If you’re a breastfeeding parent who’s going back to work, you might be worried about how – or if – you can continue feeding your child in this way.
Although it’s commonly understood that breastmilk is good for babies, and society should support parents to continue breastfeeding for as long as they’d like, it’s not always clear how parents can actually fit breastfeeding into the work and child care day.
To learn more about the benefits of breastmilk, the rights of breastfeeding parents, and practical ways to navigate work, child care and breastfeeding, we spoke with Isis McKay, General Manager of Women’s Health Action.
Thanks for your time, Isis. The Ministry of Health recommends that children are breastfed exclusively for around the first six months of life. What are the benefits of breastfeeding, for both children and parents?
For infants, breastfeeding supports the development of a healthy immune system, and works as a protective factor against sudden unexplained death in infancy. Breastfeeding can reduce respiratory, gastrointestinal, and acute ear infections, type 1 and 2 diabetes and obesity.
Parents who breastfeed are less likely to experience postpartum haemorrhage, postpartum weight retention and depression. Additionally, breastfeeding works as a protective factor against many chronic illnesses, including invasive breast cancer, ovarian cancer, hyperlipidaemia, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Recent epidemiological and biological research expands on the known benefits of breastfeeding for parents and children. These include epigenetic benefits, reducing vulnerability to chronic illness and conditions, and supporting gut microbiota in health and diseases such as allergies.
For more information about the benefits of breastfeeding, click here.
What rights do New Zealand parents have when it comes to breastfeeding at work, child care and everywhere?
While there is no specific law in New Zealand that deals with the right to breastfeed, there is legal protection under the Human Rights Act 1993, based on direct or indirect sex discrimination
Breastfeeding while working is protected in New Zealand. You have the right to ask for support, and your employer should respond positively. This is because under the Employment Relations (Breaks, Infant Feeding, and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2008,
Employers are required, so far as is reasonable and practicable in the circumstances, to provide appropriate facilities and breaks to an employee who wishes to breastfeed, either at work or in work time.
If your employer doesn’t allow you any, or some, of your requests/entitlements, then you should put your request to them in writing and ask for a written response.
You can also read more about our nation’s breastfeeding policy and legislation here.
Only between 17 and 22 per cent of Kiwi children are exclusively breastfed to around six months, and returning to work is one of the most common reasons for breastfeeding to stop.
What are some practical ways that parents can balance breastfeeding and work to keep feeding for longer?
Being a breastfeeding and working parent can have its challenges, but a supportive workplace and child care service, and having the resources you require, can make a big difference.
At www.bfw.org.nz you will find tips on how to prepare prior to maternity leave/returning to work, along with tips on conversations to have with your employer, information on expressing and storing breast milk, plus resources designed to support employees.
You can also read about how other people negotiated this journey, and the types of situations that they found helpful or unhelpful.
Here are some of our top tips:
- Plan ahead. Before you go on parental leave, talk to your employer/manager/HR department about flexible work options available for when you return, and make a feeding plan with your child care service.
- Know your entitlements when it comes to the legislation, your terms of employment, and relevant company policies and practices.
- Try to get into your work expressing routine a week or two before going back to work.
- Having videos or photos of your baby to watch or look at while expressing can really help.
- Express/feed often to preserve your supply. Breastfeed as soon as you get home and as much as you can at night and on weekends. Remember that your breasts produce milk on a supply-and-demand basis, so expressing and feeding frequently during the day can help you maintain your supply.
Why is it so important that child care centres are breastfeeding friendly, and what can they do to support breastfeeding?
With roughly 40 per cent of children aged two years and under attending formal early childhood education (ECE), and children as young as four-weeks-old attending ECE for at least 17 hours per week, early childhood educators must understand the importance of breastfeeding and look at ways of removing barriers to breastfeeding in ECE settings.
ECE services have an essential role to play in the redevelopment of a breastfeeding culture by normalising breastfeeding, and Kelly Dorgan, from the Canterbury Breastfeeding Advocacy Service (CBAS) says ECE services can implement the following strategies to become breastfeeding friendly:
- Develop a breastfeeding policy.
- Inform staff and whānau of this policy and have access to any background documents that informs it.
- Educate staff about the importance of breastfeeding and The International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes.
- Expose children to breastfeeding in the ECE environment through discussion, books, posters and seeing other babies and infants being breastfed at the service.
- Provide a safe (and private, if necessary) space for breastfeeding or expressing, with access to power, hot water, basin and a fridge.
- Provide commercial-free forms of breastfeeding information and resources to whānau and staff in printed form – including information about local community and health services (CBAS can help with this).
- Offer information outlining the service’s support for breastfeeding to new parents at their first contact.
- Develop infant and child feeding plans with parents and regularly update them, including parents’ wishes around the use of pacifiers.
- Feed breastfed babies in keeping with their feeding plan, and with sensitive and responsive feeding methods in order to protect their breastfeeding.
- Encourage breastfeeding staff to make a plan with their managers to ensure they’re able to take breaks appropriate for them to continue breastfeeding, and have access to appropriate environments for breastfeeding/expressing.
The CBAS helps services bring these strategies into being, and they also provide practical tips to support working parents to breastfeed.
You’ll find more information about being breastfeeding friendly in ECE here, and it’s good to know that the National Breastfeeding Strategy for New Zealand Aotearoa has been developed to help protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
At the end of the day, breastfeeding is healthy for children, parents, society and the environment. Everyone benefits from a ‘friendly’ approach, and as a parent, you’re encouraged to make a breastfeeding plan that works for you and your little one.
It’s World Breastfeeding Week!
This global campaign is celebrated every year between 1 and 7 August, and the Week is a great opportunity to raise awareness and strengthen action around breastfeeding.
Here in New Zealand, Women’s Health Action is running a series of events, featuring informative live chats, pre-recorded interviews with experts, and live Zooms with parents discussing their breastfeeding journeys and tips for overcoming challenges.