Supporting women breastfeeding at work: what can employers do? 

February, 2024 - Shoosmiths LLP

Recent surveys have revealed the shocking statistic that 90% of breastfeeding mothers are forced to use a toilet or are not provided with a suitable space to express their breastmilk at work. We look at what employers can do to rectify this issue in order to offer the appropriate level of support to new mums.

Returning to work following maternity leave can be a daunting prospect, particularly if this is the first time that an employee has been apart from their baby for long periods of time. In order to deal with this change, many mothers feel that continuing to breastfeed helps them to provide extra comfort to their baby and maintain a close bond. If a returning employee decides that this is the best way forward for them and their baby, they should be free to do so and properly supported by their employer throughout the process. Yet, surveys show that the treatment of breastfeeding mothers at work is unsatisfactory and, as such, urgently needs to be addressed.

Both ACAS and government guidance states that a suitable area should be provided for pregnant workers and breastfeeding mothers at work. The government Health & Safety Executive guidance goes on to say that this should:

  • include somewhere to lie down if necessary;
  • be hygienic and private so they can express milk if they choose to – with guidance specifically stating that toilets are not a suitable place for this; and
  • include somewhere to store milk, for example a clean and secure fridge.

However, it seems that this is not a reality for many workplaces and this may be because the guidelines stop short of becoming legislative requirements. Some employers also may not have experienced many employees (or any employees) wishing to breastfeed and/or express following a return to work so may not have given much thought about whether their facilities are appropriate for an employee wishing to do this.

As a result, the needs of breastfeeding mothers can often go overlooked in the workplace. This can increase anxiety in new mums who are already trying to become accustomed to a new routine and who may also have concerns around their new responsibilities as a parent, and also their career progression.

In order to cultivate a safe space for all and to ease the transition for new mothers who are returning to work, employers should consider the following:

  • providing the correct facilities for breastfeeding mothers, including a clean, warm, private room for expressing and a sterile, secure fridge to store milk;
  • where possible, allowing flexible hours or regular breaks in order to suit an employee’s breastfeeding needs;
  • creating an environment where the topic of breastfeeding can be freely discussed and is not considered to be ‘taboo’ so that employees feel comfortable providing a written notification of their breastfeeding to their employer;
  • carrying out appropriate risk assessments to support new mothers returning to work and ensure that their needs are met and properly considered;
  • facilitating employee inclusion networks where individuals can talk to and gain support from other colleagues who have previously returned to work after maternity leave; and
  • implementing policies and training which outline appropriate processes and guidance in respect of employees returning to work after having a baby; and
  • asking breastfeeding mothers whether they have any other specific needs in this regard.

Whilst there is still some way to go in order to provide proper support to breastfeeding mothers, implementing the above will mark a step in the right direction. This is also perhaps an area where we might see legislation proposed in future in order to tackle the difficulties faced by breastfeeding mothers.


Link to article


WSG Member: Please login to add your comment.