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Breastfeeding at work


A guide for RCN members on provisions for breastfeeding mothers at work.


Adjustments the employer has to make

Employers of women of childbearing age must assess the risks to the health and safety of breastfeeding mothers and their babies.

While you are breastfeeding, you and your baby have special protection under health and safety law. To make use of this protection, you must inform your employer in writing that you are breastfeeding.

While you are breastfeeding, your employer must consider whether your working conditions are a risk to your health, or the health of your baby. If your working conditions do not support breastfeeding, this could put your baby at risk.

Where there is a risk to your baby, your employer should take certain reasonable steps such as:

  • making a temporary change to your working conditions
  • making a temporary change to your working hours (shorter shifts)
  • allowing regular breaks for you to express milk.

If your GP or health visitor advises that your job is too stressful, and that even with temporary adjustments your ability to breastfeed could be put at risk, then your employer should consider a temporary transfer to alternative work.

Guidance for employers and breastfeeding mothers is available from the Health and Safety Executive at www.hse.gov.uk/mothers (England, Scotland and Wales) and at nidirect (Northern Ireland) 

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Breastfeeding facilities

Your employer is legally obliged to provide suitable facilities for breastfeeding mothers to rest, however there is no clear guidance on what these facilities should be. A warm, clean, lockable room would be helpful for expressing milk, and a clean refrigerator and facilities for washing, sterilising and storing receptacles might assist you. It is not always possible to provide all of this, so be as reasonable as possible and work with your employer.

ACAS has produced guidance for employers looking to accommodate breastfeeding in the workplace; this should help you discuss any concerns you have with with your employer.

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Points to consider

  • Consider what adjustments you need before returning to work. 
  • Explain the health reasons for breastfeeding, as your manager may not understand. NHS Choices and the World Health Organisation provide information that may help you.
  • If you are concerned about your employer's ability to provide appropriate facilities, a letter from your GP or health visitor may help. This could confirm that your work conditions will stop you breastfeeding and could potentially put your baby’s health at risk.
  • Be flexible with your requests. If additional breaks are not possible, for example, then consider using your tea and lunch breaks and taking them at different times.
  • You should not suffer any detriment because you are breastfeeding. Under equality law this may amount to discrimination.

If you are having any difficulties agreeing adjustments with your employer then contact us on 0345 772 6100.

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Call the RCN on: 03457726100