Breastfeeding and returning to work

working mother with baby morning

If you're planning to return to work and are still breastfeeding it can be tempting to simply switch to formula, but it is possible to carry on breastfeeding once you've gone back to work – it just requires a bit of forward planning.

Should I keep breastfeeding when I go back to work?

Only you can answer that, but there are lots of benefits to doing so:

  • Obviously there is the benefit to your baby of continuing to receive breastmilk for a bit longer. As well as the long-term health benefits, babies who are breastfed are also less likely to pick up infections (always a boon when they're starting nursery).
  • I breastfeed in the morning and when I get back from work and it is a lovely relaxing time for both of us. It is also a wonderful way to force my husband into making our dinner whilst I'm 'making' hers! Breastfeeding can be a comfort and a way to make the transition to your new lifestyle a little easier for you both. Being able to cuddle up for a feed at the end of the day will help you feel better if you're finding the return to work tough and remind your baby that her mum always comes home at the end of the day.
  • You don't need to worry about moving your baby onto formula and whether she will accept it, particularly at a time when there are lots of other changes going on for you both.

What are the downsides of breastfeeding after the return to work?

Continuing to breastfeed once you're back in the office certainly takes some organisation. Here are a few things to consider if you're thinking about breastfeeding when you're back at work:

  • You'll have to keep on top of all the paraphernalia you'll need if you're going to express at work, ensuring you always have your pump, bottles, cool bag and anything else you will need – and then wash it all up when you get home ready for the next day.
  • When I went back to work, I was expressing milk for my daughter but, eventually, this got too much. I constantly had either a baby or a pump attached to my boobs. So she went onto formula at nursery. You have to be careful about expressing enough to prevent becoming engorged, which can then lead to blocked ducts and mastitis, or simply leaking everywhere and having to deal with embarrassing 'wet patches'.
  • It can be tricky to socialise after work as you may have to race home to feed your baby (or at least to get your expressed milk back in the fridge). And if you're expressing, you might feel that you are missing out on time to relax or get life admin done if you're spending your lunch break attached to the pump.
breastfeeding

How do you carry on breastfeeding when you return to work?

Obviously there are some practicalities to work around if you are breastfeeding and your baby is no longer with you all day, but it can be done.

Much will depend on how old your baby is when you go back to work and how many feeds she is having per day.

You have a few different options for continuing to breastfeed once you're back at work:

1. Breastfeed morning and evening and – if your baby needs more than two feeds – leave expressed breastmilk for her to have during the day

This can work well if your baby is on solids and can either just be breastfed morning and evening or only needs one or two other milk feeds during the day, which you can express and store at work.

It's certainly not everyone's idea of work-life balance to be spending every lunch break locked in a poky room with only a breastpump for company so you may not want to do it if your baby needs more than a bottle or two of expressed milk while you're at work.

2. Switch to formula during the day and just breastfeed morning and evening

My biggest bit of advice? Don't stress about milk quantities. Your baby will make up for lost time mornings and evenings and other days.

This is probably the only sustainable option if your baby is under six months old and needs frequent feeds in the day.

Remember that if you do this your milk supply will diminish, so you may have to formula-feed 9am-5pm at weekends, too, although it doesn't hurt to try and breastfeed whenever you can.

3. Try to feed your baby in your breaks

If you are lucky enough to have childcare near your place of work, or childcare facilities at work (which, let's face it, is rare this side of Scandinavia), you can arrange with your employer to be able to go and feed your baby during your breaks.

Otherwise, if you work near home, or near your child's nursery or childminder, you can try to arrange to visit your baby in the day.

breastfeeding

What are my rights around breastfeeding at work?

NHS Choices recommends informing your employer in writing that you're breastfeeding, as this will mean that they have to perform a risk assessment, which may give you access to concessions for breastfeeding mothers.

It is recommended (by the Health and Safety Executive) that employers:

  • Provide a suitable place for a mother to express and store milk (which shouldn't be in the toilets).
  • Consider offering flexibility for extra breaks so you can express milk, or temporarily reduced hours so that you can feed your baby, if that supports your decision to continue breastfeeding.

This second point does not appear to be compulsory and there is no legal imperative for an employer to give time off to express milk, but it can be argued that not doing so would put your health and your baby's health at risk.

Ask your workplace if they have a policy that covers breastfeeding and see what options they offer. Visit Maternity Action for further advice if you are having difficulties with your employer.

How do you express and store milk at work?

Your employer must provide a private, safe and warm room for you to express in. Ideally you should get going with expressing milk well before you go back to work so that you're confident in what you're doing. Give it a trial run for a couple of weeks before you go back so you can get used to expressing with a pump or by hand and your baby is used to a bottle.

I would feed my baby when she woke, then I expressed milk twice a day at work. I'd also built up an emergency freezer supply of expressed breastmilk before I went back to work.

It's also your employer's responsibility to provide a clean, safe place for you to store breast milk during the day. Make sure you label each feed with the date and time it was expressed so the person caring for your child knows which one to use first.

Breast milk can be kept for up to five days in the fridge so you can express milk on a Friday and keep it in the fridge for your baby to have on the Monday.

Where can I get advice on breastfeeding after returning to work?

It's worth speaking to any friends or family who have done it as they may be able to offer tips and tricks, or help you find a solution to any difficulties. There are also lots of women on Mumsnet's infant feeding Talk forums who are around at all times of day and night to offer advice and support.