Breastfeeding when you return to work

You can continue to breastfeed when you return to work. Before going back, you need to tell your employer you’ll be breastfeeding. To support you and protect your health when you’re breastfeeding, your employer can make some adjustments. This includes temporary changes to your hours or working pattern.

Contacting your employer

If you're breastfeeding and want to continue when you're back at work, you must write to your employer beforehand and tell them what you think you will need in order to be able to continue breastfeeding. They might need to find a clean, private space for you to be able to express your milk or you might need your working hours changed.

Your rights when breastfeeding

Your employer must assess and manage any risk to your health or your baby’s health. Having to stop breastfeeding could be a health risk for a mother and her baby. To protect the health, safety and welfare of breastfeeding mothers, an employer must provide suitable rest facilities. There should be an area to lie down.

Working flexible hours

You should talk to your employer about flexible working hours. This allows you to arrange your working hours around your breastfeeding times. You could agree to work shorter hours temporarily, until your baby reaches the age when they feed less often during the day.

Breastfeeding during work

If your workplace has a crèche or you arrange childcare nearby, you can breastfeed your baby during the working day.

You can breastfeed:

  • immediately before and after work
  • at lunchtime
  • during work breaks

Before you book childcare, check whether their staff support continued breastfeeding.

Expressing breast milk before going back to work

You can express your breast milk to let someone else feed your baby while you’re at work. Start expressing a few weeks before you go back to work.

With this preparation:

  • you know how to express breast milk
  • you know how long it takes to express
  • you have a milk supply to store

You can freeze breast milk for up to six months.

Expressing breast milk at work

Depending on your working hours, you might need to express milk at work so you have milk for your baby the next day. By the time you go back to work, your milk supply will be well established. You can use a hand, battery or electric pump to express milk. Expressing also stops your breasts getting overfull and maintains your milk supply.

Breastfeeding facilities at work

There is health and safety guidance for employers about providing adequate breastfeeding facilities. However, your employer doesn’t have to make these arrangements.

At your work premises, when expressing milk you will need:

  • a clean, warm, private room with a low, comfortable chair (a toilet is not suitable)
  • an electric socket if you’re using an electric pump
  • a wash hand basin, water and soap
  • a hygienic area for cleaning and storing your sterilising equipment
  • a fridge or well insulated cooling bag for storing expressed milk at a temperature between two and four degrees Celsius.

Breaks at work to express milk

If you want to express milk during the working day, you will need to agree extra breaks with your employer. The number of breaks you will need for expressing milk depends on:

  • your baby’s age
  • how often they feed

If your baby is between two and six months old, you might need to express two to four times during an eight hour working day. If your baby is older than six months, you might need to express once or twice during a full working day. 

Time needed to express milk

Most women need at least 20 minutes to express milk. Some mothers can express in 10 minutes.

Giving a baby breastfeeds and formula feeds

When well established with breastfeeding, most women adapt and have enough milk to breastfeed in the evenings and at weekends. You could breastfeed your baby when you’re together and allow formula milk feeds when someone else is looking after your baby.

Cleaning breast pump equipment at work

Each time you express milk using a pump:

  • rinse the equipment in cool water immediately
  • wash each part separately with washing up liquid and warm water
  • rinse each part in boiled, cool water for 15 seconds
  • air dry the parts on a clean paper towel or drying rack

Don’t use cloth towels as these can carry germs and bacteria. Don’t touch inside the pump where your breast milk goes. When the parts are dry, assemble the pump and store in a clean plastic box or zip-lock bag.

Video: Breastfeeding after returning to work

Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative | Returning to work

Video supplied by Best Beginnings 

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