Building a father-friendly world

Breastfeeding & Shared Parental Leave - 5 things you need to know

Pic: BfN by MJS Ferrier used with permissionIs breastfeeding still a realistic option if mum goes back to work leaving dad in charge? SARAH EDWARDS of the Breastfeeding Network offers expert advice for parents deciding how to split parental leave.

Shared leave brings many advantages and it is great for both mums and dads to spend time getting to know their baby during the first year. Of course, it can also bring challenges and how to balance breastfeeding and shared parental leave can be one of them - especially if you want to continue breastfeeding once mum goes back to work and takes the vital equipment with her!

Here are five things we think it might be helpful for parents to know when they are talking about shared parental leave and breastfeeding... 

1)    Breastfeeding offers great benefits

The impact of breastfeeding on both mum and baby’s health is considerable, not to mention the benefits to your bank balance and the environment (think less packaging waste and zero food miles!)

The Department of Health recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, and encourages parents to continue breastfeeding, alongside solid foods, for two years and beyond. 

Of course, every family is different, so the important thing is to find out as much as you can about breastfeeding and how it might work for you so that you can make an informed decision about feeding your new baby. 

2)    Expressed milk is VERY precious stuff!

If you want to share parental leave and continue to breastfeed, then using expressed milk is probably part of the plan. Expressing milk can take some practice, and both mums and dads will need to know how to store and transport it so that it can be safely used to feed baby.

Pic: BfN by MJS Ferrier used with permissionLuckily, there is now a wealth of information online, answering all your questions about using expressed milk and offering some great tips about how to make expressing easier, particularly when mum will be working away from baby some of the time.

And when it comes to using the expressed milk, you will probably want to be careful not to waste any after all the time and effort that went into getting it!

One good tip is to store it in small amounts so that if your little one doesn’t finish the whole bottle you don’t need to throw the precious milk away. 

3)    It’s about more than just milk (especially in the early days)

For both mums and dads, feeding is a great time for cuddling and getting to know your little one. Take the opportunity to sit down, have a rest and just enjoy your new baby.

Whether you are breast or bottle feeding, you should try to keep the number of different people who feed your baby to a minimum so that your baby feels secure and has time to bond with you. There is something really lovely about that time with your baby gazing up at you, and it can even make the night-time feeds feel special. 

For mums, continuing to breastfeed once you return to work gives you a great way to connect with your baby at the end of the day by sitting down for a cuddle and a feed. 

4)    There are as many different ways to breastfeed as there are different types of families

If you decide to go for shared parental leave, it might mean that baby is brought into work for mum to feed them during the day, or that Dad gives expressed breastmilk in bottles or cups or mixed in with food at home (depending on the age of your baby).

Some mums are able to adjust their working hours in order to fit in with feeding, and this can work especially well once baby is older and not feeding so often. Sometimes a mix of formula and breastmilk can make things more manageable and enable breastfeeding to continue.

There are many ways that breastfeeding can work, so make use of the National Breastfeeding Helpline and the information available to help you decide what will work best for you. 

5)    Start talking to your employer about returning to work and breastfeeding as early as possible

The easiest way to share parental leave and continue to breastfeed is probably for mum to take the first part of the leave to get breastfeeding well established, but if that doesn’t fit with your plans there are always other ways to make it work.

Pic: BfN by MJS Ferrier used with permission

Speaking to your employer as early as possible gives you lots of time to discuss what support you might need. At the moment there is no legal right for breastfeeding mums to have breaks to either feed their baby or to express and store milk, although the ACAS guidance suggests that this would be ‘good practice’. 

You can also point out to your employer the benefits of enabling you to come back to work and continue to breastfeed. Evidence shows that supporting mothers to keep breastfeeding when they return to work increases employee morale, improves recruitment and retention figures, and reduces child illness, which in turn may have a positive impact on employee absence. 

Where to find more information

If you want to breastfeed and share your parental leave, there is plenty of support available... 

The National Breastfeeding Helpline (0300 100 0212) is open every day 9.30am-9.30pm to offer non-judgemental, evidence-based information from trained volunteers who have breastfed their own children. They can offer information about breastfeeding and returning to work and what you might need to think about depending on the age of your baby and support to decide what will work best for your situation. International charity La Leche League also offers a breastfeeding helpline (0845 120 2918) open 24 hours, 7 days a week. 

We also have lots of information on the Breastfeeding Network website and there is some helpful advice aimed specifically at dads on the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers website and also on the Canadian website "24 hr Cribside Assistance".