Breastfeeding and work - how to make it work

Mom Vanessa A Simmons breastfeeds her baby at her workplace.
Mom Vanessa A Simmons breastfeeds her baby at her workplace.
WABA - 2015

But, according to the law, this should not be the case as working moms in South Africa are entitled to breaks for breastfeeding.

Did you know that breastfeeding mothers in South Africa are protected by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and that they are legally entitled to two 30-minute breaks per day for breastfeeding or expressing milk if their infants are younger than 6-months?

Why breastfeeding moms get more breaks at work

Optimal infant and young child feeding is defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘exclusive breastfeeding from birth for the first six months of life and starting from six months of age, feeding safe and appropriate complementary foods, along with continued breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond’.

South Africa’s paediatric food-based dietary guidelines, cited in the South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition state that mothers should ‘give only breast milk, and no other foods or liquids, to your baby for the first six months of life’

“Women from all communities need to be supported to continue to breastfeed when they return to work, and everyone should work together to ensure that breastfeeding mothers receive the support they need”, says Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) spokesperson, Catherine Pereira.

Most women do not receive adequate maternity protection and returning to work is often a barrier to breastfeeding because a mother becomes separated from her baby for long periods of time.

Many mothers struggle to balance breastfeeding and paid work, therefore stopping breastfeeding earlier than they should.

How can we ensure that the workplace is breastfeeding and mom-friendly?

- Have a breastfeeding-friendly room, corner or space in your workplace where mothers can breastfeed their babies or express milk.
- Ensure that there are refrigeration facilities for mothers to store breast milk if they are expressing.
- Support part-time work arrangements for breastfeeding staff.
- Make sure that your employees or employers know the legal rights of breastfeeding women.
- Show a positive attitude towards friends and colleagues that are breastfeeding mothers.
- If you are a woman who managed to breastfeed when you went back to work, share your experiences as inspiration for other women.
- Fathers and partners should read up on breastfeeding and how they can support women.
- Breastfeeding women should form or join support groups, such as La Leche League, or contact a lactation consultant.
- Listen to women’s needs and respect a woman’s decision on infant feeding and offer support for her choice without prejudice.

“Breastfeeding and Work” addresses one of the challenges and fears that many mother face – what happens when I have to go back to work?” says ADSA spokesperson and Registered Dietitian Catherine Day.

She shares the following tips with mothers on how to deal with returning to work and breastfeeding:

- Ensure you feed your little one by breastfeeding before leaving for work
- Visit a dietitian and/or lactation consultant so they can help you calculate how much milk you need to express during the day.
- Feed your little one as soon as you get home by breastfeeding
- For babies older than six months, make sure the caregiver doesn’t give your little one a big meal/ snack before you get home, a smaller snack will be better as your little one with then happily breastfeed and it may also relieve some engorgement
- Ensure you know how to hand express
- Ensure you have a pump that suits your needs (different pumps are required depending on the number of hours you work i.e. part-time vs. full-time) – get advice if you need some
- Build up a milk supply before returning to work

This video offers more tips on breastfeeding in the work place

Dietitians are trained to assist mothers with breastfeeding as well as offer support and encourage moms to continue breastfeeding when returning to work. The ADSA has registered dietitians in most areas. 

World Breastfeeding Week

Every year, World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is celebrated from 1-7 August and this year’s theme is ‘Breastfeeding and Work – Let’s make it work!’.

Want to know if you're optimising both your and your baby's nutritional health during breastfeeding? Take this test.

For information on WBW 2015 visit

Read more:

Flu and breastfeeding

Why breastfeeding is best

Positions for breastfeeding

Image: Vanessa A Simmons breastfeeding at work - WABA

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