Breastfeeding and work

Many mothers continue to breastfeed when they go back to work after maternity leave. Returning to work may take some planning and readjustment.

Breastfeeding when returning to work

There are lots of ways you can continue to breastfeed when returning to work. This will depend on your baby's age and how often they feed during the day.

You can breastfeed in the mornings and evenings. You can then express milk during the day or in the evening. Your childminder can give the expressed milk from a cup or beaker while you are at work.

If your baby needs feeds during the day and no breast milk is available, your childminder can give your baby formula when you are at work.

How to express breast milk

Types of formula milk

Expressing breast milk

Planning ahead will help you continue breastfeeding when you go back to work. Start giving your baby an occasional feed of expressed breast milk from about 6 weeks old. This will allow you to become comfortable with expressing your breast milk.

Parents often use a bottle to give expressed breast milk to their baby. Your partner or another family member should help with these feeds if possible. This will help your baby get used to taking breast milk from someone other than yourself.

Paced bottle feeding may help a breastfed baby to take a bottle.

If you plan to take maternity leave beyond 6 months, this may not be necessary. Try and get your baby used to taking milk from a bottle or a cup before you return to work. An older baby may take expressed milk from a cup or beaker. You can do this from around 6 months.

Important

Your baby will still get the health benefits from expressed breast milk as they will from direct breast feeding

A month before you return to work

Begin to introduce an occasional feed of expressed breast milk. Use a cup or bottle for these feeds.

Practice expressing and preparing expressed breast milk feeds. You may want to freeze expressed breast milk to build up a stock to have on hand when you return to work.

2 weeks before you return to work

Begin leaving your baby with your childminder for short periods to help them get to know each other. You can give your childminder expressed breast milk for feeds.

When you give expressed milk to your childminder, store the milk in smaller batches to avoid discarding. Use a slow flow teat and encourage paced feeding.

Nurse your baby before leaving the house. Ask your childminder to hold off with a small feed so that you can breastfeed your baby as soon as you arrive.

When back at work

When you go back to work, you may need to express milk during the day. This will relieve breast fullness and help maintain your milk supply.

If you decide to express breast milk during the day, make a plan for how you are going to pump and store the milk. For example, you can store your breast milk in a fridge or cooler bag with ice packs.

Have breast pads and an extra top in case of milk leakage. Wear 2-piece outfits to make milk expression easy and have a jacket handy to cover up if needed. Patterned or dark coloured tops will hide leakage.

Breastfeeding breaks and support

Talk to your employer about breastfeeding breaks. Ask them how they can help you to continue breastfeeding.

It may also be possible to feed your baby directly at your worksite. This is if there is an onsite creche at work and your childminder is available nearby.

Accept all offers of help, especially during the early days of returning to work. It may be helpful to make a gradual transition to your work routine and work for shorter hours at first.

If you choose not to breastfeed while you're at work, your milk supply may reduce as it adapts to the change in demand.

Concern about milk supply.

Watch a video on breastfeeding tips when returning to work

Jessica talks about how she prepared to go back to work while breastfeeding.

How often to express when you return to work

To keep up your breastmilk supply, try to express the same number of times each day as you did near the end of maternity leave. Limit the longest stretch between milk removals to 8 hours or less.

Legal entitlements for breastfeeding

In Ireland, by law, you are entitled to 60 minutes' time off or a reduction in work hours in an 8 hour working day. This is without loss of pay for up to 26 weeks after birth.

Some workplaces have policies that allow you to have breastfeeding breaks until your baby's 2nd birthday. Talk to your employer to find out what their policy is.

Related topic

Find a breastfeeding support group near you

Page last reviewed: 25 May 2022
Next review due: 25 May 2025