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Breastfeeding and going back to work

Breastfeeding exclusively (giving your baby no other food or drink) is recommended for around the first 6 months. After this time, breastfeeding is recommended alongside solid food. 

Therefore, it's likely that you'll be breastfeeding when you return to work, training or education.

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
  • 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 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 or college, tell your employer or tutor you’re breastfeeding.

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.

Organising breastfeeding and work

Before returning to work you can:

  • label and date expressed breast milk before putting it in the fridge or freezer so your childminder knows which one to use first
  • have a trial run with childcare before returning to work
  • store breast milk in a sterilised container or in special breast milk storage bags in the fridge for up to 8 days at 4C or lower (you can buy fridge thermometers online) – if you're not sure of the temperature of your fridge, or it’s higher than 4C, use it within 3 days

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 employers can 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, 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 the law says about breastfeeding mothers at work

It's up to mothers to decide how long they want to breastfeed. Returning to work doesn't mean a mother has to stop. Before returning to work, she should give her employer written notification that she's breastfeeding. Her employer must then conduct a specific risk assessment.

Workplace regulations 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. The toilets are not a suitable place to express breast milk.

The HSE has more advice about protecting new and expectant mothers at work.

Talk to other breastfeeding mums

If you know any breastfeeding mothers who have already gone back to work, ask them for advice.

You could also visit to see mothers talking about breastfeeding and working.

Got a breastfeeding question?

Sign into Facebook and message the Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend chatbot for fast, friendly, trusted NHS advice anytime, day or night.

Page last reviewed: 22 June 2021
Next review due: 22 June 2024