Going back to work may be the first time you have been separated from your baby for long periods. It can be a difficult time for you and your baby. Continuing to breastfeed is one way to maintain the close relationship you have built up, providing your baby with extra comfort and security. Mothers who feel unhappy about leaving their baby when they return to work often find that continuing to breastfeed helps them to cope better.
How can I continue breastfeeding once I go back to work?
There are various ways in which you can combine breastfeeding with going back to work:
If there is a workplace nursery or other childcare very close to your workplace, you may be able to visit your baby during the working day and breastfeed normally.
If you cannot visit your baby during the working day, you can express breastmilk.
How do I go about expressing milk at work?
Just as breastfeeding is a skill to be learnt, so is expressing breastmilk. Most people find that it takes a bit of practice so it is advisable to start before you actually return to work. You can get practical advice from organisations like the National Childbirth Trust.
You will need to talk to your employer about where you can express milk and when. Where you express your breastmilk will depend on where you work. A large employer may have a ‘mother and baby room’.
In other workplaces you may be able to use a first aid room, spare office or any private room, preferably with a lockable door.
How often you express milk and for how long is very individual. It will depend on how easy you find expressing, how many feeds there are when you are not with your baby and how much milk your baby normally takes. Ideally, you would be allowed to take breaks when you need them but you may have to fit around your existing breaks or lunch hour or fit in with the demands of your job. Remember, just as a baby rarely feeds to an exact schedule it will not matter if you cannot express at exactly the right time or if you miss the occasional day. See below for negotiating with your employer.
Your legal rights if you are breastfeeding
In many other European countries breastfeeding mothers have a statutory right to paid breastfeeding breaks or a shorter working day if they have a baby under 12 months. In the UK, breastfeeding mothers have some legal protection under health and safety and sex discrimination laws.
Employers have legal obligations to provide:
- Health and safety protection
- Flexible working hours and protection from indirect sex discrimination
- Rest facilities
- Protection from harassment
Is there a health and safety risk at work?
There are very few direct risks but scientific evidence shows that the baby’s health and the mother’s health are put at risk if the mother does not breastfeed until the baby is at least 12 months old. So, if your working conditions stop you from breastfeeding successfully, you may be able to argue that it is putting yours and your baby’s health at risk.
Some hazardous substances can enter breastmilk and might pose a risk to your baby. If your work brings you into contact with a dangerous substance, your employer should take appropriate steps to make the job safe. If the job cannot be made safe, you must be transferred to a suitable alternative job or suspended on full pay.
Health and Safety Executive guidance includes the following risks:
- Certain biological agents may be transmitted through breastfeeding or through close physical contact between mother and child. Examples of agents where the child might be infected are hepatitis B, HIV (the AIDS virus), herpes, syphilis, chickenpox and typhoid. For most workers, the risk of infection is not higher at work than elsewhere, but in certain occupations exposure to infections is more likely, for example laboratory work, health care, looking after animals or dealing with animal products.
- Substances labelled R64 may cause harm to breastfed
“Employers should consider providing short breaks for breastfeeding or expressing milk, weighing it up against the likely impact it might have on the business. Employers should be careful not to discriminate against breastfeeding employees. If employers are unable to grant additional breaks, they could consider slightly extending normal breaks for the employee such as a mid-morning coffee break or leaving earlier in the day to minimise any disruption to the business.”
Each employee will need to have a discussion with their employer – preferably in advance of their return to work – but hopefully this guidance will be helpful in these negotiations, and helping your employer to understand your needs and their obligations.