Breastfeeding and going back to work

If you're returning to work after maternity leave, you might wonder whether you can continue breastfeeding your baby. The answer is yes, it's completely possible and many women do it.

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How long should I breastfeed my baby?

Experts recommend that you breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. After 6 months, you can carry on breastfeeding, but you should also start to include solid foods in your baby's diet. When you do this, your baby will want to breastfeed less throughout the day.

What are the benefits of continuing to breastfeed?

There are lots of benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby, and the longer you breastfeed, the longer these benefits continue.

Some of the positive effects of breastfeeding include:

  • Reducing your baby's risk of infection, obesity, and type 2 diabetes

  • Reducing the likelihood of your baby getting cardiovascular disease in later life

  • Lowering your own risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease

Lots of mothers also feel that breastfeeding – after a long day at work – is a great way to bond and relax with your baby.

How can I continue breastfeeding at work?

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There are a few options to make breastfeeding at work as easy as possible:

  • Find childcare close to work – if you're lucky enough to be able to have your baby close to you in the daytime, you can breastfeed in your breaks.

  • Negotiate a flexible working pattern – see if there's an option for you to work flexibly. This could include working part time, working from home, breaking up the working week, having shorter workdays or working fewer but longer days.

  • Experiment with partial breastfeeding – this involves breastfeeding while you're at home and expressing milk while you're at work so that your baby can drink your breastmilk the next day, even when they're away from you.

Whatever you decide, it might be worth doing a trial run before you return to work, so you can see if the new breastfeeding pattern works for you and your baby. If it doesn't, there'll be plenty of time to try something different.

Chat to other mums about how they managed breastfeeding and going back to work, either in person or on online forums like mumsnet – other women who've been through the same thing will be an invaluable source of knowledge, experience and advice.

How do I express milk at work?

Your workplace is legally required to provide suitable facilities for you to rest while you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

This might be:

  • A mother and baby room

  • A first aid room

  • A spare office

  • A private room

You can use this space to express milk throughout the day.

It shouldn't be a toilet – you wouldn't prepare your own food in a public loo, so you shouldn't have to prepare your baby's there either.

You'll probably need to express milk at least every 3 hours when you're first away from your baby. Find out how to express milk. It's a good idea to practice expressing milk before you go back to work, so that you're used to it.

When should I stop breastfeeding?

It's entirely your decision. Ideally, aim to breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first 6 months. When you start your baby on solid foods, they still need breast milk or formula as their main drink, until (at least) their first birthday.

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for up to 2 years (and beyond if you choose). Basically, the longer you breastfeed, the longer you share all that natural goodness with your baby – but the first 6 months is the most important part.

Remember, there are many benefits of breastfeeding for you both from the natural (germ killing) antibodies, and vitamins and nutrients it gives your baby; to the fact it protects your health too - did you know breastfeeding lowers your risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and cardiovascular disease?

How do I stop breastfeeding?

Stopping breastfeeding should be done gradually. You need to give your body time to adjust to making less milk - phasing it out will also help prevent you getting mastitis and engorged breasts.

Lots of mums find dropping one feed at a time the best way. For every feed you drop, allow yourself about a week to adjust.

Weaning your baby off breast milk should be a gradual process, it's best if you can be flexible and not rush it. You may need to slow things down at times, for example if your baby is poorly, they tend to want to feed more frequently. Remember, if weaning off breast milk is proving tricky, try to be patient - you can always take a break and try again in a few weeks.

Babies under a year

Replace dropped feeds with formula. Babies under 6 months will need to be bottle fed. Babies older than 6 months can have their feed in a beaker or cup.

Babies one year plus

As long as your baby is having a well-balanced diet, they won't need a replacement feed.

Help and support

If you need some advice and guidance on stopping breastfeeding, contact the National Breastfeeding Helpline (0300 100 0212).

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