United Kingdom

Women’s Health: Supporting breastfeeding at work

To commemorate World Breastfeeding Week, we take a look at how employers can support breastfeeding mothers’ when they return to work.


Returning to work after maternity leave can be a challenging time for breastfeeding mothers. New parents face a myriad of decisions around childcare, flexible working and finances – all of which can be stressful without the added logistical challenge of breastfeeding. Returning to work can be an emotional time, and individual experiences can vary wildly. Employers need to ensure they provide adequate support and tailor accordingly.

Data from the 2010 UK-wide Infant Feeding Survey shows that 34% of mothers were continuing to breastfeed at six months1. An updated survey covering Scotland showed that breastfeeding rates in 2017 were at 43%. With over 700,000 births each year in the UK, this is a significant proportion of women2. For employers looking to proactively support women returning to work after maternity leave, supporting breastfeeding is part of the big picture.

Providing support can help improve employee wellbeing – breaks to breastfeed or express can reduce the risk of a mother developing mastitis, and breastfeeding can help to support the infant’s immune system and these in turn can help reduce/ limit absence needs. Communicating support is important to help alleviate any potential concern or worries the mother may have, as well as driving a culture of support from the wider business.

There are a number of ways that employers can support breastfeeding women, all of which can be captured in a supportive breastfeeding policy and these could include:

  • Flexible working hours for breastfeeding mothers, or shorter working days
  • Additional breaks for mothers who are expressing breastmilk
  • Providing a private, clean and safe environment for expressing and storing milk (breastmilk is usually refrigerated)
  • Creating a space for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest
  • Communicating breastfeeding support, to both pregnant women and people managers
  • Facilitating a supportive culture for those breastfeeding




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