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New and expectant mothers at work: Your health and safety

This page is for new mothers and pregnant workers – it explains what they and their employer should do to ensure their health and safety at work.

There is separate advice for employers on their legal duties to protect you at work.

Informing your employer
Workplace risk assessment
Raising your own safety concerns
Breastfeeding in the workplace
Welfare and general advice

Informing your employer

Your employer only has to adjust your working conditions if you have given them written confirmation that you are a new or expectant mother. This means you are currently pregnant, have given birth in the last six months or are breastfeeding.

You don’t have to tell your employer if you don’t want to but is important to the health and safety of both yourself and your child to inform them as soon as possible. This helps employers adjust working conditions and identify potential health risks, for example during breastfeeding It also helps them plan maternity leave and arrange cover for expectant mothers.

Your employer can ask you to provide a certificate from your GP or registered midwife to confirm you are pregnant but must allow a reasonable amount of time for you to complete all necessary medical tests.

Your employer must take account of medical advice provided by your GP or midwife which might mean making adjustments to your working conditions or hours, for example if:

  • you have any pregnancy-related medical conditions
  • your doctor has said you should not work nights

Workplace risk assessment

Any potential risks to new or expectant mothers should have already been assessed as part of your employer’s risk assessment process, which they must regularly review. They can carry out a more specific risk assessment when you tell them you are pregnant, though they are not legally obliged to.

However, they must review and update your workplace risk assessment if they suspect it is no longer valid or significant changes have happened to anything it covers (eg the workplace or employees).

They might need to review this as your physical condition changes, depending on the work you do. So regular discussions with your employer (or safety representative) are important because the risk of harm to an unborn child may increase at different stages of a pregnancy, depending on working processes and conditions.

Working with certain physical, biological or chemical agents can affect you and your child during pregnancy and breastfeeding; while your dexterity, agility, co-ordination, speed of movement and reach could be impaired because of your increased size.

Common risks for new and expectant mothers

The most common risks for new and expectant mothers include:

  • standing or sitting for long periods
  • long working hours
  • workstation and posture issues
  • work-related stress

There are also risks through exposure to:

  • lead
  • radioactive material
  • toxic chemicals
  • infectious diseases

There can be other risks, depending on the type of work you do. Your employer must reduce, remove or control any risk they identify and immediately let you know of any safety measures put in place so you can continue to work safely. They might discuss this with you directly or through a safety representative.

Raising your own safety concerns

You are entitled to raise any concern about your health and safety at work, and that of your child, with your employer and they are required to assess it. They are ultimately responsible for workplace safety, but you also have responsibility for your own safety.

If you have raised safety concerns and believe your employer has failed to take appropriate action, you can either ask them to look at the issue again or contact HSE to find advice on how you can ask HSE to investigate and what happens next.

Breastfeeding in the workplace

You should send your employer written notification that you are breastfeeding. It is advisable to do this before you return to work, so your employer can ensure you return to a healthy, safe and suitable environment.

Your employer is legally required to provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest and, where necessary, this should include somewhere to lie down.

There are no legal restrictions on breastfeeding at work and there should be no workplace time limits for expressing milk, so this is not something that should prevent you from returning to work. Toilets are not a suitable environment for expressing milk so you should use the rest facilities provided.

Your employer may provide a separate private environment for you to express and store milk, though there is no legal requirement for them to do so.

Employers should also consider any risks posed to breastfeeding mothers and their children if the work environment provides exposure to certain physical, chemical and biological agents (eg organic mercury, radioactive material or lead).

Welfare and general advice

New and expectant mothers are entitled to more frequent rest breaks. You should discuss this with your employer and agree the necessary timing and frequency of your rest breaks.

Your employer cannot dismiss or treat you differently because you are a new or expectant mother. You should also be entitled to paid maternity leave and paid time off for ante-natal appointments.

For more information on statutory maternity entitlements, call the HMRC helpline on 0300 200 3500 or read the government advice on Maternity pay and leave.