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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, write to your employer/tutor to let them know you are 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

  • 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
  • if you're using milk within 5 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.

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, 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'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 website has more advice for new and expectant mothers or through the helpline on 0300 003 1747. You can also contact HSE via an online form.

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: 1 May 2018
Next review due: 1 May 2021