factsheet: at work

Yes, you can do it – here’s how!

You have a number of options available to you if you return to work and want to continue breastfeeding your baby.

It’s well worth knowing the law is on your side in this too.

UK health and safety laws protect breastfeeding, and if you work in the public sector, you are also covered by European law, which states your working conditions must not prevent you breastfeeding.

In practice, under both lots of law, that means employers have to provide somewhere clean and suitable to express and store milk. They can’t change your hours, or your place of work, if it means you have to stop breastfeeding or expressing.

so, just what are your choices?

Expressing by hand or with a breast pump maintains your milk supply, reduces the discomfort of full breasts, and collects the milk for the baby to have later by bottle or cup.

At work, you need somewhere clean and private to express – the ladies’ loos are not suitable, as they may not be hygienic and they are certainly not comfortable.

You need to store your milk somewhere cold – a fridge is fine for 24 hours, and thereafter you should use the freezer. In fact, some research shows it’s safe to keep the milk in the fridge for a lot longer than this, but if you’re sharing a fridge with other people, and you aren’t too sure of its cleanliness, 24 hours would seem sensible.

A coolbag can get the milk home.

If you don’t want to express, you can partially breastfeed, leaving formula for when you’re not at home. This doesn’t work in the first weeks of breastfeeding. The milk supply depends on frequent demands and several hours between feeds can mean your body stops producing. But it can work later on, when the supply becomes well-established.

Getting a baby who’s a dedicated breastfeeder to take a bottle is occasionally a problem. Beyond the age of five or six months, don’t persist if your baby is reluctant – give the formula or expressed milk in a spouted cup instead. A younger baby than this can’t manage a cup very well, even with help, so he/she should have a few practice bottles before you return to work – but not from you. Babies get confused and puzzled if their mothers offer this strange plastic and rubber thing instead of the familiar breast. Ask someone else to try with the bottle instead.

The Maternity Alliance points out it makes good business sense to support breastfeeding. Job satisfaction and loyalty to the company increase, and there’s less absenteeism. ‘Breastfed babies are less likely to fall sick, so their mothers need less time off, ‘ says the Maternity Alliance. Your health is protected, too; breastfeeding reduces the risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and some forms of ovarian cancer.