Pregnancy and baby

Breastfeeding and going back to work

Should I keep breastfeeding or move to formula milk?

Media last reviewed: 15/05/2012

Next review due: 15/05/2014

Breastfeeding exclusively (giving your baby no other food or drink) is recommended for around the first six months. After that time, breastfeeding is recommended alongside solid food. Therefore it's likely that you'll be breastfeeding when you return to work or college.

The following information may help you. There are several options. You can: 

  • Arrange for childcare close to work or college so that you can breastfeed during breaks, or before and after work. The evening feed can be a wonderful way for you to relax with your baby after work or college.
  • Express breast milk (taking milk from the breast by hand or using a pump) so that someone else can feed your baby while you're at work.
  • Ask your employer or college for flexible working hours that are arranged around your breastfeeding needs.
  • Combine breastfeeding and bottle feeding to fit around your hours.

Think about it early. 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.

Useful ideas on breastfeeding and work

  • Label and date expressed breast milk before putting it in the fridge or freezer so that your childminder knows which one to use first.
  • Have a trial run with childcare before returning to work.
  • If you're using milk within five days of expressing it, it's better to store it in the fridge than in the freezer. This means milk expressed at work on Fridays can be taken home and stored in your fridge to be used on Mondays. Read more about storing breast milk.

You can also download or order ‘A guide for new and expectant mothers who work’ from the Health and Safety Executive website. This website also has a good section about your rights as a breastfeeding employee. You may also find 'Pregnancy and Work: what you need to know' (PDF, 1.1Mb) useful.

Information for employers about breastfeeding mothers

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 breastfeeding mothers?

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.

What does the law say about breastfeeding mothers at work?

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.

You can find out more about this on the HSE website or by phoning their helpline on 0845 345 0055. The HSE also publishes a useful guide, ‘New and expectant mothers at work: A guide for employers’ (HSG122), which can be purchased from www.hsebooks.com or by calling 01787 881 165. 

Talk to other breastfeeding mums

Find out at your local breastfeeding drop-in how other mums continued to breastfeed when they returned to work, or visit HealthTalk Online.


Expressing and returning to work

In this Best Beginnings video, we meet three mothers who express their milk for different reasons and who learnt how to do it in different ways. We also find out how mothers continue breastfeeding when they return to work.

Media last reviewed: 22/10/2014

Next review due: 22/10/2016

Page last reviewed: 25/04/2013

Next review due: 25/04/2015

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Bettyboop87 said on 26 September 2013

This page about breast feeding is wonderfull. I watched the videos with joys. I was very anxious about breast feeding and work but now I feel very positive and can't wait.. I'm due in 6weeks time.. Thanks to NHS advise I am feeling very confident.
Kindest regards

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