Breastfeeding and expressing once you return to work
Going back to work doesn’t mean you have to stop breastfeeding, here’s what you need to know
Now I’m going back to work, should I carry on breastfeeding?
It’s tough going from every day with your baby to being separated for long periods when you have to return to work. This change however does not mean you have to stop breastfeeding. Some mothers say that continuing to breastfeed helps them to cope better with the transition back to work.
How long shall I carry on breastfeeding?
Health professionals recommend continuing exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months. Once your baby reaches 6 months old, the longer you can continue breastfeeding (while also introducing your baby to solid food), the greater the health benefits for you and your baby.
How will I manage breastfeeding when I’m at work?
Going back to work does not mean breastfeeding has to end.
In some cases, if you have a workplace nursery or your chosen nursery is nearby, you may be able to visit your baby during the working day and breastfeed as you would at home.
If this isn’t the case, expressing your breastmilk could be the answer.
How do I go about expressing milk at work?
Many mums find expressing milk takes a bit of practice so it is a good idea to start expressing before you return to work.
It’s important to talk to your employer about where you can express milk and when. Depending on where you work will depend where you can go to express. A large company may have a mother and baby room but smaller companies may suggest a first aid room, or private room but do ask for a room with a lockable door.
There is not a set time or amount of time you need to express, it will depend on personal traits between you and your baby, for example, how easy expressing milk is for you, how many feeds you need to provide milk for 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. Your baby probably doesn’t feed at an exact time so don’t worry if you cannot express at exactly the right time or if you miss the odd day.
Is there a health and safety risk at work if I’m unable to breastfeed at work?
If your work brings you into contact with a dangerous substance, your employer should take appropriate steps to make the job safe so you do not come into contact with them. If the job cannot be made safe, you must be transferred to a suitable alternative job or suspended on full pay.
The Health and Safety Executive has many useful booklets on health and safety at work for breastfeeding mothers, see www.hse.gov.uk.
What action should my employer take?
All employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their employees. While you are breastfeeding, you and your baby are under the same regulations that give protection to pregnant employees. All employers must carry out a general workplace risk assessment. If they employ women of childbearing age employers must also carry out a ‘specific’ risk assessment of risks to new and expectant mothers arising from ‘any processes, working conditions, physical, biological and chemical agents’. If the risk assessment reveals a risk, your employer must do all that is reasonable to remove it or prevent your exposure to it. Your employer must give you information on the risks and what action has been taken.
If you want your employer to take action about a health and safety concern you have you must tell your employer in writing that you are breastfeeding. Your employer must consider the risks and take reasonable action to temporarily change your working conditions or hours of work.
Reasonable suggestions to help from your employer may include adequate breaks to ensure proper nutrition, access to water and washing facilities. They should also consider levels of fatigue, stress and changes in posture.
If adjustments to your working hours or conditions would not be enough to enable you to continue breastfeeding, then you should be given a temporary transfer to alternative work. Any alternative work or additional breaks for breastfeeding or expressing milk should be provided without loss of pay.
Am I entitled to ‘breastfeeding breaks’?
Technically no, the law does not currently allow a straightforward right to breastfeeding breaks. However, your employer must consider any health and safety issues, as stated above.
ACAS guidance gives the following advice to employers when asked to consider additional breaks for breastfeeding:
- 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.
Your legal rights
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 whereas, 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