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Breastfeeding women at work - guidance for members

A guide on your rights at work as a breastfeeding mother and recommended actions for you to take to before, during and after your maternity leave.

Breastfeeding woman

Breastfeeding women at work

How to help secure safety, privacy, dignity and equity for women who are breastfeeding on return to work from maternity leave.

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Your rights

If you return to work while you are still breastfeeding, you have certain statutory rights. To activate these rights, you must tell your employer in writing that you are breastfeeding.

Guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sets out a useful summary of employers’ duties. Once you have informed your employer in writing that you are breastfeeding, your employer must carry out an individual risk assessment to consider the impact of your working conditions and hours on the health and safety of you and your baby.

Your employer must provide a suitable area where you can rest. This should:

  • include somewhere to lie down if necessary
  • be hygienic and private so you can express breastmilk if you choose to – toilets are not a suitable place for this
  • include somewhere to store your breastmilk, for example a fridge.

You are entitled to more frequent rest breaks. All workers must have time in the working day to drink water, eat lunch and use the toilet. Teachers are entitled to planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time. As a breastfeeding woman at work, you must also be given adequate time to rest, during which you may breastfeed or express breastmilk.

You and your NEU rep and/or other NEU members can use the union’s Breastfeeding women at work resources to ask for more paid rest breaks for breastfeeding mothers.

Treating you less favourably because you are a breastfeeding woman could be sex discrimination. Not providing you with suitable clean private space to rest, breastfeed or express could amount to harassment based on your sex.

Many employers provide appropriate support, facilities and breaks for breastfeeding mothers but many women do not have access to their most basic entitlements at work. The NEU is calling on employers to uphold breastfeeding women’s rights at work to have risk assessments, flexible adjustments to work arrangements and suitable rest facilities. The union is also calling for dedicated paid breastfeeding breaks.

Your actions

Before you go on maternity leave:

  • Read and share NEU resources for Breastfeeding women at work. Ask your NEU rep or your school/college office what breastfeeding support is available at your workplace.
  • Find out from other women who have returned from maternity leave whether they were supported to breastfeed or express breastmilk but do not be put off if they were treated poorly. View this as an opportunity to assert your employment rights and to pave the way for future working mothers to be treated appropriately at work.
  • Agree with your line manager and head whether you would like to be contacted during your maternity leave, and how.
  • Stay in contact with your rep and your NEU networks.
  • Inform NEU membership – [email protected] – that you are going on maternity leave. You do not pay membership fees for the duration of your maternity leave.

While you are on maternity leave

  • Look after yourself during your maternity leave and seek advice from local or national breastfeeding specialists if you need support.
  • Discuss your return-to-work plans with your NEU rep and try to join any NEU meetings so that you are up to date on what is happening at work. For online or face-to-face meetings, you may wish to breastfeed your baby while at the meeting or you could ask that the venue has a suitable private room for you to breastfeed or express breastmilk.
  • Make use of any arrangements you made for reasonable contact and keeping in touch with your employer and your colleagues during your maternity leave.
  • Prepare yourself and your baby in the run-up to your return to work.
    • Some mothers breastfeed exclusively without expressing. 
    • Others choose to express breastmilk at work during the day and breastfeed at home – before and after work and overnight. 
    • How you opt to breastfeed is your choice, not your employer’s.
  • Try to practice your routine in the days leading up to your return to work to help you and your baby adjust. If you do opt to express breastmilk at work, gauge how long it takes you to express fully so that you know how much rest time to ask for.
  • Prime your employer for your return to work. If your doctor, midwife or health visitor has recommended that you continue to breastfeed your baby, for your health or for the health of your baby, ask them to put this in writing for you. Medical evidence is not necessary to secure your rights at work, but your employer must take account of any medical recommendations provided to you.
  • Email your employer to confirm that you will still be breastfeeding when you return to work. The purpose of this notice is to initiate your health and safety protections which are triggered only if you notify your employer in writing.
  • Use the NEU sample letter to notify your employer and ask for:
    • an individual risk assessment.
    • suitable facilities.
    • safe and fair working arrangements.
    • breastfeeding breaks.
  • Attach the checklist for leaders on breastfeeding – or you can ask your NEU rep to bring the checklist to the attention of your employer/head teacher. Keep a record of all communications around breastfeeding and your return to work.
  • Follow NEU advice on returning to work on reduced hours if you are seeking to reduce the hours, days or location of your work.
  • Ask for paid keeping in touch (KIT) days – they can ease you back to work, help you practice your routine and allow you to check out the rest facilities and working arrangements.
  • Remind your line manager by email that you are still breastfeeding.
  • Inform your NEU rep that you have requested an individual health and safety risk assessment, suitable rest facilities and adjusted working arrangements to accommodate your need to rest and breastfeed or express.
  • Ask your employer for the outcome of the risk assessment, make use of the rest facilities, and use any time that you have been allocated to rest, breastfeed or express. Raise any questions, concerns or ideas with your line manager or head teacher and let your rep know.
  • Ask the union for support if your employer does not undertake a risk assessment or put in place the facilities or arrangements that you need to protect your health and safety as a breastfeeding mother.
  • Ask for your arrangements to be reviewed if your needs change, for example if you need to change the frequency or length of breaks for expressing.
  • Use and share the practical pack of NEU Breastfeeding women workers resources. Advocate for your school to adopt the NEU model policy – to smooth the future breastfeeding journeys of your colleagues.
  • Let the NEU membership team know that you are back at work – [email protected].
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