Section 5: Successful Breastfeeding Requires Support – Return to Work

The Office of Women’s Health website is helpful in offering advice for returning to work while breastfeeding. Their document, The Business Case for Breastfeeding, points out the benefits to the business of establishing policies and suitable on-site accommodations that support breastfeeding employees and gives them easy steps to make a breastfeeding-friendly work environment. The resource includes tools mothers can use to help their workplace support breastfeeding. Mothers can also share the program’s information with their supervisors or their company’s human resources department.

The mother should discuss her anticipated needs for when she returns to work with her employer in advance. This will give her a chance to develop a plan that will work for both of them. Educating her employer about the important health choice she has made and the relatively minor physical accommodations required in the workplace will encourage cooperation. Of course, there are significant employer advantages to continuing breastfeeding once she is back to work. Breastfed babies are half as likely to get sick in the first year of life as those receiving infant formula. If her baby doesn’t get sick as often, she will miss less time from work. This is one reason why at least 5 states have enacted legislation to encourage state employees to continue breastfeeding when they return to work.

It is very important that the mother returning to work get a good breast pump. She shouldn’t worry about not being able to pump a lot before returning to work because the work pumping will replace feedings. Some babies will not take much when mom is away and will compensate at night. Breastfeeding is one thing the mother can do that non-breastfeeding mothers cannot. Reassure the mother that it is possible for most mothers to fully breastfeed while employed.

Working mothers who return to their jobs after giving birth may encounter obstacles to successful pumping. Many workspaces do not have private and comfortable areas where mothers can pump their milk or provide equipment where they may safely store breast milk. Some mothers may feel pressure from employers to not take multiple breaks throughout a work shift to pump.

Employers are required to provide designated, private areas for mother’s to pump their milk upon their return to work, as well as adequate break time for such purposes. This space should not be a restroom, but a clean, appropriate space for lactating mothers to use.

Each Breastfeeding-Friendly Space has:

  • Quiet, clean and sanitary spaces identified by common signage
  • Comfortable seating, electrical outlets, and change table in room or a nearby washroom
  • Sanitization and educational information for families