work, breastfeeding and expressing milk. However, you have given your baby the best possible start to life.

Additional breastfeeding information and support is available from the Australian Breastfeeding Association, either online at www.breastfeeding.asn.au or from the breastfeeding helpline, 1800 MUM 2 MUM (1800 686 2 686).