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Returning to work while breastfeeding – a guide to the law

The law does not yet give a right to paid breastfeeding breaks although it does give some protection. If there are risks to the breast milk itself (e.g. contamination or drying up) or your working conditions are stopping you from breastfeeding and your baby’s health is put at risk, your employer should carry out a risk assessment as above and remove the risks.  This could include temporarily changing your working conditions or hours of work or giving you breaks for expressing milk. You should inform your employer in writing that you are breastfeeding.

If you need to change your working hours in order to continue breastfeeding and you can show that your baby’s health would suffer if you cannot continue to breastfeed, for example, if your baby has allergies, it may be indirect sex discrimination if your employer refuses without a good business reason.

If you work in the public sector you can rely on the Pregnant Worker’s Directive which states that your work must not affect “the breastfeeding of a worker”, but there have not been any cases that have established the extent of the protection available.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations specify that breastfeeding women must have suitable facilities to rest. The regulations do not state what this includes but you should talk to your employer about finding somewhere suitable. Ideally, you will need a private, clean, warm room with a chair and access to a fridge but certainly you should not be expected to express milk in the ladies toilet. From 1 October 2011, if you are an agency worker you have the same rights to access facilities that are available to other employees who work where you do. For example, if permanent employees where you work have access to a mother and baby room, you should be able to access that too. European Commission guidelines (2000) recommend that breastfeeding workers should have:

  • Access to a private room in which to express milk.
  • Use of secure, clean refrigerators for storing expressed milk and facilities for washing, sterilising and storing receptacles.
  • And time off (without loss of pay or benefits, and without fear of penalty) to express milk or breastfeed.

It may be a health and safety risk if your employer is unable to provide these facilities.

If you are dismissed or treated less well because you are breastfeeding you may have a claim for sex discrimination.

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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