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Health and safety rights for new and breastfeeding mothers

After Maternity Leave

You have health and safety protection for six months after giving birth and for as long as you are breastfeeding. You must tell your employer in writing that you gave birth in the last six months or that you are breastfeeding. This applies whether you are returning from maternity leave or starting a new job.

The structure of the risk assessment and the different protection for employees, workers and self employed people, works in exactly the same as during pregnancy, although the risks will not be the same.

For more information about breastfeeding after your return to work please see our page on breastfeeding.

As soon as your employer has been informed in writing that you are either breastfeeding, or you gave birth in the last six months; and there is evidence of risk arising from your work, a personal health and safety assessment must be done for you.  As every woman is different, the assessment should be done in conjunction with you.

The assessment will look not at just the more obvious and dramatic risks, like heavy lifting and working with chemicals.  The assessment looks at all risk to your and your baby’s health.

It might be helpful to ask your doctor, midwife or health visitor what risks there are for you; for example, some women’s ligaments will still be soft after the birth making even light lifting a problem.  For other women the issue might be the need to take frequent breaks to express, or the kind of chair they use.

Once the risks have been identified, they must be eliminated if possible.  For example, if you are at risk of back pain from standing for long periods, you should be offered a chair. You must be given information on the identified risk and what is going to be done about it. It may be that reducing your time at work would remove or reduce the risk; if so, your hours of work should be temporarily changed, if reasonable (if your hours are reduced, your pay should remain the same, so you should be paid for your normal working hours). If no adjustment or change to working hours will help, then you should be offered a suitable alternative job on similar terms and conditions, which is reasonable for you to do.  Whether or not the alternative is reasonable for you to do depends on the type of work, the rate of pay, the hours and times of work and the location of the work.

Of course the alternative job must be safe for you to do. If there is no reasonable alternative job, or no safe job, you must be suspended on full pay so long as the risk remains.  This is not sick leave, and should not be counted as such.

Your employer must not in almost all cases dismiss you or treat you less favourably for a reason connected with health and safety.

If there is evidence of a risk, the employer should carry out a risk assessment and remove risks to your or your baby’s health (e.g. by changing the way that you work or reducing your hours). You must be paid the same as before however your job is changed. If it is not possible to remove the risks, you must be offered suitable alternative work, if it exists.  If there is no suitable alternative, you must be suspended from work on full pay (although in practice this rarely happens).  A note from your GP, midwife or health visitor explaining how your work is a risk to your or your baby’s health may help you to show your employer that there is a risk.

If you need any more advice on this, please contact us .

Nightwork

Night work is when you work at least three hours between 11pm and 6am.  HSE guidance says that night work itself does not pose any particular risk to new or breastfeeding mothers.  However if you are breastfeeding, or have given birth in the last six months and your doctor or midwife gives you a certificate that says it is necessary for your health and safety to avoid night work, your employer must offer you safe and suitable alternative work or, where this is not possible, suspend you on full pay.

If your employer refuses to do this, or offers an alternative which you feel is not safe or not suitable, seek advice.

Self employed women and Agency workers

If you are not an employee, for example, if you are self employed or an agency worker (with less than 12 weeks service with a hirer), you only have the right to a risk assessment and for risks to be removed, not to an alternative or a suspension.

If you are an agency worker and you have completed a 12 week qualifying period with the same hirer in the same role, and your role ends on maternity health and safety grounds, the agency should offer you any suitable alternative work that is available. If the agency cannot find any suitable alternative work for you, they should pay you for the rest of the placement that has been ended.

We have a sample letter to an employer about health and safety during pregnancy  which can be adapted for new or breastfeeding mothers.

This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details

Have you heard about your right to request flexible working? Watch our film to find out more.

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