How to continue breastfeeding when you return to work

Returning to work as a new mother may be the first time since giving birth that you and your baby have been separated for long periods.

Continuing with breastfeeding when you return to work has a significant number of benefits for both you and your baby. This includes maintaining the bond you’ve built up with them, and providing them with extra security and comfort. 

Studies have found that mothers who feel unhappy about leaving their baby when returning to work find that breastfeeding can make it easier for them to cope with the transition.

And there is plenty of scientific evidence around the benefits of breastfeeding. Experts have published extensive research on the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child. Here are some of the main benefits of continuing to breastfeed when you return to work.

You’ll reduce your risk of postpartum depression

Research by Antibodies.com has found that mothers who continue to breastfeed after returning to work have a lower chance of developing postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression affects up to 15% of mothers, but statistics show that those who wean early or do not breastfeed at all have a higher likelihood of developing this condition.

Your baby will have extra protection

Exclusive breastfeeding has been shown to have a number of health benefits for babies, including reducing their risk of a number diseases.

Babies who are breastfed exclusively for more than four months have a 72% lower risk of being hospitalized for respiratory tract infections. A reduction in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has also been linked to breastfeeding, with an estimated 50% reduced risk after one month and a 36% lower risk of SIDS in the first year of a child’s life. 

Research by Antibodies.com found that breastfeeding has also been shown to reduce the risk of gut infections by 64%, which continues for up to two months after the child is weaned.

Children who are breastfed for at least four months will apparently have at least a 30% reduced risk of developing allergic diseases such as eczema, asthma, and atopic dermatitis too.

Babies who are breastfed the first time that they are introduced to gluten have a 52% lower chance of developing coeliac disease, and children who are breastfed for at least the first six months of their life have a 15-20% reduced risk of childhood leukaemia. 

For mothers returning to work, it’s not uncommon to feel worried and anxious about continuing to be a good mother. Continuing to breastfeed can help to alleviate some of these worries thanks to the many health benefits this can continue to provide for their baby. 

How long should you continue breastfeeding?

Due to the many health benefits of breastfeeding, professionals recommend continuing to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months of the baby’s life.

After this, scientific evidence shows that the longer you continue to breastfeed whilst introducing your baby to solid foods, the greater the ongoing health benefits will be. 

How to breastfeed when returning to work full-time

There are a number of ways in which you can continue to breastfeed while returning to work. If your employer has a workplace creche or nursery nearby, you may be able to use this service and visit your baby throughout the day to continue breastfeeding normally. 

If it is not possible for you to visit your baby during the working day, then a common option is to express breastmilk. Alternatively, you could stop breastfeeding exclusively after returning to work and partially breastfeed instead, so that your baby is given breastmilk when you are at home but formula when you are at work. 

Don’t worry if you don’t get the hang of expressing milk straight away. Many mothers find that it can take a bit of practice, so it’s worth starting before you return to work so that you can get used to it. 

You’ll need to talk to your employer to come up with a plan for where and when you can express. This will depend on where you work; some breastfeeding-friendly employers offer ‘mother and baby rooms’ whilst other workplaces will allow you to have exclusive use of a first aid room or other area whilst you express milk. Ideally, you should have a private area with a lockable door. 

How often and how long you express milk for will be down to you, as it is different for every individual mother. It will depend on a number of factors, including how easy you find expressing breastmilk, how many feeds your baby is going to need when you are not there in person, and how much milk your baby will normally take per feed. 

Negotiating with your employer

The good news is that employers are increasingly seeing the benefits of being accommodating to breastfeeding mothers. But in some cases, it may be necessary for you to negotiate with your employer if you need to express breastmilk at work. 

All employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their employees so it’s important that you tell your employer in writing that you are still breastfeeding. This will usually grant you extra health and safety protection under the same regulations that were used when you were pregnant.

Ideally, you will be allowed to take additional breaks in order to express when you need to, but it’s important that you bear in mind that not all employers will allow this. You may be required to fit expressing breastmilk around your usual breaks or your lunch hour, to fit it around the demands of your job.

If your employer does not allow you to take additional breaks and you need to express several times, then it may be worth negotiating taking several shorter breaks or having breaks at different times, so that it is convenient for both yourself and your employer. 

Working out a plan with your employer to continue breastfeeding once you have returned to work is an ideal way to continue reaping the benefits of breastfeeding for yourself and your baby for as long as possible.

Photo by Dave Clubb