The Employment Relations Act requires employers to provide breaks, and facilities, for employees who wish to breastfeed during work hours…

Employers may be penalised by the Employment Relations Authority if they don’t meet required standards. Failure to accommodate breastfeeding may also constitute sexual discrimination under the Human Rights Act.

Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to comply.  A proactive approach also helps establish the employer’s reputation as a “family friendly” workplace.


Breastfeeding includes feeding an infant, and expressing milk.

“Expressing” is a process by which a woman extracts her milk manually or with a breast pump.


Women who breastfeed have simple needs.

The employer needs to provide a hygienic, private, space. A lockable room is generally sufficient. Employees who use electric breast pumps also need a power point. If a woman expresses, she’ll also need access to a fridge (communal is fine) and a place to store equipment.

Facilities do not need to be permanent. For example, meeting rooms or offices may be booked for breastfeeding purposes.

If workplace facilities cannot be found, facilities could be offsite. Multiple employers may share facilities.


The Employment Relations Act provides for unpaid breastfeeding breaks, in addition to meal and rest breaks, as a legal minimum.

However, employers and employees may agree that breaks will be paid, or to use meal and rest breaks for breastfeeding.

The length, timing, and number of breaks differ between individual employees. As a rough guideline, an expressing mother might take 2-3 breaks of 10-20 minutes each in a standard 8 hour day.

Some women will be able to work while breastfeeding. A woman may breastfeed her baby in a sling or use a hands-free breast pump while completing other work. However, employers should not expect or demand that a woman multi-task.


Employers only have to provide facilities and breaks if “reasonable and practicable in the circumstances”.

An employer’s operational environment or limited resources may make it unreasonable and impractical to support breastfeeding.

When deciding what is reasonable or practicable the following should be considered:

  • Health and safety;
  • Business needs;
  • The availability of cover staff;
  • The location; and
  • The nature of the work the employee does.

The employer should tell the employee why it is unreasonable and impractical to provide breastfeeding facilities, and take into account any suggestions from the employee on ways to accommodate the employee’s needs.

Employer benefits

There is a strong business case in support of accommodating breastfeeding in the workplace.

Studies of employers who invest in breastfeeding-friendly programmes show a lower turnover of staff and shorter periods of leave. Employees also report higher morale and job satisfaction.

We suggest employers comply with their legislative obligations, and put in place proactive policies and programmes that let employees know what support is available.