7 smart strategies to make breastfeeding work at work

02 August 2017 - 10:27 By Leigh-Anne Hunter
It is possible to make breastfeeding work at work – with a couple of smart strategies.
It is possible to make breastfeeding work at work – with a couple of smart strategies.
Image: iStock

After returning to work from maternity leave, 28-year-old Dineo Tsamela, a digital expert from Joburg, was determined to continue breastfeeding her son. “On my first day back at work I was thinking: ‘Oh my goodness, am I going to leak everywhere?’”

It’s normal for breastfeeding moms to be stressed about all sorts of things when they return to work, says Joburg lactation consultant, Laura Sayce. “Will their care provider know how to give their baby the milk? Is she going to take the bottle? A lot of moms want to give it up in the beginning.”

The good news is that it is possible to make breastfeeding work at work – with a couple of smart strategies.


Keeping the health benefits of breastfeeding top of mind motivated 41-year-old Helen Smith from Springs to continue breastfeeding her first child for more than two years while she worked fulltime as a proof-reader. She says this can help other working moms stay the course too.

“My son is now six and doctor’s visits are rare. I think it’s most likely that he gets his strong immune system from being breastfed.”

Breastfeeding is good for moms too, says Sayce. “Having that snuggle with your baby when they get home takes moms from stressed work mode to relaxed mommy mode, and helps them reconnect with baby after a day at the office.”  

Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer, osteoporosis and hip fractures

That’s not all. “Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer, osteoporosis and hip fractures. It also reduces incidence of postpartum depression because of the feel-good hormones produced, and the confidence boost a mom gets when she looks at her baby’s chunky thighs and thinks: ‘Wow, I did that.’”

“Despite some stressful times, the overall experience of breastfeeding was very rewarding,” Smith says. Remind yourself of all the benefits – for you and baby – and it’ll help you persevere, she says. “You’ll thank yourself later.”

Image: ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa)


Tsamela’s supportive work environment played a big role in helping her to continue to breastfeed, she says. Her tip: be proactive and talk to your employer in advance so you’re all on the same page. You’ll feel more at ease when you get back in the saddle knowing that you have a breastfeeding plan in place.

Here are a few pointers on how to approach your boss about continuing to breastfeed while at work:

Assure your employer that breastfeeding won’t affect your productivity

“You’re expressing two to three times a day for 15 minutes each, so you’re not eating into company time any more than a smoker would for their smoke breaks,” says Sayce.

Breastfeeding mothers in South Africa are legally entitled to two 30-minute breaks per day for breastfeeding or expressing milk if their infants are younger than 6-months

Know your rights

 It doesn’t hurt to know what the Law in South Africa states about breastfeeding.

According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act: “Arrangements should be made for employees who are breastfeeding to have breaks of 30 minutes twice per day for breastfeeding or expressing milk each working day for the first six months of the child’s life.” 

Suggest ideas for a flexible working arrangement

“We live in a computer-based world, so there are a lot of people who can work from home. Babies can be on the breast for an hour. That gives you a lot of time to get stuff done!” says Sayce.

You’ll have to prove to your boss that you’re the same workhorse at home as you are in the office. “Suggest a trial period to see if the setup works for both of you.”

If you’re required to work from the office, you could ask your boss if you can work through your lunch-break and leave an hour earlier. “Or if you can afford to take a pay cut, suggest that instead of getting your full salary you take 70% of it, for example, and work 70% of the time.”


"Before your return to work [from maternity leave], give yourself enough time to get to grips with finding the pump that works best for you and regularly expressing milk - and give your baby enough time to get used to bottle-fed breast milk. Time and practice will help you both to establish this as a stress-free routine before the big change up ahead," recommends Zelda Ackerman, spokesperson of the The Association for Dietetics in South Africa.

Ask your partner and family for help, even if it’s just to sterilise bottles, or enlist the help of a nanny, Tsamela suggests. “It’s the small things that make a difference, and it helps to know that you’re not in it alone.”

Sayce suggests another smart stress-busting idea for breastfeeding working mamas: while you’re on maternity leave, build up a stockpile of expressed breastmilk in the freezer. That way you’ll have plenty in storage for your little nipper when you go back to work. Be aware though, that fresher is better.

“Breastmilk’s  constitution changes as baby grows older to provide optimal nutrients at different stages of their development,” Sayce says.

But knowing you have an emergency milk bank at home can be a lifesaver – say on a Monday when you didn’t get a chance to express over a busy weekend because you were spending quality time with your little one, or if you were caught up in meetings the day before.


Initially Tsamela used a manual breast pump to express at home and in the office. “It was a shlep,” she laughs. “I would pump and pump and nothing would happen. I soon invested in an electric breast pump, which made expressing far easier and less time-consuming.”

Image: ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa)

There’s plenty of slick, ultra-modern breastfeeding gear you can buy to make breastfeeding less of a chore – from pumps (with glam storage kits that look like handbags so you can remain discreet), to cooler bags designed for storing breastmilk.

Expressing missed feeds while in the office has many benefits, says Sayce. “You can ensure that your milk supply is maintained, produce milk that can be left for baby, and prevent engorgement which can lead to mastitis.”

"You can reduce discomfort from engorgement and pace your two breastfeeding breaks optimally at work if you arrange your workday mornings so that you give your baby a good feed that ends just before you leave for work; and then breastfeed your baby again as soon as you get home," adds Ackerman. 


When Smith breastfed her first child from 2009, she would express in the ladies room. “I stuck articles I was proof-reading to the cubicle partition so I could work and pump at the same time!” she says.

Luckily, many employers have become more progressive. “It helped me a lot when my boss said I could use the boardroom for expressing,” Tsamela says. “I was given a key so I had privacy and could feel at ease.”

Her tip: don’t be afraid to talk to your boss or HR about providing a room – it’ll save you from having to express in the ladies room!


“There’s a huge amount of misinformation about breastfeeding,” says Sayce. Arm yourself with knowledge by:

Hiring a lactation consultant

She can give you advice on how to maintain long-term expressing, along with all the basic tips for first-time moms – things like how much breastmilk you need to pump for your baby, and how to store and warm it up.

And if you hit a wall – say if your breastmilk supply decreases or baby refuses the bottle – there are things a lactation consultant can do to help.

“It gives mom that encouragement they need that it actually is possible to continue breastfeeding when they go back to work,” says

Sayce, who used to work at a wildlife bio-bank before she switched to lactation consulting.

It took her four years of self-study while she was raising her two girls. “I had a disastrous breastfeeding journey with my first child. When I got over the challenges, breastfeeding was amazing and I wanted to help other moms get there too.”

Many moms find lactation consultants through recommendations from other moms, says Sayce. For a one-hour to 90-minute appointment, you’re looking at a minimum of R500 to R800. “We see moms at every stage of the journey, even prenatally if they’ve had breast surgery for example. I’ve helped women with 18-month-olds who had challenges with breastfeeding.”

On average, Sayce consults with about six new moms a week. “I enjoy watching a mom gain confidence and knowing that I’ve helped another baby breastfeed, even if it’s just for another day.”

Join a support group

Moms also have the option of joining a support group like those run by La Leche League International, a global pro-breastfeeding non-profit founded in 1956. You can also contact a League leader in your area for free telephonic advice, says Sayce, who has been volunteering for the organisation for six years and takes calls from all over the country. Many lactation consultants run their own support groups as well.

“Moms who are part of a support group breastfeed for longer,” Sayce says. “It’s a great informal space for breastfeeding moms to get together and chat about their fears and joys – to just share the journey.”


Breastfeeding can be tough, especially when you’re also juggling work demands. “It’s normal to worry,” says Sayce. “But reassure yourself that you’re doing the best you can and every drop of breastmilk that you give your baby is a gift.”

Smith adds: “Don’t stress yourself if your initial attempts at expressing yield only small amounts. The more you do it, the more you will stimulate milk production. Keep hydrated. Eat plenty of fruit and raw veggies to keep up your energy and nutrient levels, both for yourself and your babe.”