Breastfeeding When You Return to Work

Going back to work needn't mean putting an end to breastfeeding. However, the thought of doing both can seem stressful. We asked Joanna Brett, NCT Breastfeeding Counsellor, for her advice for women returning to work who want to still breastfeed

Breastfeeding can benefit mother, baby and employer!

We know that continuing to breastfeed when you return to work can have benefits for mother, baby and employer.

Breastfed babies not only have all their nutritional needs met from breast milk, they also benefit from the antibodies present, better equipping them to stave off illnesses. This can only help if they will be spending some or all of the day with a childminder or in a nursery with other children, and you might find you need to take less time off to look after your baby.

Breastfeeding tips when returning to work

Depending on the age of your baby, the hours you work, the nature of your job - as well as who is looking after your baby while you are at work - you may decide to breastfeed your baby exclusively; to express to provide breastmilk for your baby; or to feed your baby on a combination of breastmilk and formula. 

It may depend on your preferences and situation, but finding a way to continue breastfeeding or providing expressed breast milk for your baby could be as simple as making arrangements for your baby to receive formula milk when you are at work.

Plan ahead

If you are returning to work before your baby is taking solids in any quantity, planning ahead is particularly important. Your baby will need regular feeds during the day and you will almost certainly need to find a way to either feed your baby or express whilst you are at work to maintain your milk supply and remain comfortable.

Speak to your employer about the breaks and facilities that you will need in order to express at work. Ideally, they will be not only be able to provide you with a place where, as a breastfeeding mother, you can rest - this much is a legal requirement. But also, beyond this, somewhere safe and private to express is ideal.

Think about how long you will be away from your baby during the day and who will be feeding him/her. Talk to the person who will be looking after your child about your baby's feeding patterns.

Don't panic if your baby won't take a bottle

Some breastfed babies are reluctant to take a bottle so do not worry if your baby is not keen on the idea at first.

Many babies refuse to take a bottle from their mother but are happy to do so from another carer, particularly if the mother is not around. Some babies will be more fussy than others about the temperature of the milk or the position they feed in so try different approaches. If your baby still won't take a bottle, s/he can be fed from a gently-tilted cup or a spoon.

From the age of about four months, your baby may prefer a beaker with a spout so that s/he can have a go at holding it him/herself.

Practise pumping or hand expressing

If you would like your baby to have breastmilk when you are at work, you may need to express for him or her.

Some people find hand expressing easy and straightforward, others prefer to use a breast pump. You may find it useful to create a backup supply of frozen expressed milk before you return to work.

If do not want to express milk for your baby or find it difficult to do so, your baby can be given formula milk when you are away from him/her.

Continue breastfeeding when you are with your baby

Breastfeeding regularly when you are with your baby will make it easier to express when you are aware from him/her and will give you and your baby intimate time together.

Many mothers continue to breastfeed morning and night when they return to work, even if their baby is having formula milk during the day.

It does not matter if you breastfeed more times on days when you are at home with your baby than on days you are working as, once established, your milk supply will adjust swiftly to different demands.

Look after yourself

Returning to work when you have a young child can be challenging, so try not to neglect your own wellbeing. Some days it may seem easier said than done, but eating well and getting enough rest will help you to maintain your milk supply and deal with the demands of being a working mother.

Take advantage of flexible working where possible

You may be able to arrange to work shorter days when you first return to work or to work fewer days in the early weeks. Perhaps your child is being looked after nearby and you can negotiate a longer lunch break to pop home to feed him/her or s/he can be brought to you.

Know how to store expressed milk

Expressed breastmilk can be stored in a suitable container at room temperature for up to six hours and at the back of a fridge for up to five days, providing the fridge temperature is less than 4°C. Whilst at work or travelling, you can use a cool bag containing ice packs until you are able to refrigerate the milk.

Breastmilk can be frozen for up to six months in a freezer that stays at -18°C or lower. Ideally, breastmilk should be defrosted in a fridge or at room temperature but, to defrost more quickly, you can run it under cool and then warmer water. Do not re-heat the milk in a microwave or saucepan. Use defrosted milk immediately and throw away any that is not used.

Keep an eye on your breasts

A change in feeding patterns can result in your breasts becoming uncomfortably full. Be prepared for some leaking and express as much as you need to when away from your baby to avoid developing blocked ducts and mastitis.

Talk through any concerns

If you have questions or worries about breastfeeding or expressing when you return to work, talk them through face-to-face with a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter, Breastfeeding Counsellor or a trusted health professional.

Alternatively, you can contact a helpline, such as:

  • NCT Helpline on 0300 330 0700 or the
  • National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.

Know your rights

Employers in the UK have obligations towards women who are breastfeeding when they return to work and many employers will comply readily with these requirements.

If your employer needs a little more persuasion, the Maternity Action sheet 'Continuing to Breastfeed When You Return to Work' provides details of your legal rights and information about how to negotiate to ensure that your needs are met.