Can I Breastfeed at Work?

If you wish to breastfeed as a new mother you have the right to do so safely in your workplace. Your employer has a legal obligation to provide “suitable facilities” for new and expectant mothers in the workplace. Therefore, it is important to know your rights regarding breastfeeding in the workplace.

As a new mother, if you wish to breastfeed in the workplace when you return to work, you have the right to do so safely. Whether this is expressing milk in a private area or whether your child is in the workplace nursery, you have the right to breastfeed and express milk in the workplace. According to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, an employer legally must provide “suitable facilities” for new and expectant mothers in the workplace. Therefore, an employer must ensure there is a safe, clean and private area for women to breastfeed or express milk in the workplace.

If you wish to breastfeed or express milk whilst at work, you must give your employer written warning of this, so that the employer can prepare for your needs. A meeting should be organised to voice all health and safety risks associated with breastfeeding in the workplace, and a risk assessment should be carried out to ensure breastfeeding in the workplace can be done safely.

What facilities should an employer provide for breastfeeding employees?

As an employer, you must provide “suitable facilities” to accommodate new and expectant mothers in the workplace. This includes ensuring that new mothers who wish to express milk or breastfeed in the workplace can do so comfortably and safely.

The space for women to either express milk or to breastfeed should comply with the following:

  • A private space.
  • A secure space, specifically with a lock on the door.
  • Access to a plug socket in the room, to allow a breast pump to be plugged in.
  • A clean space.
  • A comfortable space where the employee can rest.
  • A fridge available to store the expressed milk until the end of the day.
  • A toilet does not qualify as an appropriate area for an employee to breastfeed or express milk.

If your employer fails to provide suitable facilities for new mothers to breastfeed in the workplace, they will be breaching the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, and therefore you should report this to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive.

Breastfeeding in the workplace

Some women will require an area to breastfeed their child in the workplace. There are a range of ways in which you can breastfeed your child in the workplace, such as the following:

  • If your childcare is close to your workplace or is on-site, you could arrange to breastfeed your child during your breaks.
  • If a family relative lives close by, they could bring your child into work during your breaks to allow you to breastfeed during the day.
  • You could ask your employer whether it would be feasible to have flexible working hours, which could work around your breastfeeding schedule.
  • The Human Resources (HR) department in your workplace can help you to organise your breastfeeding arrangement.

As an employer, if you support breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, it will increase the morale in the workplace and increase the appeal for potential recruits to join your organisation.

In September 2016, easyJet airline experienced a dispute with two employees, Cynthia McFarlane and Sara Ambacher. These two easyJet employees, who were members of the cabin crew, wanted to continue breastfeeding when they returned to work after their maternity leave. However, the two employees were required to work on a roster pattern by their employer, which meant that the length of the shift was constantly changing.

Consequently, both employees had to work for long periods of time as cabin crew but were told that they could not breastfeed during the flight. The employees asked if they could work a maximum of 8 hours during a shift, and if this could not be arranged, then they asked if they could be re-allocated to ground duties where they would be able to express milk, but the employer declined.

This long period of time where the employees were not allowed to express milk increased the serious risk of mastitis, milk stasis and engorgement, which are serious health problems associated with not expressing milk regularly enough. EasyJet were found guilty for subjecting Cynthia McFarlane and Sara Ambacher to indirect sex discrimination. Consequently, the two employees were compensated for their financial loss and for injury to feelings.

Understanding how to breastfeed safely in the workplace is of the utmost importance for new mothers and employers.

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