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How to manage breastfeeding when you return to work

How to manage breastfeeding when you return to work

Going back to work after maternity leave can be a shock to the system. It might be the first time you’ve been away from your baby for longer periods of time - and it can be exhausting to juggle being a parent while working. If you’ve been breastfeeding, you might be worried about how to continue with it, but there are ways to make it work.

You’ve spent months getting to know your baby and settling into a routine and before you know it, you’ve got to return to work. The end of maternity leave can be anxiety-inducing, especially if you’re not used to being separated from your baby. You may think you need to give up on breastfeeding, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

Joanna Daniels, the Breastfeeding and Infant Feeding Engagement Lead at the National Childbirth Trust, says plenty of mums continue to breastfeed even when they’re not at home.

“Many mums find that continuing to breastfeed when they’re with their baby helps with feeling connected to them, and some leave breastmilk for their baby whilst they are at work,” she says.

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Breastmilk supply and demand

If you’re breastfeeding and want to continue, you’ll need to think about how you’ll maintain your milk supply. Your milk supply depends on a supply and demand system, so the more you breastfeed or pump, the more milk you make.

If you work from home, you may be able to breastfeed as frequently as you’d like to. If there is a workplace nursery or other childcare very close to your work, you may be able to visit your baby during the working day and breastfeed as normal. Another option is to ask your employer for flexible working hours arranged around your breastfeeding needs.

But if you work in an office or elsewhere, you’ll need to express milk while you are away from your baby, so your milk supply doesn’t drop. You’ll also need to be able to store and transport it safely, so your caregiver can give it to your baby while you’re away.

Laura, whose son is now 2, breastfed him in the mornings and evenings when she was at home. He was given formula at nursery, when she was in the office. "Doing combination feeding worked best for us," she says. "I was able to get back into my job knowing that he was happy and being fed."

How do I breastfeed when going back to work?

Expressing milk

If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll typically need to express milk several times during an eight-hour shift. Exactly how often you express will depend on a few factors, including how easy you find it, the demands of your job and how much breastmilk your baby normally has.

Speak to your boss

It’s normal for women to need to express milk at work, so talk to your employer about your needs. Speak to your manager about where you can express milk and when. Some workplaces might have a specific room, or a spare office with a locked door. It’s good practice for your employer to provide an appropriate space to do so - a toilet isn’t a suitable space.

“You could discuss with your employer how they will support you in continuing to breastfeed. It’s also good to make sure your colleagues are aware that you’re breastfeeding or expressing at work so you have their support,” says Daniels.

“Having access to a quiet, private space to breastfeed or express your breastmilk at work is essential,” she adds. “Try to make sure the room has a lock or, if that’s not possible, a sign to keep others at bay. If there is no fridge at your workplace, then a cool bag with sufficient ice packs will ensure your breastmilk remains safe to be used.”

Make sure you label and date expressed breast milk before putting it in the fridge or freezer so your childminder knows which one to use first.

Speak to your nursery

“It might be useful to discuss your baby’s feeding and share information on storing and using breastmilk with your nursery or childminder in advance,” says Daniels. Sorting out a plan before you go back to work will help put your mind at ease - and give you one less thing to worry about.

Practice expressing breastmilk

Learning to express breastmilk can take practice, so it’s best to start before you go back to work. Encourage family and friends to bottle-feed your baby expressed breast milk so they get used to being fed by other people, which may make it easier when you aren’t around.

You also need to work out the best expressing choice for you, whether it’s by hand, a manual or electric breast pump. If you’re unsure, try several ways of doing it and think about the efficiency, cost and how portable the pump is.

Keep a supply of expressed milk at home

Not everyone is able to express breastmilk at work, but there are other options. “If you’re not able to express at work you could build up a supply of expressed milk in the freezer before returning to work,” says Daniels. “You could express at other times of day or give your baby some formula until you are home.”

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What are the laws on breastfeeding at work in the UK?

Employers are legally required to provide a space for parents who are


to lie down and rest if they need to. However, there is no legal right for your employer to provide breastfeeding breaks at work. Even so, your employer must still abide by health and safety, discrimination and flexible working laws, which means they should ensure you don't feel unfairly treated because you're breastfeeding or expressing milk.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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