Tips for breastfeeding and returning to work

Juggling your return to work, life and continuing to breastfeed can be a puzzle. So here we give you some tips to help make the transition easier…

How can I breastfeed by baby and return to work? I’m worried.

Many mums feel a mixture of emotions when they return to work after maternity leave, including a dread of leaving their baby.

Some mums find that continuing to breastfeed when they’re with their baby helps with feeling connected to them. Other mums find leaving breastmilk for their babies something that they want to do for them when they’re separated. Here’s how one mum felt about feeding:

“I used to have a rushed feed in the morning before going off to work but would really look forward to putting my feet up and feeding her the minute I got back.”

What do I tell the nursery or childminder about using my breastmilk?

Some nurseries or childminders can be nervous initially about dealing with breastmilk. So it might be useful to arrange to discuss your baby’s feeding before they start going there (La Leche League, 2016a). This can help to answer any concerns the nursery or childminder may have.

You might want to share information with them on storing and using breastmilk as well as information about how to feed your baby responsively. You may also want to share your baby’s preferences around feeding from a bottle (La Leche League, 2016a). For more information on paced bottle-feeding, see here (Unicef, 2019).

If your baby is under six months, and you only want them to have breastmilk, you might wish to make it clear that they shouldn’t be given any other fluids without your explicit consent (La Leche League, 2016a). Here’s how one mum managed to express enough milk for going back to work:

“I built up a supply in my freezer before I went back to work so I didn’t worry about the quantity I collected in the day on top of actually fitting in the expressing.”

How can I start expressing breastmilk at work?

As outlined here, the first step is to discuss with your employer how they will support you in continuing to breastfeed (Maternity Action, n.d.). It’s also good to make sure your colleagues are aware that you’re expressing at work so you have their support. Here’s how one mum got her colleagues on board:

“I found it very useful taking my baby into the office before I returned to work. It seemed to make my coworkers more aware of the juggling act I had and more willing to help me out.”

Your body needs to adjust to the changes in when you start breastfeeding at work as well. So setting up a schedule that suits you and your role will enable your body to adapt (La Leche League, 2016a).

How do I avoid breastmilk leaks at work?

Avoiding having noticeable breastmilk leaks at work might also be on your mind. Here’s how one mum did it:

“Wearing patterned tops (as well as pads) at work really helped me not worry about any possible leaks as they wouldn’t be so obvious. I also treated myself to a new bra, which did wonders for my confidence!”

Where can I express breastmilk at work?

As for logistics, having access to a quiet, private space to express your breastmilk at work is essential (Maternity Action, n.d.). You’ll want to think through where that place might be in your work environment so you’re able to express comfortably. Try to make sure the room has a lock or, if that’s not possible, a sign to keep others at bay.

If there is no fridge at your workplace, then a cool bag with sufficient ice packs will ensure your breastmilk remains safe to be used (La Leche League, 2016b). Here’s some useful guidance.

For more about your rights to breastfeed at work, see here.

Can I stop expressing at work and still breastfeed?

If expressing at work is not possible, you could consider building up a supply of expressed milk in the freezer before returning to work. That means you don’t need to express at work but your baby continues to receive your breastmilk.

Can I continue breastfeeding but give formula milk when at work?

Yes. Some mums decide that their baby will be given formula milk when they’re apart but breastfeeding will continue when they’re together. If this is after the first few weeks of a baby’s life, then the breastmilk supply tends to adapt. So you’ll produce breastmilk when needed and reduce supply when not (La Leche League, 2016a).

You may wish to plan ahead and begin to reduce the feeds before you return to work. This is how one mum did it:

“My work meant it was impossible for me to express and I was so pleased this didn’t mean I had to give up breastfeeding altogether. Whenever I’m not at work, I carry on breastfeeding and my body seems to have adapted to it.”

What if my breasts are uncomfortably full of milk at work?

If at any time you feel uncomfortably full during the day, then you might wish to hand express a small amount of breastmilk in a private space until you feel more comfortable. For more on how to hand express, see this video from Unicef.

For more information on mixed feeding, see here.

My baby is refusing a bottle, what can I do?

Depending on the age of your baby, there are other options for giving breastmilk even if your baby is reluctant to take a bottle. You can find some ideas here.

“My baby was not interested in taking a bottle but as he had started on solids and was able to manage a cup, he just had his drinks from there.”

Where could I get support to decide what’s best for me and my baby?

You can call the NCT Feeding Helpline on 0300 330 0700. One of our trained NCT Breastfeeding Counsellors will offer you time to talk through what the possible options might be for your situation. They’ll also give you any further information you might need to make your decisions.

This page was last reviewed in December 2020.

Further information

We support all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Healthtalkonline.org has a comprehensive library of face-to-face interviews where parents share their experiences about breastfeeding, birth, parenting and many other issues.

Best Beginnings has video clips from the 'Bump to Breastfeeding' DVD.

La Leche League. (2016a) If you leave your baby. Available at: https://www.laleche.org.uk/if-you-leave-your-baby (accessed 15th January 2020).

La Leche League. (2016b) Storing your milk. Available at: https://www.laleche.org.uk/storing-your-milk (accessed 15th January 2020).

Maternity Action. (n.d.) Continuing to breastfeed when you return to work. Available at: https://maternityaction.org.uk/advice/continuing-to-breastfeed-when-you-return-to-work/ (accessed 15th January 2020).

Unicef. (2019) Infant formula and responsive bottle feeding. Available at: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/baby-friendly-resources/bottle-feeding-resources/infant-formula-responsive-bottle-feeding-guide-for-parents/ (accessed 15th January 2020).

 

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