Breastfeeding at work

Employers must provide appropriate facilities and breaks for women who want to breastfeed at work. This can be unpaid or paid, depending on the workplace policy.

Benefits of providing breaks and facilities

Breastfeeding gives babies their best start in life and benefits the mother. If an employer gives women appropriate facilities and breaks to breastfeed or express milk, they are more likely to return to work as planned and the employer retains capable staff.

Parental leave provides information for employers, employees and self-employed people about parental leave and associated entitlements such as government-funded parental leave payments.

What employers have to do

Employers have to give breastfeeding breaks and appropriate facilities for women who want to breastfeed or express milk for their babies at work or during the working day, where this is reasonable and realistic in the circumstances (taking into consideration the employer’s operational environment and the employer’s resources). The breaks are unpaid and in addition to rest and meal breaks (unless the employee and employer agree otherwise). If employers don’t do this, the Employment Relations Authority could make them comply or give them a penalty.

Providing appropriate facilities

The facilities for breastfeeding should be appropriate. This means different things depending on the industry, workplace and employer’s resources. Appropriate facilities shouldn’t have to be too expensive or complicated. In most cases a woman just needs a private space with somewhere to sit, and maybe a power point and access to a fridge if she’s expressing milk.

A group of employers could consider getting together to provide a shared facility if there are lots of workplaces close together, for example, in a shared office building or a shopping mall.

The employer and employee should have a talk about what facilities and breaks are needed and then write down what they have agreed. If they can’t agree, they can go to the Employment Mediation Service for free help, or seek help from their union or lawyer.

The Code of Employment Practice on Infant Feeding [PDF 271KB] can help you understand what are ‘appropriate facilities’ for employees to breastfeed or express. Breastfeeding in the Workplace – A Guide for Employers [PDF 370KB] also has practical information about how facilities can be provided in a workplace.

Sometimes an employer’s operating environment and resources mean it isn’t reasonable and practicable to provide breastfeeding facilities. In all situations, the employee and employer should talk about it and try to agree.

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