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Returning to Work: Breastfeeding & The Law

Does your workplace have:

  • women of childbearing age?
  • pregnant employees?
  • women on maternity leave?
  • working mothers who are breastfeeding?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you need to know what the Ontario Human Rights Commission has to say about breastfeeding at work and why breastfeeding is a workplace issue.

Returning to Work: A Focus on Breastfeeding

Women make up 47% of the labour force in Canada and over half are of childbearing age (15 to 45 years) (Statistics Canada, 2006). In the Region of Peel, most working mothers with young children return to work64% of mothers who returned to work continued to breastfeed (Breastfeeding Practices in the Region of Peel 2004/2005 report) at a time when they are still breastfeeding.

Why should you be concerned about breastfeeding in your workplace?

  1. It’s the law
  2. It benefits the employee and her child
  3. There are direct benefits to your workplace

Workplace breastfeeding and the law

In addition to the potential benefits, workplaces must support breastfeeding to stay in compliance with the law. The Ontario Human Rights Commission  states, “Women cannot be discriminated against in any way because they have chosen to breastfeed.” The employee and the employer need to collaborate on the arrangements to permit the mother to breastfeed upon her return to work (PDF, page 6 of 27).   

The Commission goes on to say that “Employees who require breaks, such as for pumping or breastfeeding, should normally be accorded those breaks, and not be asked to forgo normal meal breaks as a result, or work additional time to make up for the breaks, unless the employer can show undue hardship” (PDF, page 9 of 27).

How the workplace can support breastfeeding

A workplace that supports breastfeeding can be created with minimal disruption. Become a breastfeeding friendly workplace by making small changes such as:

  • Providing a private, clean space where women can breastfeed or express breast milk
    • Ensure the designated area has adequate lighting, a chair and an electrical outlet
    • It should be in proximity to hand washing and refrigeration facilities
  • Developing a breastfeeding friendly workplace policy and making staff aware of it
  • Raising awareness within your workplace and ensuring supervisors are supportive of new mothers as they return to work

What can breastfeeding mothers do to prepare for return to work?

Women have the right to continue breastfeeding their infant upon returning to work.  Before returning to work:

  • Come up with a plan. Are you going to breastfeed at work or pump? If you are going to express, consider when and where this will be done. You will also have to think about where you will store your breast milk at work
  • Talk to your employer about your breastfeeding plan
  • Breastfeed before you leave for work and when you return home
  • Pump twice during an 8 hour shift to maintain your breast milk supply

Additional Resources


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Revised: October 06, 2015


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