Facilitating working mothers' ability to breastfeed: global trends in guaranteeing breastfeeding breaks at work, 1995-2014

J Hum Lact. 2015 Feb;31(1):81-8. doi: 10.1177/0890334414554806. Epub 2014 Oct 27.


Background: Mothers who work away from home tend to stop breastfeeding earlier than their nonworking counterparts due to workplace barriers. Barriers to breastfeeding discriminate against women and may lead to inequities in children's health outcomes. Guaranteeing paid breastfeeding breaks at work is 1 mechanism that can improve mothers' opportunity to breastfeed in the workplace.

Objective: This study aimed to assess the trends in the share of countries guaranteeing breastfeeding breaks in the workplace and paid maternal leave that lasts until the infant is 6 months old (the World Health Organization recommended duration for exclusive breastfeeding), between 1995 and 2014.

Methods: Legislation and secondary source data were collected and reviewed for 193 United Nations member states. Legislation was analyzed for content on breastfeeding breaks and maternal leave guarantees.

Results: Fifty-one countries (26.7%) in 2014 did not guarantee breastfeeding breaks in any form and 4 countries provided only unpaid breaks or breaks that did not cover the first 6 months of life; since 1995, around 15 countries (10.2%) legislated for such a policy. In 2014, out of 55 countries that did not guarantee paid breastfeeding breaks for the first 6 months after birth, 7 countries guaranteed paid maternal leave for the same duration; 48 countries (25.1%) provided neither paid maternal leave nor paid breastfeeding breaks.

Conclusion: Progress in the number of countries guaranteeing breastfeeding breaks at work is modest. Adopting measures to facilitate breastfeeding at work can be a critical opportunity for countries to increase breastfeeding rates among the growing number of women in the labor force.

Keywords: breastfeeding; breastfeeding barriers; breastfeeding support; legislation; maternal employment; public policy; workplace.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal-Child Health Services
  • Occupational Health Services
  • Organizational Culture*
  • Salaries and Fringe Benefits / statistics & numerical data*
  • Women, Working*
  • Workplace