Many women discontinue breastfeeding, or choose not to start, due to challenges faced in trying to breastfeed after returning to work. The All Wales Breastfeeding Action Plan, under its strategic approach for population wide action, seeks to create environments supportive of breastfeeding which includes workplaces. It is therefore a good time to consider the support offered to breastfeeding employees in Wales.
There is no statutory right to time off for breastfeeding, but refusal to enable it may constitute indirect sex discrimination (Equality Act 2010 Code of Practice: Employment).
If an employee informs you in writing that they are breastfeeding, you must conduct a risk assessment which should be reviewed regularly or if anything changes. It is rare that breastfeeding will affect an employee’s ability to carry out their regular duties, but it is possible (e.g. if the work entails exposure to hazardous substances).
Employers are obliged under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 to provide “suitable facilities” for a breastfeeding employee to rest including a place to lie down. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that such an area be clean and private for expressing milk, and that a fridge should be provided for milk storage.
It is good practice to discuss the needs of the returning employee during keeping in touch days. You can outline how employees can make requests around returning to work while breastfeeding within a policy.
An employer should make this policy known to all members of staff and it may sit within a flexible working, maternity policy or staff handbook. For smaller businesses, a formal policy might not be needed, however, it would still be important to discuss returning to work from maternity leave with the employee. A policy will help guide employers in responding to requests from employees when they return to work.
In most cases, continuing to breastfeed after returning to work will in practice mean expressing some milk at work, usually with an electric breast pump. It is good practice to offer a clean, private, lockable room for expressing (not a toilet). Mothers will need to be able to store their milk in a fridge and may need additional breaks to express.
In some cases it may be possible for the mother to directly breastfeed her child during the working day, either at the workplace or her home or childcare facility if it is close by.
A comprehensive booklet from ACAS incorporating case studies and practical advice.
Health and Safety Executive advice on supporting employees who are new mothers.
Document highlighting individual and employer obligations under the Equality Act 2010.