“Working mothers are placed in the invidious situation of having to be both good mothers and good employees. In a workplace that does not provide appropriate space, sufficient time and supportive attitudes for mothers to either breastfeed or express breastmilk, managing both becomes impossible.”

Breastfeeding Communique #17 2006





Breastfeeding and Work

In recent years, the proportion of employees with some form of family responsibility has grown, and employers have been responding to this trend with family friendly policies and practices. Requesting breaks or space for breastfeeding fits with what many employers are doing anyway in supporting employees' caring responsibilities or achieving a work-life balance.

Employers who have implemented breastfeeding friendly workplace programmes have found that they are viewed favourably by not only expectant and breastfeeding mothers but also by other employees and the general public.

Around 90% of all mothers in New Zealand choose to initiate breastfeeding1 and at around 6 weeks, approximately 60% are breastfeeding.2 However, only around 16% of babies are exclusively or fully breastfed with 34% partially breastfed at six months.3 This is below the national target and well below the World Health Organisation recommendations.

Not all women breastfeed until they and their babies are ready to wean and it has been found that there is a positive relationship between length of maternity leave and the length of breastfeeding.4 Women who work full time in the early months have also been found to wean earlier than those working fewer hours.1

The trend in developed countries has been for two groups of women with infants to most likely to return to work. One group consists of women who generally have high levels of income, skills and qualifications and work in higher occupational categories. These women have a high level of commitment to their work and are generally in high demand by employers. The second group comprises women who conversely are in lower occupational categories and lower incomes.5 For this latter group of women returning to the workforce after birth is an economic necessity.5

Workplace support is critical: for mothers returning to paid employment to successfully continue to breastfeed, and for employers who wish to retain their skilled and trained workforce.

Those groups experiencing the greatest difficulty in managing breastfeeding and paid employment appear to be industrial workers and service workers, in particular women in sales, restaurant, hotel, factory or service occupations.6 These women have less control over their work lives thus requiring greater support from their employers to balance their work and family responsibilities.

Women who wish to continue breastfeeding after returning to work have relatively few and simple needs: a convenient, safe, private and comfortable location; the opportunity to breastfeed or express during the work day and a supportive management and work environment.

A baby’s breastfeeding pattern changes over time. When and how often they feed at two months is different to six months and different again at nine months. Requirements for workplace accommodations by breastfeeding mothers will only be needed for a very small part of their working life.


1 Bevan, Tui. Maternal Employment and Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding Communique 10, 1999/2000
2 National Strategic Plan of Action for Breastfeeding 2008-2012
3 Plunket NZ Statistics 2008-2009
4 Payne, D., James, L. Make or Break; Women’s experiences of returning to paid employment and breastfeeding, a NZ study. Breastfeeding Review, 16, (2). 2008
5 Galtry, J. Callister, P. Birth and the early months; parental leave and paid work. In Callister & Podmore. Striking a Balance NZCER 1995
6 Galtry, J. Breastfeeding, labour market changes and public policy in NZ. Is promotion of breastfeeding enough? Social Policy Journal of NZ 5 1995