Breastfeeding and the Workplace


In the United States, the number of working women increases yearly. As the number of working mothers increases, so does concern over how employers can best support them. After a certain point, most working parents must decide whether to continue breastfeeding or begin using formula. Well-respected institutions, health care professionals, and public health officials have begun to strongly support breastfeeding; the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement that recommends breastfeeding for at least six months.1 Employers are becoming more supportive of breastfeeding, due in part to the realization that breastfeeding can help their businesses.

A breastfeeding baby.

Benefits for Businesses

The benefits of breastfeeding for businesses include the following:

A person holding a baby.
  • Breast milk contains antibodies that protect infants from certain bacteria and viruses, which leads to fewer illnesses. Fewer sicknesses for the child means fewer absences for the working mother, which ultimately leads to greater productivity for the company. One study found that non-breastfeeding mothers were absent from the worksite three times as often (due to babies’ illnesses) as breastfeeding mothers.
  • Breastfeeding lowers the health care costs of the employee. Breastfeeding not only makes infants healthier, but also helps mothers return to pre-pregnancy weight quicker and leads to a reduced risk of osteoporosis and pre-menopausal breast cancer.2
  • Breastfeeding women who are supported by their employers often report higher loyalty, happiness, and productivity, all of which support successful companies.1
  • Employers actually save money by allowing their employees to return to work while breastfeeding, as there is less turnover and fewer losses of skilled employees due to childbirth.3 Companies then do not  have to spend additional money on training new employees and end up paying for a shorter maternity leave.

Choosing to continue breastfeeding as a working mother is a smart personal and business decision that will benefit the health of both the mother and the infant. Mothers do not need to choose between having a family and having a successful business life.

Benefits for Mothers

The benefits of continuing to breastfeed after returning to work include the following:

A person and a baby smiling at each other.
  • Mothers save money because they do not have to buy formula.
  • They are providing the best nutrition for their child.
  • They miss less work, as breastfed-babies get sick less often than formula-fed babies.
  • They are able to maintain the special bond and closeness of breastfeeding despite being temporarily separated due to work.
  • Mothers are able to continue breastfeeding for longer because they do not cease lactation.

If a mother is able to breastfeed, the decision to do so has a great deal of benefits. Many mothers worry about loosing a connection to their child when they go back to work, but breastfeeding after returning to work can secure that relationship.

Deciding to Continue to Breastfeed

There are many steps to take after deciding to continue to breastfeed while employed, which include the following:

A tattooed person breastfeeding a baby.
  • Communicate with your employer. In the United States, the Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide mothers of children under the age of one break time and a private place to pump their breast milk, separate from the bathroom.3 Make sure that there is an appropriate, safe place to store your breast milk throughout the day.
  • Establish a good milk supply after the baby is born and before the mother returns to work or school. This will make it much easier to maintain the milk supply when the mother and child are separated.
  • Pump multiple times a day, every three hours is the recommended amount. Milk supply can diminish if you do not pump frequently enough, so remember to pump at work.1
  • Find a well-trained daytime caregiver who shares your commitment to breastfeeding to ensure that the child will be properly cared for throughout the day.

Breastfeeding at work is a great way to continue to provide the best nutrition for the child while maintaining the bond between mother and baby.

Breastfeeding Laws Around the World

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) promote breastfeeding as they have found it is the best way to provide nutrients to infants.4 The WHO recommends breastfeeding the colostrum, which is yellow sticky breast milk produced by mothers, to the child within the first hour of birth. Individuals should breastfeed exclusively for six months and then breastfeed with complementary foods for two years or longer. 4

A nude woman breastfeeding a baby.

The WHO and UNICEF worked with the Global Breastfeeding Collective and found that no country meets their standards for breastfeeding.4 They found that only 40% of infants younger than six months old are exclusively breastfed.4 They also found that countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Nigeria do not invest enough in breastfeeding, resulting in the death of about 236,000 infants per year.4 The Global Breastfeeding Collective wants countries to have paid family leave, workplace breastfeeding policies, and increased funding to improve the rate of breastfeeding, among many other initiatives.4

The WHO collected data about breastfeeding breaks from 182 countries in 2012 and released their data in 2013.4 They found that 45, or 25%, of these countries did not have any laws in place. They also found that 130 countries, about 71%, have policies that require paid breastfeeding breaks while 7 countries, about 4%, have guaranteed unpaid breaks for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding breaks are usually based on the age of the infant. Bhutan, San Marion, and Swaziland are the only three countries that allow breastfeeding breaks to occur less than six months after a baby is born. 41 of the countries allow breastfeeding breaks until the child is one year old and 32 countries do not specify the child’s age for breastfeeding breaks. 4

A breastfeeding baby.

The length of breastfeeding breaks also varies greatly.4 Out of the 182 countries, 91 (82%) allow one hour for these breaks. This is the most common length of time. Only two countries, 1.8%, allow 30 to 45 minutes and 13 countries, or 11.7%, allow two hours. 30 countries allow working mothers to accumulate these breaks to have a shorter workday. The World Health Organization also found that countries which have laws allowing breastfeeding breaks until the child turns six months old were also associated with breastfeeding rates much higher than other countries.4 Countries that have higher numbers of females in the workplace are associated with breastfeeding break laws and more exclusive breastfeeding. The WHO explains that countries that give breastfeeding breaks are more able to be economically competitive. If workplaces do not allow six months of breastfeeding breaks to mothers, they are decreasing the health benefits for both the mother and their child. As a mother breastfeeds for longer lengths of time, protection against certain diseases increase for the mother and infant.4

The World Health Organization asserts that if all babies were breastfed for the first two years of their lives, more than 820,000 infants, five years old or younger, would be saved every year.4

Laws in the United States

Babies who are breastfed are less likely to develop urinary tract infections, ear infections, and ear infections.2 They also less likely to have diarrheal issues, need fewer visits to the doctor, and have less prescriptions and hospitalizations compared to babies who do not breastfeed. Babies who have breastfed also reduced risks of asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).5 There are also many benefits for mothers who choose to breastfeed. These include a lowered risk of both osteoporosis and breast cancer before menopause. It also may be easier for a mother who breastfeeds to return to her pre-pregnancy weight more quickly.2 The mother also lowers her risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and ovarian cancer if she chooses to breastfeed.5

Bottled breast milk.

The US Department of Health and Human Services released the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics that show that breastfeeding is becoming more popular.5 The CDC explains that they are helping mothers to continue breastfeeding after they return to the workplace by collaborating with states to make sure employers have the ability to support their working mothers. Working mothers should have access to places to pump, places to store breast milk, and more flexible work hours.5 The CDC also mentions the importance of maternity leave benefits. Mothers often stop breastfeeding sooner than they planned due to issues in the workplace such as company policy or lack of support.5

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies for the first six months before integrating food alongside breastfeeding for the first year.5 Statistics from the CDC in 2016 show that, on average, only 51.8% of mothers breastfeed at six months. The Department of Health and Human Services released a plan in 2010 called “Healthy People 2020” which has many goals including increasing the number of lactation support programs in the workplace. The CDC believes that lack of employer support may be a reason why mothers stop breastfeeding before the recommended time.5

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires employers with 50 or more employees to give mothers break times to pump breast milk whenever it is necessary for one year after the child is born.2 It is also required that the mother is given a place to pump that is separate from the bathroom. This space must be private from coworkers and the public.6 The ACA also requires new private health insurance coverage of breastfeeding support, supplies, and lactation counseling, as they are preventative health services for women. The District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, and 49 states have laws in place that allow women to breastfeed on public and private property. Idaho is the only state that does not have these laws in place. The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 29 states in the US have laws about breastfeeding at work.

Three persons sitting around a table and laughing.

Unless pumping is disrupting an employer’s operations, a lactation break is required by law for working mothers.6 These breaks are not exact times but the U.S. Department of labor has indicated that pumping takes about 15 to 20 minutes not including the time dedicated to preparation, the frequency of pumping, the walk and wait to use the space provided, milk storage, and any other factors.7 The employer does not have to pay the employee during the time she is breastfeeding.6

Concluding Remarks

Breastfeeding is recommended by worldwide organizations and has been proven to increase the health of both mothers and their infant children in many ways. If a mother is able to breastfeed, choosing to do so for six months or longer will have great benefits in the long term. Choosing to continue breastfeeding should not stop a mother from continuing with her career. Working mothers should investigate the laws related to breastfeeding in their country or state in order to stay informed regarding their rights.


  1. “How Breastfeeding Benefits You and Your Baby.” BabyCenter.
  2. Wile, M., Johnson, T., & Garcia, A. (n.d.). Breastfeeding State Laws. National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  3. “Breastfeeding After You Return to Work.” Breastfeeding and Working.
  4. The World Health Organization. (2018, April 16). Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, April 26). Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  6. United States Department of Labor (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  7. Lo, J. (2018, April 15). Workplace Breastfeeding Laws in California. Retrieved April 17, 2018.

Last Updated: 17 February 2018.