Returning to work signalled the end of my breastfeeding journey for all four of my children.
When my eldest daughter (now five) was 10 months old, I returned to work four days a week, and with our triplets (who are now three) I went back when they were 13 months.
In both cases breastfeeding ceased shortly after.
It was hard to juggle work commitments and expressing breastmilk during office hours.
For our eldest daughter there was actually no designated room at my workplace — the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Canberra — to express milk privately.
By the time the triplets came along that issue had been rectified but the stress of work and feeling I needed to show I was committed and could be taken seriously again after having children meant my supply dropped and I didn’t prioritise enough time to express milk.
To be blunt, I felt guilty for taking 30 minutes to express when I felt I should have been working.
The sound of a motorised breast pump in the background wasn’t overly conducive to conducting interviews nor was taking notes while being hooked up to a milking machine.
I loved breastfeeding but work and breastfeeding just didn’t work out.
And sadly, that’s the reality for many Australian women.
We need more leadership and support from employers and government to encourage women to continue their feeding journey when they choose to return to work.
Paid lactation breaks should be seriously considered. Some workplaces give lactation breaks. But not all are paid or enforced.
We need not just the policies, but also the genuine support and promotion of them.
The benefits of breastmilk and exclusive breastfeeding to six months of age are profound.
Breastfeeding increases immunity, reduces obesity and is the best food for a baby.
Australia – a wealthy, educated, first-world country – should not be rated so poorly on our breastfeeding success.
We need government to step up, but also employers and business leaders need to promote and support mothers returning to the workforce – so they don’t have to make the choice to continue feeding or return to work.