Breastfeeding and returning to work: 3 things we’ve learned, and the kit to help out

Jessie Day, in partnership with Wren  |   15 May 2024

Around half the team here at TRB HQ have returned to work while breastfeeding. We’ve all done it at different times – for me, with both babies, it was at eight months on the dot – and have totally unique experiences. But one linking factor is that it can work, depending on your support and kit. 

Speaking of kit, we’ve teamed up here with the founding team at Wren, creators of the Loved By Parents award-winning hands-free breast pump (our CEO’s fave option), and their independent retailer of the year. 

This guide picks and chooses from all our real life experience, and learnings. And we really hope it helps – DM to let us know.

Is there a specific breastfeeding and returning to work law, in the UK?

Currently, UK law states that mums have the freedom to decide how long they want to breastfeed, including after they return to work. 

Before returning to work, mothers should give the employer written notification that they’re breastfeeding. From there, the employer must conduct a specific risk assessment, and provide suitable facilities – set out in the workplace regulations – where breastfeeding mothers can rest. 

Note, though, that the employer only has to provide these facilities when you’ve told them you’re planning to breastfeed or pump at work. 

‘Rest’ is a little ambiguous, when applied to pumping and breastfeeding at work. However, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends it’s good practice for employers to provide a private, healthy and safe environment for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk. This space should: 

  • include somewhere to lie down, if necessary
  • include somewhere to store expressed milk – for example, a fridge
  • be hygienic and private

Explicitly, the toilets are identified as being an unsuitable place for this. Read up here for lots more on breastfeeding and returning to work UK law and regulations, in 2024. 

Planning your return to work strategy? And breastfeeding on the regs? We’ve got you. Here are three things we’ve learned, and would recommend to any parent in the build-up.

breastfeeding and returning to work law

1. Ask a professional

Not a professional breastfeeder – although, in our opinion, baby feeding is a whole profession in itself – but a breastfeeding consultant or support worker. 

They should be an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), and remember – you don’t need to spend lots of money on this. I booked and paid for an IBCLC to get me through a tricky feeding patch with my youngest, but I also walked along to a free local breastfeeding support group (and drop-in clinic), and put all my questions to the consultant over a coffee. 

An IBCLC should be able to give you lots of pointers and signposting for smoothing that transition back to work, while breastfeeding. They can also give you the starting blocks for a pumping schedule and recommendations – remember to check out our combi feeding kit list too – if that’s something you’re considering. 

“I was keen to know how often to pump when away from baby”, says TRB CEO and founder Eloise. “I’ve had all sorts of return-to-work situations – one with a regular employer for my career in advertising, and two as a self-employed CEO – but every time, the key has been to establish a routine and schedule, and being really clear on my boundaries, to help make it happen.” 

Whether it’s Eloise’s go-to breast pump – the award-winning hands-free electric pump from Wren (there’s a double option too, if you need it) – or something else you’ve found, tried and loved, plan that chat with a pro IBCLC, and take it along.

breastfeeding at work

2. Communicate with your employer

UK law recommends that mums returning to work communicate with their employer, letting them know – in writing – that they are breastfeeding, or expressing (pumping). And the HSE actually recommends you do this during your maternity leave, before you return to work. 

As well as setting your plans out in writing, and if you feel comfortable, a work keeping in touch (KIT) day may be a great opportunity to speak to your employer, or set up a chat with HR, if that works better for you. 

Depending on the size of your team, you’ll almost definitely not be the first parent to ask about facilities and support for breastfeeding at work. So – again, only if you’re comfortable to do so – ask around your colleagues and network, and find out how others managed it, in similar workplace set-ups. 

Editor’s note – I go into the office once or twice a week, and went back to part-time work when my babies were 8 months old, both times. 

Having struggled with pumping (I never did find the right kit, a few years back!) I actually worked nearby to my babies’ nursery during their initial settling periods, and was on-hand to go in for one or two 20 minute feeds a day, just at the start. 

This is – I know – a real privilege. But it caused zero disruption (I’d communicated and blocked these times out in my calendar), and pretty quickly, my babies dropped these feeds around the one year mark. And, I did a little pumping too when necessary, in a designated room in our office. 

A friend of mine, who works in education, seconds the need for clear communication. DMing me this week, she says, 

“I came back after a year still breastfeeding my first baby, then after nine months still breastfeeding with my second. I managed to keep breastfeeding until they were two, both times. 

My routine was to feed before leaving for work, getting in slightly later than I usually would – I agreed this with my employer, before returning to work. I then pumped 2-3 times at work, depending on how much milk he was having at home or in childcare. And I always made sure I was home for our evening or bedtime feed. 

I adjusted this as they got older and fed less. And – this was super-important – I had my own space at work to pump, and my own section of the fridge to store the expressed milk in a cool bag. My employer was very understanding and supportive – I know I’m very lucky to have that.

My top tip would be to explain everything you’d want in an ideal world to your employer before returning to work, and to introduce your baby to a bottle slowly in the months before going back to work, practising with the people who’ll be giving it to them, rather than doing it yourself. I’ve found my babies will usually reject the bottle from me, as they know my boobs are there!”

breastfeeding returning to work kit

3. Get organised

Don’t just wing it, and hope for the best. 

Breastfeeding is very physical, but our emotional and mental health plays an extremely pivotal role. If you just wait until the week of your return to work, and see how things go, without communicating with your employer this can lead to real stress for you, as the mum trying to make everything work. 

Alongside setting clear lines of communication (and, where appropriate, your boundaries as a working mum), get to know the kit and go-to products you can rely on, to ease your transition. 

Our SOS return-to-work breastfeeding kit features all of these (we’ve added our specific favourites in too, for quick links and reference): 

  • a breast pump you love (for TRB CEO and founder Eloise, it’s currently the award-winning hands-free electric pump from Wren, which you can slip inside your bra – I opted for a manual for just the few times I needed it). And, as a working mum who’s also breastfeeding twins, Eloise notes, 

“I often feel like I don’t have quite ‘enough’ milk for two (not exact science, but just an instinct!) So for me, pumping is a great way to ensure I’m maximising what I get each day, and the time to divide it between twins. That’s what I’m finding anyway – it’s helping me be more efficient.”

  • breast milk storage bags which you can fill up, label and keep in the fridge, ready to store however you wish at home (we love these – they’re robust, hold up to 200 ml each and cleverly designed for space-saving, wherever you’re storing your milk.
  • eating well (think snacks!) – not exactly an item, but super-important while you’re working out your new routine (and in general, really!) Pack lots of snacks into your kit, take that lunch break and nourish yourself with food you love. For me, that’s fish pie in the evening and a big veggie curry for lunch. Plus chocolate. And, don’t forget – hydration is paramount.
  • breast pads (just in case) – treat yourself to some super-soft pads – these bamboo ones are our go-to – which do the job of keeping you comfy and feeling fresh all day, leak-free.

That’s it! Anything you’d add to the kit? Let us know and head to Wren for all sorts of other beautifully-designed feeding support bits and pieces. I’ve just put an order in for the Go-To Balm Nipple Salve, for a baby shower basket. Just beautiful. 

You’ve got this!

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