Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Baby cafés and breastfeeding in public

There was a news piece about breastfeeding on national UK radio today. It was about Baby Cafés and you can listen to it using realplayer by clicking this link to the BBC Radio 4 website.

Baby Cafés are drop-in centres are for pregnant and breastfeeding mums and their supporters. They are generally open once a week and set out with coffee tables, comfy sofas and play areas for accompanying toddlers. Pregnant or breastfeeding mums can drop in at any time during opening hours and partners, supporters and health professionals are also welcome. You can find information about the network on the Baby Café website, what they are, where to find them, how to set them up.

One of the attractions of a Baby Café, spoken about on the radio programme, is they present an atmosphere where breastfeeding is normal. The need for such places may seem difficult to believe if you live outside the UK, but in other cafés mothers who are breastfeeding can find people staring. They may even be asked to leave or to go somewhere out of sight to breastfeed. It's even happened to a mother in one of the Queen's palaces. Mothers have been moved on by the police.

Ah, you may say. How can this happen when breastfeeding is natural. Some people here respond by saying going to the toilet is natural, but you wouldn't want someone to do so in front of you.

In Scotland the Parliament has introduced legislation protecting a mother's right to feed her child in public. In the debate one Member of the Scottish Parliament said:"The woman put off a bus in Edinburgh, the mother in England who had dirty water thrown over her and the mother and baby subjected to the embarrassment of a public announcement in a Glasgow shopping mall requesting their relocation to a baby changing room, provide just a snapshot of some of the extreme attitudes which exist."

You can sign a petition for a law to protect a mother's right to feed her child in public in England and in Wales. I joined the groups Little Angels and Best Beginnings and David Kidney MP in presenting the England petition to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street back in May, national breastfeeding week. The Rt Hon. Tony Blair was not available to receive the petition so it was handed to a policeman inside.

As the delegation lined up for the traditional picture on the door step I asked Stella Onions from Little Angels if she wanted to breastfeed one of her children who had come with her. She readily agreed. What a great picture to illustrate the story of the petition. Unfortunately just as she was getting ready, the policeman outside told her to stop, saying it was more than his job was worth to allow a picture of breastfeeding in front on Number 10. Incredulous, Stella explained about the petition and the relevance of the picture, but it was no good. So the picture picked up by the newspapers and television was of the policeman telling a mother to stop breastfeeding. Afterwards the Metropolitan Police said it was because of obstruction of the doorway. Fine, except you can obstruct the doorway for the traditional photo. One of the more absurd articles in response to the story suggested Stella posed a security risk.

The breastfeeding rates in the UK in the UK are amongst the lowest in Europe. Regaining a breastfeeding culture requires action on many fronts. Baby Cafés are one part of this. Recognising a mothers right to feed her child and protecting this is another.

Not gawping when a mother is breastfeeding would also help. If that's you, please grow up.

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