Infant Feeding - Returning to work
The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for around six months, and there are benefits to continuing breastfeeding for up to two years after this.
Every mum’s circumstances are different and there are lots of ways you can incorporate breastfeeding into your working life, whether it’s using nearby childcare, expressing milk or working flexible hours, there’s a solution to suit each mum.
It’s a good idea to let your employer know as early as possible that you intend to breastfeed so you both of you have time to prepare. Before you go back to work, write to your employer/tutor to let them know. You may have an HR department that can help. It can make preparations, such as finding you a private room where you can breastfeed or express your milk.
Expressing milk for your baby to be given by a carer when you’re at work
With a little forward planning it is perfectly possible to continue to combine breastfeeding and working. If a mother intends to return to work very soon after the baby is born (for example if they are self-employed) then it is essential the she ensures that breastfeeding is well established and she feels confident with feeding before she starts back at work.
Depending on the times you’re at work, you might need to express your milk at work so that your baby has enough milk for the following day. Expressing can also be important to stop your breasts getting too full and to keep up your milk supply.
You can express by hand or use a pump to express milk. How often you need to express will depend on how much milk your baby needs and how often they feed. Expressing milk can take between 10 and 40 minutes: every mum is unique.
You should discuss with your employer how you are going to manage expressing at work. There are health and safety guidelines protecting breastfeeding mums at work and employers have a duty to ensure they comply.
Please click here to view a leaflet from the Department of Health about returning to work and includes information about expressing milk, storage of milk, what to expect from your employer and the law.
Working flexible hours
You could talk to your employer about the option of working flexible hours, allowing you to work around your breastfeeding times. Or, you could negotiate shorter working hours in the short term until your baby needs fewer feeds during the day.
Combining breastfeeding and formula feeding
You can breastfeed your baby when you are together, and leave formula milk for them while you’re at work. Most mothers who decide on this option find that once breastfeeding is well established their breasts quickly adapt, and that they have plenty of milk to feed their baby at evenings and weekends.
What does the law say?
It is for the mother to decide how long she wishes to breastfeed. Returning to work doesn't mean that she has to stop. On returning to work, she should give her employer written notification that she's breastfeeding. Her employer must then conduct a specific risk assessment.
The Workplace Regulations and Approved Code of Practice require employers to provide suitable facilities where pregnant and breastfeeding mothers can rest.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that it's good practice for employers to provide a private, healthy and safe environment for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk. It is not suitable to use toilets for this purpose.
Information for employers
Employers have certain legal obligations to breastfeeding mothers. Supporting breastfeeding has business benefits too. These include:
• reduced absence due to child sickness (breastfed babies are generally healthier)
• increased staff morale and loyalty, and a subsequently higher rate of return to work
• lower recruitment and training costs
• an extra incentive to offer potential employees
How can employers help?
Employers can have a policy to support breastfeeding. This includes:
• a break allowance for mothers to express milk
• provision of a clean, warm and private room (not the toilet) for expressing
• a secure clean fridge to store expressed milk
• flexible working hours for breastfeeding mothers
Let your employees know about your policy before they start their maternity leave.
Other useful websites