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Returning to work & education

Returning to work doesn’t mean that you have to stop breastfeeding.

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 (see the section on weaning). Therefore, it’s likely that you’ll be breastfeeding when you return to work or college.

The following information may help you:

  • 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.
  • You can 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. See our section on Expressing breast milk and the Unicef Baby Friendly ‘Guide for Parents who Formula Feed’
  • Ask your employer or college for flexible working hours that are arranged around your breastfeeding needs.
  • Think about it early. Before you go back to work, write to your employer/tutor to let them know that 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.
  • Have a trial run with childcare before returning to work, discuss things with your childminder such as providing her with labled and dated expressed breast milk. See our section on Expressing breast milk
  • Before returning to work, you should give your employer written notification that you are breastfeeding. Your employer must then conduct a specific risk assessment of your workplace. They must take steps to protect your health and safety on your return to work.

When you do choose to stop breastfeeding , we have information to help you in our section ‘stopping breastfeeding‘ and you may find the Unicef Baby Friendly ‘Guide for Parents who Formula Feed’ useful. It may also help you to speak to an Infant Feeding Peer Support Worker or ask for information from other mums, on our Breastfeeding in Sheffield Facebook page.

What does the law say?

The Law does not currently provide a right to time off whilst at work to breastfeed but you have the right to ask for flexible work.
Employers are not obliged to provide facilities for expressing and storing breast milk but they may wish to do so as a matter of good practice.
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.

Information for employers

Employers have certain legal obligations to breastfeeding mothers but 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 additional family friendly benefit to offer potential employees

How can employers help?

Employers can have a policy to support breastfeeding which they should let you know about before you start maternity leave.
This could include:

  • a break allowance for you to express milk
  • provision of a clean, warm and private room (not the toilet) for expressing breast milk
  • a secure clean fridge for you to store expressed breast milk
  • flexible working hours around your breastfeeding needs