Supporting breastfeeding at the ANU workplace: good for the mother as well as the child

Mother and child
17 October 2019

Work and study environments are changing to become more inclusive and family friendly, and the ANU is no exception. Recognising the importance of breastfeeding for women’s health, the RSPH recently hosted an event to celebrate the University’s progress towards becoming a ‘breastfeeding friendly’ accredited workplace. In partnership with the Australian Breastfeeding Association, several ANU partners, and leading academics working in this area from the ANU and other Australian universities, an audience including several infants and young children heard the latest research bringing together diverse aspects of this topic.

Speakers highlighted the how the transition back to work can be a difficult time for families. For mothers who continue to breastfeed this can be made harder as they juggle work commitments with returning regularly to the childcare facility in order to feed their child, or finding the time and a private location to express milk and store it. 

While some might argue that parents should just use formula or wean their child, the fact is that under Australia law breastfeeding is a right, not a privilege. Therefore if women choose to continue breastfeeding while at work, then their employer should support it.

Research undertaken by Dr Julie Smith found that the earlier mothers return to work, the earlier the age of the infant where non-breastmilk is introduced, and the earlier the age where breastfeeding stopped altogether. This is usually because the practicalities of feeding and expressing at work are so difficult that mothers find the task close to impossible.

Smith argues that employers should encourage mothers to continue to breastfeed, not just for health but financial reasons.

“What many employers don’t realise is that there are economic benefits to supporting mothers to continue breastfeeding."

"Our research shows that infants who are exclusively breastfed until they are six months old are less likely to become ill and require hospitalisation compared to those who are not breastfed exclusively,” says Smith. “When infants are ill, a parent needs to take time off work to stay with the child, so a business that supports breastfeeding is supporting workplace productivity.”

Interestingly, the benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby go well beyond the child’s infancy. There is convincing evidence that breastfeeding decreases the risk of maternal breast cancer in later life, and results in a modest reduction in her risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer.

Associate Professor Susan Jordan from The University of Queensland presented on the role of early breastfeeding cessation in increasing reproductive cancer risks in Australia. Her research recently published in scientific journals showed that around 1.7% of breast cancer cases in Australia could be attributable to breastfeeding duration being shorter than 12 months or less during a woman’s lifetime, some 329 cases per year. The mechanism behind the lower incidence of reproductive cancers in women who have breastfed for a year or more is based on the suppression of menstruation and the hormonal changes that are associated with it.

Speaker highlights

A more detailed summary of the talks can be found here.

These speakers included:

  • Professor Gabrielle Bammer, Research School of Population Health, ANU
  • Provost Mike Calford, Provost, ANU
  • Megan Fox, Regional Representative, Australian Breastfeeding Association
  • Professor Catherine Waldby, Research School of Social Sciences, ANU
  • Associate Professor Susan Jordan, School of Public Health, University of Queensland
  • Honorary Associate Professor Julie Smith, Research School of Population Health, ANU
  • Associate Professor Lisa Amir, Principal Research Fellow, Judith Lumley Centre, La Trobe University


Breastfeeding and Parent Support at ANU

ANU has increased their focus on fostering a work environment that encourages a healthy work-life balance. This includes 26 weeks paid parental leave available to either gender, implementation of a breastfeeding policy, numerous parenting rooms, and working towards becoming an accredited “Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace” through the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

Information on ANU policies and initiatives in place for parents and carers of other family members can be found at the Gender Institute webpage. This webpage provides specific resources relating to breastfeeding (including parenting room locations), the ANU Parenting Spaces book, a Google map of parenting spaces on campus, and checklists for mothers and supervisors that cover how to support mothers breastfeeding on campus (provided courtesy of the Australian Breastfeeding Association's Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace accreditation program).

Event Sponsors

We would like to thank the wonderful organisations who sponsored the event including University House, ANU Sport, Pivotal Therapies, Australian Breastfeeding Association, and Research School of Population Health.