Women’s and employers’ experiences and views of combining breastfeeding with a return to paid employment: A systematic review of qualitative studies

Yan-Shing Chang, Laura Harger, Sarah Beake, Debra Bick

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
57 Downloads (Pure)


Introduction: Returning to paid employment is one of the reasons women stop breastfeeding earlier than they planned to. This systematic review aimed to provide insight into the experiences and views of women and employers on breastfeeding and returning to paid employment, with findings used to inform practice and policy. Methods: The review was guided by the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) methodology for systematic reviews of qualitative evidence. Medline, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and Web of Science databases were searched for studies published in English. JBI's meta-aggregative approach informed data analysis. The studies in this analysis included women who stopped breastfeeding before, and those who continued breastfeeding after, returning to paid employment and the employers, work managers, or supervisors of women who continued breastfeeding after returning to paid employment. Results: Twenty-six articles presenting findings from 25 studies were included and critically appraised. Synthesized findings showed that women experienced physical and emotional difficulties and described gender and employment inequalities in accessing and receiving the support they needed. Women reported that the importance of their own motivation and having workplace legislation in place facilitated breastfeeding during employment. Support from employers, colleagues, and family members, as well as access to convenient child care, helped women continue breastfeeding on return to paid employment. Employers’ personal experiences influenced their views on breastfeeding and working, and the need for more education and communication between employers and employers on breastfeeding in the workplace was recognized. Discussion: Support from family, work colleagues, and employers was important to reduce the physical and emotional challenges women experienced when combing breastfeeding with return to paid employment. Gender inequalities, especially in low- and middle-income countries, in accessing support exacerbated the difficulties women experienced. Limited data were identified regarding employers’ experiences and views, suggesting an urgent need for further research to explore employers’ and work colleagues’ experiences and views.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)641-655
Number of pages15
Journal Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


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