We hear from all our sources that breast Is best: by breastfeeding our children we not only give them a free source of healthy nutrition, but we pass on our own immunity to give them the best start in life. It’s an excellent choice to make, but what if we wish to return to work before our child is no longer on the breast.
Where do I start?
Many people feel awkward bringing this subject up with their employer. It may help you, when notifying your employer that you breastfeed, if you do as recommended by the Health and Safety Executive and put the notification in writing. This gives them the opportunity to prepare for your return, and to provide suitable provisions in advance.
What are your rights?
Although the law does not specifically allow you to return to work late, there are provisions in place to support you.
Once your employer has been notified of your intention to continue breastfeeding, they must conduct a risk assessment to make sure you will not be exposed to excess stress or other harmful things such as chemicals. If they are unable to remove you from the risk, they should offer alternative employment that keeps you safe.
Your employer should provide suitable facilities for you to express and store breast milk for your child. This should include a room (preferably one that locks, although not a toilet) which is clean and suitable for you to express your milk. The milk storage facility should consist of a clean fridge. You must also be allowed the time to express, which may be that you get an extra break or two during the day.
What if I wish to continue to feed straight from the breast, rather than a bottle?
Most companies if you ask them will be willing to allow you to feed your baby during working hours. This may be that you leave the premises for feeds, particularly if you live locally, or your childcare provider may be permitted to bring your child to the workplace. This is at your employer’s discretion.
How can I prepare my child and myself for returning to work?
If your child is not used to a bottle, now may be the time to introduce one. It makes feeding so much easier for whoever provides your childcare and will cover you if your child is unable to come to the workplace. Begin to introduce bottled feeds around 4-6 weeks before your return to work, even if it is only one bottle per day.
You may have already tried expressing. Some people find it very easy to express. Others struggle. If you find yourself among those who struggle, get practicing! Express for at least five minutes from each breast immediately after a feed to increase your milk flow. Then, begin expressing bottles. Breast milk can be stored in a fridge or a freezer (guidelines for this can be found online or by asking a health visitor or breastfeeding support worker) so you can try and build up a little supply in anticipation of your return to work.
REMEMBER: Your employer should not make it difficult for you to provide your baby with breast milk. If you find them to be obstructive or difficult, try to address this. If they continue, you may have a case for gender/maternity discrimination.
Returning to work should not be a stressful time, and by making your decisions as early as possible, it ensures you, your child and your workplace are ready for the changes ahead.