Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The right to feed an infant in public in the UK

Today the UK Government launched a consultation on a Single Equality Bill, incorporation a review of existing discrimination legislation. Partly this is to simplify existing legislation on discrimination and partly to see if there are any gaps where there needs to be protection.

You can read the Government's press release here:

It covers many issues. One highlighted in the press release I quote here:

New protections for new mothers. The law would make clear that expectant and new mothers are protected from discrimination in relation to goods, facilities and services generally. For example, a mother with a baby under one-year-old could no longer be made to leave a cafe when they are discreetly breast feeding their baby.

This is potentially progress on one of the points in the Breastfeeding Manifesto, a campaign that Baby Milk Action is supporting. Point 5 is on the right to feed an infant in public. See:

While the presentation in the government press release suggests a limited provision, specifying the age of child, a business premises and using the value-judgement word 'discreetly', a law introduced in Scotland is much clearer.

The Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 is: "An Act of the Scottish Parliament to make it an offence to prevent or stop a person in charge of a child who is otherwise permitted to be in a public place or licensed premises from feeding milk to that child in that place or on those premises."

The Scottish Act does not differentiate between breastfeeding mothers or mothers using formula, which seems sensible to me, though I have only heard of breastfeeding mothers being asked to stop feeding.

A child in the Scottish Act is defined as up to two years. Why someone should be free to stop a mother feeding a child who is 2 years and a day is unclear. Particularly when the World Health Organisation recommnedation is for exclusive continued breastfeeding into the second year of life and beyond.

The Government's consultation is for Great Britain as a whole. There is the opportunity for calling for necessary protection in the consultation. It appears to me on first reading that the current proposals do not specifically refer to infant feeding at all, despite this being highlighted in the press release.

Rather, proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 would make it an offence to discriminate against anyone seeking or being provided with a service.

We all have the opportunity to submit comments to the consultation calling for a specific reference to a mother's right to feed her child in a public place.

You can find the relevant papers and contact email at:

You can also sign up to the Breastfeeding Manifesto campaign and call on your Member of Parliament to do the same. See:

And we can work to gain publicity for this issue and the role that breastfeeding plays in reducing health inequalities, as recently published research has again demonstrated.

Here is a short piece on a news website arising from a journalist contacting me about the story this morning. See: Baby Milk Action: Breast feeding in public is 'a right'.

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