Breast feeding workers

By Julie Richards, Lesley Wood, RCM Health and Safety Advisor on 26 January 2024 Maternity Services RCM Trade Unions Wales Pay and Agenda For Change Welsh Government

When you work in maternity services, people would understandably expect your workplace to be the one of the most supportive around all things pregnancy and breastfeeding. Yet a recent RCM survey of health and safety reps found this to be very far from the truth.

As midwives and MSWs, we all know the scientific evidence supporting breastfeeding exclusively for at least the first six months, evidence that is mirrored in UK Government guidance. However, we are also aware of the barriers women who return to work while still breastfeeding face. For midwives and MSWs the barriers can be even greater, with shift patterns, workload, little or no time to express and nowhere to store milk safely.

As part of our Caring for You programme, the RCM undertook a survey of our health and safety reps, as well as talking to Directors and Heads of Midwifery, to get a better understanding of what facilities are available and how well members who are breastfeeding are supported in the workplace.

While there are some examples of good practice, some members reported giving up breastfeeding altogether, with many saying they felt stress, anxiety, and guilt as a result. At a time when retention of experienced staff is vital, there are serious implications for employers too, as workers may delay returning to work, or decide not to return to work at all.

survey results   Breast feeding survey result

To view the results click here

Of course, it’s important to note that this isn’t the experience everywhere. As a national organisation, the RCM has access to workplaces across all four nations, so we get to see the good, as well as those places that could do with some improvement. It can be hard when you work in one Trust or Board to know what’s going on elsewhere, so we’ve pulled together some examples of good practice around breastfeeding that you might be able to apply where you work.

Sherwood Forest NHS Hospitals FT
Maternity departments are often already stretched for space, so finding somewhere to use for people to breastfeed or express can be tricky. Sherwood Forest NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust got round this by installing a specially-designed breastfeeding pod for visitors and staff to use. Not only is this private, comfortable and convenient, it also means that they didn’t use valuable space elsewhere.

Birmingham Women’s and Children NHS FT
Returning to work following maternity leave can be daunting for all sorts of reasons, but Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust try to put staff at ease. Within maternity services, as part of their return to work from maternity leave, they discuss feeding and what flexibility the person requires. If they want to express, there is a quiet, calm, private space in the birth centre and then milk can be stored in the milk fridge.

Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust
Like their neighbours at Birmingham Women’s, the leadership team discusses with the returning worker their needs and requirements for and formulate individual plans for staff members wishing to continue to breastfeed or express when returning to work.


The RCM has information and resources to help you understand your rights and negotiate with your employer. And don’t forget, RCM workplace representatives are really well-placed to support you on this and many other issues. Of course, your employer may already have some good processes and practice in place, which could be useful information for others. We’d love to hear about it so we can share it with members across the UK via [email protected] 

While good local policies are really valuable, we know that they aren’t a requirement – which is why there’s so much disparity. That’s why the RCM continues to raise concerns that the law does not protect or support breastfeeding at work, calling for change to improve your rights.

Please contact your RCM Workplace representative, Regional Officer, or regional organiser for support if you have issues, want to share information, or take part in influencing change.

RCM Connect 0300 303 0444