Friday, June 20, 2008

Breastfeeding in public in the UK - more on the 6 months limit on protecting mothers

I wrote yesterday about an apparent backtracking on the UK government´s promise that it would protect the right of women to breastfeed infants up to one year of age in public. Media reports are now saying the Single Equality Bill going through Parliament this year will provide protection for feeding infants up to 6 months. This may potentially undermine Scotland´s protection of feeding in public of children to two years and disregards the calls of health advocates to have no specified age limit. See:

It is unclear what has prompted these stories as the government´s response to the consultation on the draft bill has still to be published. However, I see that on 11 June there was a government response to a petition someone had started on the Prime Minister own website. The petition called for a bill similar to that in Scotland, which protects mothers whether breastfeeding, or feeding with other milk, a child up to two years of age.

You can see the petition and the government´s response to it at:

I reproduce the government´s answer here, which sets out its overall strategy. Once again it shows the government´s failure to highlight the need to protect breastfeeding from the
aggressive marketing of the formula industry. While support and promotion of breastfeeding is welcome, the government is unable to compete with the massive resources the baby food industry spends on its promotion and should, instead, regulate this in line with World Health Assembly marketing requirements, which the companies should be abiding by in any case.

In addition, once again the government strategy neglects the need of mothers and carers who use formula for accurate and independent information on the differeneces between formulas on the market and how to use them as safely as possible. Companies do not provide objective information and do not even warn parents that powdered formula is not sterile and the simple steps that can be followed to reduce the risks of possible contamination with harmful bacteria.

My blog yesterday tell you action you can take to try to change the Single Equality Bill which is passing through Parliament. See:

---Quote - government response

The Government is committed to protecting infant health in the UK. It recognises the importance of breastfeeding as the best form of nutrition for infants, and the role it can play in reducing health inequalities. The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding alongside the introduction of complementary feeding thereafter. Breastfeeding is a key indicator in the recently announced Child Health and Well-being Public Service Agreement.

The Government has in place a range of ongoing initiatives to support and promote breastfeeding. Its main focus is to increase cultural acceptance, increase awareness of the health benefits, and provide suitable resources and advice on successful breastfeeding to mothers and health professionals.

In addition, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, as amended by the Sex Discrimination (Amendment of Legislation) Regulations 2008, prohibits discrimination on grounds of pregnancy or maternity in the fields of goods, facilities or services, and premises. For example, if a mother who was breastfeeding her baby in a cafe was asked to leave, she could bring a claim of direct sex discrimination against the proprietor, providing her baby is not older than 6 months.

The Government will continue to work towards developing an environment where breastfeeding is the accepted norm. Clearly, women need to be supported in their choice of breastfeeding. This year the National Breastfeeding Awareness Week was held from 11 to 17 May, and the NHS has launched a Breastfeeding Friendly Places Initiative to encourage shops, cafes and other retailers to welcome breastfeeding on their premises. This will provide a clear positive message to mothers that breastfeeding is welcome in public places and a good opportunity for the retailers to support mothers in giving their baby the best start in life. This will help to create a shift in people's attitudes to breastfeeding and have a positive impact on infant health.

---quote ends


Morgan said...

This is farce. Apart from the issue that it's not the Mum's rights being attacked - but the baby's rights, what's the Mum going to do? Lodge a sex discrimination claim? With what proof? I hardly think the shop owner is going to fill in a written statement that the Mum is being removed because of breastfeeding. Will the Mum get legal aid to pursue this claim?

So much for phoning the police and saying you are being harrassed and the police attending to tell the shop owner they cannot interfere with the Mum. Mum can go away in tears, and bring a claim under sex discrimination. Oh yes, that is going to happen.

The six months is just terrible. This is stating that breastfeeding in public is the right of the mother - what about the right of the baby? It's the baby that needs to feed, it's the baby that is hungry. It's the baby that does the breastfeeding.

This is a human rights issue on behalf of the baby. Mothers are not making a lifestyle choice by letting their babies breasfteed. NOT breastfeeding is a lifestyle choice. Having a breastfeeding baby is the norm. You can only choose not to do it - you don't tick a box at the hospital to make your breasts lactate.

Breastfeeding has to come out of this ridiculous legislation and be protected properly. This cannot possibly be allowed to happen, under this set up. It's obscene.

barbara said...

To my mind, the age limit will do more to dissuade mums from meeting their babies' needs in a public place. They may fear their six-month-olds look older and those who have older nurslings may now feel forbidden to breastfeed them. Yet is it conceivable that a mother could ever actually be charged with indecency or public disorder for nursing her baby?! This seems utterly ridiculous as well as highly offensive!
Do write to Dawn P asking the government to consult the breastfeeding organisations before imposing an age restriction!

Rob A said...

The petition response is interesting. It seems to be saying that the 2008 regulations that are already in force say that it's sex discrimination to stop a breastfeeding mum of an under-6-months baby.

But your earlier post was about the upcoming Equality Bill.

Let's hope there's scope to change it.

I think the issue is complicated because bottle-feeding parents will be given the right to feed their infants in public. Breastfeeding needs specific protection.

Helen said...

The petition has got the wrong end of the stick on this one...

The white paper (and that is what this still is) seeks to amend the civil law - the sexual discrimination act, by extending it to include 'maternity' which they are defining as being up to 26 weeks post birth. Indecent exposure is a criminal act, and to do so you must 'intend' to do as such. Case law has already established that breastfeeding in public is not considered Indecent exposure (because it is not intended to deprave, corrupt etc). I think that it is more likely the the major effect of this redefinition will be that 'maternity' will become 26 weeks post birth accross all the other things (such as free prescriptions, dental health services and the like) and we will see a reduction to 26 weeks from the current 52 week term.

If we go on about it 'making it illegal to bf in public after 6 months' that is what will become fixed in the public perception... and it will be *wrong*. And campaigning against something that isn't going to happen just dilutes the efficacy of all the hard work that has been done wrt breastfeeding being the norm when it comes to feeding a small child.