Many mothers work outside the home and continue to breastfeed.
LLLGB is here to help with information and support if you are going back to work.
I’m going back to work. Do I need to stop breastfeeding?
Why is breastfeeding so important?
But won’t it be a hassle?
What are my options?
Choose childcare carefully
Consider expressing your milk
Making it work
Somewhere to express
Before you return to work
Working and breastfeeding
The simple answer is NO! Returning to paid work doesn’t prevent you from breastfeeding your baby. Depending on the nature of your job and the age of your baby, you’ll probably need to adjust your nursing relationship. You’ll also need to talk to your employer, but time away from your little one doesn’t mean breastfeeding has to end. Continuing to nurse may be even more important to you both as you adjust to big changes in your lives. Mothers choose to continue breastfeeding for their babies’ health and because breastfeeding is good for the whole family. It provides easy feeding on days at home and a warm way to reconnect at the end of a long day for mother and child. It’s well worth planning how to balance breastfeeding with your work routine.
Your milk alone is vital to your baby during the first six months of life, and continues to be an important part of his diet until 12 months and beyond. Formula just doesn’t compare. As well as meeting nutritional needs, breastmilk is packed with antibodies—particularly important if your little one will be spending time in nursery or with a childminder. And when you are together, making time to reconnect through snuggling up and nursing will be even more meaningful. You’ll miss each other when you’re apart.
Being a working mother will be challenging, but breastfeeding can make life easier. Ending the breastfeeding relationship may appear at first to be the simplest solution, but with the increased risk of illness, plus the effort involved in buying, preparing and storing formula, weaning may ultimately be the real hassle. Also consider that your baby will eventually outgrow the need to nurse. Most mothers reduce and stop pumping before their babies stop breastfeeding.
Your options depend on the age of your baby and the nature of your job. You can start planning before your baby is born. Gather ideas from any co-workers who breastfed their babies. Studies show that the longer you wait before returning to work, the easier the transition will be for both you and your baby.
Consider your employment flexibility and workday practicalities:
- Can you extend your maternity leave, request part-time or flexible working hours, or an extended lunch hour?
- Are you able to work from home for all or some of the time, or even bring your baby to work?
- Can you break up your working week, perhaps working alternate days, so your baby is not away from you several days in a row?
- Shorter workdays may be easier to manage, with less pumping for you and fewer missed breastfeeds for your baby.
- Or you may prefer fewer but longer workdays, with more full days at home with your baby.
- Do you really need to return to this job? Some mothers make adjustments to stay at home, or explore other, more flexible ways of earning money.
Having your baby nearby may allow you to go and nurse him during your lunch hour. Or maybe someone could bring him to you? Look for carers who are supportive of and knowledgeable about breastfeeding. It’s important they respect your decision to provide only your milk for your baby.
You can use a good quality electric pump or learn to hand express. This is especially important if your baby is less than a year old. Expressing milk will enable you to maintain milk production as well as ensuring your baby can still receive your milk whilst you’re apart. If you decide not to express your milk at work you can still continue breastfeeding when you’re at home. You may need to express at first to avoid the discomfort of engorgement and the risk of mastitis.
Once your baby is eating more solid foods, he will need less expressed milk while you are away. But your baby will enjoy your yummy milk once you get home again!
I don’t want to wean, but I’m sure my employer will want me to!
This is one time when your employer can’t tell you what to do! Daunting as it may seem, it’s important to tell your employer about your need to express milk for your baby. Depending on what is available in your workplace, you may find it helpful to speak to someone from the human resources department, a health and safety representative and/or your trade union representative before speaking to your line manager. Employers are legally required to do a health and safety risk assessment for breastfeeding mothers, so you’ll need to notify them in writing a few weeks before you return to work. Explain that being able to pump regularly will reduce any risk of you becoming engorged and developing mastitis.
Research shows it’s a win-win situation if breastfeeding is supported and therefore continues: you’ll feel positive about your company and your job satisfaction will increase—along with your willingness to work hard! Your employer will gain from your hard work and, because your baby will have breastmilk’s infection protection, you’re likely to take less time off.
ACAS produce a guide for employers explaining what employers are required to do by law, as well as suggesting good practice for managing workplace issues to support the transition back to work at the end of maternity leave.
You’ll want to request somewhere private to express your milk, preferably with a door that can be locked. It helps to have access to electricity for your pump, a fridge and running water. A comfortable place to sit and a table for your pump and other supplies are also important. Bathrooms and toilets are not suitable. Employers are legally required to provide suitable facilities for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to “rest”. Although, they are not required by law to provide a private and safe place to express and store milk, the Health and Safety Executive recommend that they do. All employers must carry out a risk assessment so it would be very difficult for them to refuse. Be very clear about what you want to do and what you need. And do point out that expressing is something that, depending on the age of your baby, you may only need to do for a few months.
Attend LLL meetings to meet other breastfeeding mothers in your area. You can offer each other vital support when breastfeeding, pumping, mothering or working becomes challenging.
- Practise pumping or hand expressing to learn what works for you. You can freeze the small amounts of milk you collect to use for your first few days back at work and to give you a small back-up supply. Once you’re missing feeds, the amount of milk you can pump will incre se and your baby can have fresh milk from the previous workday. Fresh milk retains more nutrients and immune factors.
- Wait to introduce a bottle until just before you start back to work. Making breastfeeding a priority while you are at home will help you avoid feeding problems. An older baby may never need a bottle. Milk can be given in a cup or mixed with solid food.
- Make your return to work easier by starting back on a Thursday or Friday. At the weekend, rest and prepare for any challenges you didn’t anticipate. Make changes if your first strategy doesn’t suit you or your baby.
It’s usually best to express milk at least every three hours while you are away from your baby. You may need to pump or express your milk more frequently at first so you don’t feel uncomfortably full or start to leak. Be sure to include commuting time when deciding how often to pump. If you feel the tingling of your milk beginning to flow, pressing hard on your nipples for several seconds can prevent leaking. This can be done discreetly by crossing your arms tightly across your chest and pressing firmly on your nipples with the palms of your hands. Hold for a few seconds before releasing and all should be well. If it doesn’t work first time, try again for a little longer. But bear in mind that if your breasts feel full, this is a sign you need to express some milk. With time you’ll have fewer problems with leaking.
It can be so rewarding to continue to nurse your baby after returning to work. It’s a wonderful way of reconnecting after a day apart. LLL meetings can continue to be a good source of support after you return to work. If you’re unable to attend every meeting, your local LLL Leader can still listen to any concerns you have and offer support.
Written by Sue Upstone & Mothers of LLLGB. Photos courtesy of Justine Fieth and Catriana McKie.
Working and Breastfeeding
If you leave your baby
When mum can’t be there
Expressing your breastmilk
Hand expression of breastmilk
Staying home instead
My Journey Returning To Work, a mother’s story
Mothers on … breastfeeding & work
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding LLLI. London: Pinter & Martin, 2010.
Exclusively Pumping Breastmilk Stephanie Casemore. Canada: Gray Lion Publ. 2013
Guide To Accommodating Breastfeeding Employees In The Workplace, ACAS.
New Guidance For Employers on Breastfeeding Breaks in the Workplace
Supporting Women’s Right To Breastfeed
World Breastfeeding Week 1-7 August 2015 Breastfeeding and Work: Let’s make it work!
A Joint Statement from La Leche League GB, The Breastfeeding Network, Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain and Maternity Action for World Breastfeeding Week 1-7 August 2015
This information is available to buy in printed form from the LLL Shop
Copyright LLLGB 2016.