Breastfeeding At Work: A Critical Review of Australia’s Laws and Practice


This presentation provides an overview of my thesis and its findings which critically reviews the federal legal regimes that regulate women in employment who breastfeed.  As more women than ever before return to work after having a baby the issue of breastfeeding at work is gaining momentum.  In Australia women have no clear laws to definitely assert an entitlement to be accommodated with access to guaranteed paid breastfeeding breaks, hygienic facilities, and risk assessments to ensure safe and healthful working conditions that enable them to continue breastfeeding.  Such entitlements are international labour standards recommended by the International Labour Organisation in its Maternity Protection Convention (1919,1952 and 2000) of which Australia has never ratified.

Without clear laws breastfeeding workers may be disempowered, uncertain about what to expect, and have their breastfeeding embodied practice, that is their bodily functioning, decided by others at their whim – ie management in the provision of, or denial of, breastfeeding accommodations. 

Specifically, the anti-discrimination laws, employment laws and work health and safety laws are examined including the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.


Rachel is soon to complete her PhD in Law with the TC Beirne School of Law, examining the legal issues that impact breastfeeding workers in Australia. She qualified as a barrister and solicitor in 1995 and has worked in both capacities for the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and the Office of the Australian Government Solicitor.

As a Breastfeeding Counsellor with the Australian Breastfeeding Association, Rachel became interested in the workplace rights of women to breastfeed.  In 2015 she appeared before the Productivity Commission on this issue and in 2016 she appeared before the ACCC and also organised, and presented at, the inaugural Breastfeeding Advocacy Australia conference of which is a national group that Rachel has co-founded.  

Rachel has recently presented at the United Nations International Labour Organization conference on Regulating Decent Work, focussing on maternity protection including breastfeeding laws.  On behalf of the ABA, Rachel has been liaising with the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission to produce a ‘Know Your Rights’ Factsheet and card for women who breastfeed at work and in public.