University of Tasmania

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Clandestine labour: Australian parents' experiences of returning to work and breastfeeding

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-24, 21:36 authored by Jeffrey AytonJeffrey Ayton, Sue-Anne PearsonSue-Anne Pearson, Graham, A, Gemma KitsosGemma Kitsos, Emily HansenEmily Hansen
Transitioning back to paid employment after the birth of a child is a significant adjustment period for both mothers and fathers. Balancing multiple responsibilities can intersect with work and family lives and breastfeeding practices. Understanding parents’ experiences around employment and infant feeding will help to inform workplace policies to better support working families who breastfeed. This qualitative study undertaken in 2019, used one-to-one phone interviews to explore 42 Tasmanian public service-employed mothers' (n=38) and fathers’(n=4) experiences of transitioning back to work after the birth of their child and how they negotiated to breastfeed. The findings suggest that there is an unfolding narrative of returning to work whilst breastfeeding, one that starts with Leave-taking, followed by a Return to and Doing work, and ends with parents’ creative use of Coupling strategies to mitigate stress. This narrative generates a form of work-family breastfeeding conflict which occurs when work (whether part or full-time) interferes with family breastfeeding life, and breastfeeding, including expressing work conflicts with work life. Consequently, expressing breastmilk and or breastfeeding becomes a type of clandestine labour; invisible work that is unrecognised as an integral part of the return to work for both parents, parental/maternal leave, and family-friendly employment policies. The concealed nature of the time and commitment that breastfeeding and expressing breastmilk involves for working postnatal families has public health implications for mothers, fathers, and infants. These include a negative impact on the duration of exclusive breastfeeding, stress on family and work relationships, workplace productivity, and retention.



Tasmanian School of Medicine

Event title

Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference 2022

Event Venue

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Nutrition; Public health (excl. specific population health) not elsewhere classified

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