Many women plan to return to paid work in the months following the birth of a baby, either through choice or necessity. Knowing your rights and planning ahead can help you continue to breastfeed after your return.
What are the options?
• If a woman has worked for an employer for at least 26 weeks she can request flexible working hours, asking for changes to her days, hours or place of work.
• She can ask for shorter shifts, to work part-time or move from evening/night shifts to day in order to continue breastfeeding.
• The employer is legally required to give the request serious consideration and can only refuse for good business reasons.
• This could be a temporary change in contract while she is breastfeeding.
• It may be possible to work from home for all or some of the time or even bring the baby to work.
• It’s a good idea for women to make a flexible working request at least two months before returning from maternity leave, or to discuss this option during pregnancy.
• Sorting out breastfeeding breaks at least three weeks before returning to work will allow for adjustments in routine.
• It is indirect sex discrimination for an employer to refuse a flexible working request from a breastfeeding mother if there are not good business reasons for the refusal, and if it results in the mother stopping breastfeeding.
• It’s important to tell an employer about the need to express milk at work. Breastfeeding/expressing breaks in the workplace are not a statutory requirement, but the Equality Act 2010 considers failing to assess or take action on health and safety risks for a breastfeeding woman as sex discrimination. Providing employees with breaks to breastfeed or express may reduce health risks, such as that of developing mastitis.
• Employers are required by law to provide a breastfeeding mother with a place to rest, and this could be used as a room to breastfeed or express. The provision of washing facilities and a clean secure fridge to store milk are recommended.
• Providing breastfeeding or expressing breaks has positive results for both employer and employee. Women who feel their employer is supportive are more likely to return to work and have higher morale, productivity and overall satisfaction.
Finding support and information
You can find more practical help and suggestions here:
Maternity Action has published a leaflet for employers entitled Accommodating breastfeeding on return to work and it also provides information for mothers on continuing to breastfeed when returning to paid work .
Written by Anna Burbidge for LLLGB, March 2018
Maternity Action. Accommodating breastfeeding on return to work. https://www.maternityaction.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/BORTW-employer-leaflet-FINAL.pdf (accessed 2 March 2018).
Maternity Action. Continuing to breastfeed when you return to work. http://www.maternityaction.org.uk/wp/advice-2/mums-dads-scenarios/6-breastfeeding-rights/continuing-to-breastfeed-when-you-return-to-work/ (accessed 2 March 2018).