Going back to study or work may be the first time you have been separated from your baby for long periods.

Continuing to breastfeed helps to keep the close bond with your baby, providing your baby with extra comfort and security for as long as you both want.

You don’t need to stop breastfeeding just because you’re returning to study or work. Many women find ways to continue breastfeeding their baby – and employers have certain obligations towards breastfeeding women.

Returning to work doesn’t mean you have to stop breastfeeding. It’s up to you to decide how long you want to breastfeed and when to stop.

Your plans may be different depending on the age of your baby:

  • Under six months – your baby will only have breastmilk so they’ll need to have this in a bottle or a cup while you’re apart
  • From six months to a year – your baby will still get lots of calories from your breastmilk alongside solid foods. Your baby may or may not need to take a bottle or cup of milk when you’re apart but many babies tend to breastfeed more often when you’re together
  • From one year – your baby will be eating snacks and meals now and may not need any breastmilk when you’re away. They might want to breastfeed more when you’re together.

Tips for breastfeeding and returning to work

Before returning you work you can:

  • express milk for your childcare provider to give to your baby
  • remember to label and date your expressed breastmilk before putting it in the fridge or freezer so your childminder knows which one to use first
  • have a trial run with childcare before returning to work
  • store your breastmilk in a sterilised container or in special breastmilk storage bags in the fridge for up to 8 days at 4C or lower (you can buy fridge thermometers online). If you’re not sure of the temperature of your fridge, or it’s higher than 4C, use it within 3 days


Breastfeeding helps your baby fight off illnesses quicker as they get some protection through your breastmilk.

Carrying on feeding as your child starts mixing with more children and being exposed to more illnesses can be helpful.

Here’s some questions you might want to ask your childcare provider:

  • how do they support breastfeeding mothers?
  • do staff know how to store expressed milk.
  • is there a space where you can breastfeed your baby before you drop them off and when you pick them up?

It’s a good idea to have these conversations, even if it’s family members looking after your child. You’ll feel more confident in leaving your baby while at work, and know that they will still be receiving your breastmilk.

Supporting employees to breastfeed can have benefits for your employer too, such as:

  • reduced staff absence due to child sickness as breastfed babies recover quicker from illnesses
  • happier employees with higher moral and loyalty to their employer after having a baby
  • improved recruitment from those potential employees who see them as a considerate employer
  • more employees returning after leave which lowers their recruitment and training costs.

You can let your employer know in writing that you’ll be breastfeeding when you return to work. Employers have an obligation to create a plan to support you to do that including a specific risk assessment.

Employers should provide a private, healthy and safe environment for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk, although they are not legally obligated to do so. However, the Health and Safety Executive does state that toilets are not a suitable place to express.

Maternity Action has some useful information about negotiating with your employer when you return to work.

If you have been working for your employer for at least 26 weeks, you have the right to ask for flexible working.

  • this includes any time spent as a trainee or apprentice as well as your maternity leave
  • your employer does not have to agree to your request
  • if they do say no, they must also give you a valid reason and explain why that reason applies to your case
  • if your employer agrees to your request, it usually takes around 14 weeks from the time of your request for the new flexible working arrangement to be put in place. Once you’ve made a request for flexible working you can’t make another request for 12 months, whether your request is granted or refused.