Regularly breastfeeding your baby and returning to work have generally been incompatible, but research shows that if mums could breastfeed or express milk at work, they’d be more likely to return before their babies were six months old.
With the Department of Health and WHO both advising women to exclusively breastfeed their babies up the age of six months, this has long been a barrier to women returning to work when their babies are small.
But a report by the Economic and Social Research Council at Essex University found that mothers who could breastfeed at work were eight per cent more likely to return to work before their babies reached six months old.
However, the effect was only seen among better educated mothers and for less well educated women it had no bearing.
Breastfeeding has been found to have numerous benefits for babies including lower incidence of asthma, allergies and better cognitive development. Returning to work invariably forces women to curtail breastfeeding.
Dr Emilia Del Bono, co-author of the research said: "Lower educated mothers have shorter maternity leave periods due to income constraints, so the availability of breastfeeding facilities has little impact on their decision to return to work.
"More educated mothers, by contrast, have more choice in relation to the duration of their maternity leave and are also more likely to breastfeed longer, so the availability of breastfeeding facilities is more important in this group."
The study was part of the government’s nationwide 2005 Infant Feeding Study and the findings are based on a sample of more than 3,000 mothers who returned to work when their child was between eight and 10 months old.
It found that 53 per cent of better educated mothers were back at work when their child was six months old, compared with 46 per cent of less well educated mothers. Of these working mothers, a third of higher educated women and approximately one in six less-educated mothers were still breastfeeding at six months.
"What these findings tell us is that there is an economic benefit to employers of providing breastfeeding facilities at work, such as facilities to express milk or actually breastfeed, as it can shorten the time taken off work by better educated female employees," said Del Bono.