Returning to work

You may be going back to work and are worrying about how breastfeeding is going to fit in. Returning to work doesn’t mean you have to stop breastfeeding. It’s up to you to decide how long you want to breastfeed and when to stop. Your plans will be different depending on the age of your baby.

  • Under six months – your baby will only have milk so they’ll need to have this in a bottle or a cup while you’re apart.
  • From six months to a year – your baby will still get lots of calories from milk alongside solid foods. They may or may not need to take a bottle or cup of milk when you’re apart but many babies tend to breastfeed more when you’re together.
  • From a year – your baby will be eating snacks and meals now and may not need any milk when you’re away. They might want to breastfeed more when you’re together.
  • You can express for your own comfort. Hand expressing can be a useful way to do this as you can express just as much as you need to.
  • An electric pump can be helpful as it speeds up the process if you’re planning to express more milk. Follow the instructions on the pump and make sure it fits you correctly so that it works effectively and comfortably.
  • If your baby is still regularly feeding you may need to express roughly every three hours to begin with to maintain your supply and make sure you stay comfortable.

Find out more on our expressing page.

Supporting employees to breastfeed has benefits for your employer too:

  • Reduced staff absence due to child sickness as breastfed babies recover quicker from illnesses.
  • Happier employees with higher moral and loyalty to their employer after having a baby plus improved recruitment from those potential employees who see them as a considerate employer.
  • More employees returning after leave which lowers their recruitment and training costs.

Let your employer know in writing that you’ll be breastfeeding when you return to work. Employers have an obligation to create a plan to support you to do that including a specific risk assessment.

Employers should provide a private, healthy and safe environment for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk, although they are not legally obligated to do so. However, the Health and Safety Executive does state that toilets are not a suitable place to express.

Maternity Action has some useful information about negotiating with your employer when you return to work.

Sadness over leaving your baby

Lots of parents feel sad and anxious about leaving their baby. Be patient and kind to yourself and focus on the positives such as what you like about your job. All these things will make returning to work feel easier. 

Guilt about wanting to return to work

You can experience feelings of guilt about wanting to go back to work, even if you enjoy your job, are proud of your career and are looking forward to adult interaction.

Studies show that having working parents can have a positive impact on a child. Children of working parents may earn more and have higher positions when they are adults, according to some studies.

Work can also be good for your mental health and long-term happiness. Don't judge yourself harshly about returning to work. It can be good for you and good for your baby.

Frustration with others

If you need help, make it clear. Nobody can read your mind so talk to those who can support you. Don’t assume anyone will know how or what they can do to help you without you explaining what you need from them. If you want help, just ask.

Be open and honest with your friends and family. Have conversations with them about how you’re feeling so you can plan together how they can best support you. If people do offer help, remember to thank them. 

Feeling overwhelmed

The thought of returning to work when you’ve been missing out on sleep can feel overwhelming. When you’re sleep-deprived, caring for your family, looking after yourself and your home, you may feel that you have less patience and stamina than you did in the past.

Set aside some time for yourself each day. When you care for yourself you also help your baby. If you’re feeling low, or having upsetting or intrusive thoughts that are effecting your day-to-day life, experiencing depression or anxiety, remember you’re not alone and there is support available to help you feel better.

Breastfeeding helps your baby fight off illnesses quicker as they still get some protection through your breastmilk. Carrying on feeding as your child starts mixing with more children and getting exposed to more illnesses can be helpful.

Here’s some questions you might want to ask childcare providers you visit:

  • How do they support breastfeeding mothers? 
  • Do staff know how to store expressed milk.
  • Is there a space where you can breastfeed your baby before you drop them off and when you pick them up?

Don’t be afraid to have these conversations, even if it’s family members looking after your child. 

Wrap-style tops and buttons can be very useful especially if you’re going to feed baby straight before and after work. They can make it easier to use a breast pump as you won’t need to remove layers.

The ‘one up, one down’ method where you wear a feeding vest under your shirt can be helpful. You pull the outer top up and the vest top down for access to your breast. This can be a good choice if you’re going to be expressing using a breast pump at work as it limits the amount of skin that’s exposed. It will also help you stay relaxed and warm which can help encourage oxytocin and milk flow.

Going back to work can be an excuse for adding some new clothes to your wardrobe. It’s a great way to celebrate your post pregnancy body too. Your body grew a new person and is still feeding and caring for them so celebrate how amazing you are. Check out Can I breastfeed in it for more suggestions of breastfeeding friendly clothes.

You have the right to ask for flexible working if you’ve worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks. This includes any time spent as a trainee or apprentice as well as your maternity leave. Your employer does not have to agree to your request. If they do say no, they must also give you a valid reason and explain why that reason applies to your case.

If your employer agrees to your request, it usually takes around 14 weeks from the time of your request for the new flexible working arrangement to be put in place. Once you’ve made a request for flexible working you can’t make another request for 12 months, whether your request is granted or refused.

Mum Spice and baby Nelly, from Gravesend

"I went back to work when Nelly was a couple of months old. My husband stays home to care for her and our other two children. I pump three times a day at work and that’s enough for Nelly for the next day.  It makes me very proud when I look down at my daughter and see that she is so happy and healthy as she is because of me and only me."

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