22 Nov

#MakingItWork – breastfeeding as a student.

What’s it like being a student and a new parent at the same time? In this #MakingItWork real life story, Jenni tells us how she juggled study, part time work and breastfeeding.

“I was 20 when I got pregnant, 21 when I had my little girl and began our breastfeeding journey!  I was in the middle of my foundation degree which I was going to night classes to finish – I was also working full time in Burger King while doing placements for my course, and moving house! I found that there wasn’t much support on breastfeeding and I went into it pretty blind. When my baby was 2 months old I returned to night classes, I had a bottle refuser so was actually bringing my little girl to class with me and then leaving her with my mum when possible and running over every 3 hours to feed her so I ended up missing out on a lot of course content. Then when she was 7 months I went back to work in Burger King, returning home on my lunch break to fill my little one with her favourite drink! I passed my course however! I was able to graduate from Stranmillis and get myself a new job in a day nursery, little one is now able to take a cup, however still nurses to sleep every night.”

It’s brilliant that Jenni was able to complete her course, and that she was sometimes able to bring her daughter to class in order to continue breastfeeding. But it may not always be a straightforward process – many student parents feel that they are, at best, overlooked by their college or university, and that more adjustments and allowances could be made. This article in the Guardian states that “Sixty per cent of student parents have considered leaving their course, a number which rises to 65% for single parents.”

Education institutions should make the same types of provisions as employers for women who are returning to study and wish to continue breastfeeding. A good first step is to talk to your place of study as soon as possible, telling them that you intend to continue breastfeeding after your return. For more information on the types of allowances that should be made, check out this blog post: https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/breastfeeding-mothers-returning-to-work-top-5-tips/

It’s worth taking maternity and/or sex discrimination legislation into account too. The NHS/UNICEF Start4Life booklet, “Breastfeeding After Returning to Work or Study” states:

“The law protects students against maternity discrimination. This means that you are protected against unfavourable treatment because you have given birth in the last 26 weeks or are breastfeeding a baby under 26 weeks. Your course provider must not treat you unfavourably because you are breastfeeding. Unfavourable treatment could include refusing to allow you to take part in the course, refusing certain benefits or services or treating you differently. If your baby is over 26 weeks old it is likely to be direct sex discrimination if you are treated less favourably than you would have been treated if you were not breastfeeding.”

You can find more information on this subject here (breastfeeding information starts on p.17): http://www.ecu.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/external/student-pregnancy-and-maternity-implications-for-heis.pdf

In summary, returning to study shouldn’t be a barrier to breastfeeding, and vice versa. As one student stated in the article quoted above, “Student parents make fantastic students. You can’t balance a degree and the overwhelming job of parenting without being hardworking and resilient. I’m even more determined to succeed now I’m studying for my daughter’s future, as well as my own.”

To read more about Making It Work, BfN’s campaign for breastfeeding mothers returning to work or study, click the image below:

06 Nov

Guest Blog: Shared Parental Leave & Breastfeeding

Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi

As part of our #MakingItWork campaign, this guest blog by Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi (York St John University) explores the impact that shared parental leave can have on breastfeeding.


The reduction of maternity leave by way of shared parental leave raises the question of what impact it could have on breastfeeding. The WHO recommends two years breastfeeding with exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of the baby’s life. Since the introduction of shared parental leave, the uptake has been low (2%), and the question is whether breastfeeding could be one of the reasons for the low uptake.

I am a mother of two, I breastfed my first daughter for 10 months and stopped because she just wouldn’t take it anymore. I felt bad because I wanted to be able to breastfeed for longer. I breastfed my second daughter for 15months. The bond and the emotional attachment to the baby when breastfeeding could not be the same if I had to bottle feed. Breastfeeding my first daughter was so hard at the beginning because I was very ill after giving birth, but the support my husband gave me helped me to carry on. I recognise the importance of breastfeeding and I recognise the importance of dads being there to support the mother and bond with the baby (which was what happened in my case). I was super excited when shared parental leave was introduced but questioning how it might impact on breastfeeding. I then set how to investigate which I here present the key findings.

The research was conducted through an online survey to investigate the impact of shared parental leave on breastfeeding. The survey was restricted to mothers who were pregnant or had babies after the 5th of April 2015 (when shared parental leave started). The survey was designed to collect qualitative data on mother’s experience and opinion on shared parental leave and breastfeeding. The survey retained 460 responses with rich qualitative data.

Key findings:

  • 95% of the mothers agreed that breastfeeding was the preferred choice for young babies and were aware of the benefits
  • 72.7% breastfed or planned to breastfeed for 49 weeks which is still less than the recommended two years by the WHO.
  • 96.1% of the mothers breastfed their babies on demand in the first 6 months.
  • 88.5% of the mothers knew what shared parental leave was
  • 17.2% had heard of shared parental leave from their employers
  • 59.7% said they had a workplace policy on shared parental leave
  • 43.6% of the mothers felt they would have to stop breastfeeding if they took shared parental leave.
  • 24.9% of the mothers took shared parental leave
  • 57.4% of the mothers were happy to express breastmilk at work
  • 42.6% of the mothers said they were not happy to express
  • 34% of the mothers said they were supported in the workplace to breastfeed
  • 48.9% of the mothers were not provided with any resources at work to encourage breastfeeding.
  • 47% said they were provided with a private room and sockets but no fridge

Key themes:

  • Most employers are not supporting breastfeeding mothers at work. Consequently, some mothers stop breastfeeding after returning to work.
  • Mothers who are not happy to express breastmilk will not take shared parental leave
  • Mothers who are happy to express breastmilk at work would take shared parental leave if the employer is supportive of breastfeeding at work.
  • Some mothers thought that shared parental leave and breastfeeding had no impact on each other. However, the thoughts were slightly limited to the first six months because most of the mothers (85.6%) were on maternity leave for at least the first six months and breastfed their babies exclusively in the first six months as recommended by WHO.
  • Most of the mothers who took shared parental leave or went back to work after 6 months massively reduced breastfeeding frequency and some stopped breastfeeding altogether.
  • Mothers who placed more value on breastfeeding dismissed the idea of shared parental leave entirely especially if they wanted to breastfeed for longer than 48 weeks.
  • Some mothers felt they were put under pressure to be to express breastmilk because if shared parental leave.
  • Societal pressure and ‘unacceptance’ of breastfeeding make some mothers not to breastfeed and shared parental leave was viewed as one of such ‘unacceptance’ of breastfeeding.


Breastfeeding is a contributory factor to the low uptake of shared parental leave and shared parental leave is also contributing to the low rate of breastfeeding in the UK.

To read more about Making It Work, BfN’s campaign for breastfeeding mothers returning to work or study, click the image below:

15 Dec

5 things parents need to know about shared parental leave

Shared Parental leave and breastfeeding – 5 things parents need to know…..

So, shared parental leave has arrived and you might be thinking about how to split your leave so you can both take time off work to look after your new baby. 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 challengesand 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!

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Here are 5 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 (http://www.unicef.org.uk/BabyFriendly/About-Baby-Friendly/Breastfeeding-in-the-UK/Health-benefits/)

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.

Luckily, 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:(https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/breastfeeding-help/expressing-storing/ )

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.

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’. http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/j/k/Acas_guide_on_accommodating_breastfeeding_in_the_workplace_(JANUARY2014).pdf  http://www.maternityaction.org.uk/wp/advice-2/mums-dads-scenarios/6-breastfeeding-rights/

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.

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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.

We also have lots of information on our website (www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk) and there is somehelpful advice aimed specifically at dads here:http://abm.me.uk/breastfeeding-information/dads-and-breastfeeding/

Written by Sarah Edwards, The Breastfeeding Network