Breastfeeding in public: The debate comes to Gloucester
A woman has been left feeling outraged following a visit to a town centre restaurant, after she says she was asked to sit facing a wall while breastfeeding her baby.
Claire Knowles says she was asked to move and sit facing the wall at The Mayflower restaurant in Clarence Street, after she told staff she was going to feed her 11-week-old daughter Jessica.
Chun Kong, owner of the restaurant, told the Echo he apologised "unreservedly" for the incident, and said it was a "genuine misunderstanding".
The news has divided opinion, with some readers deeming breastfeeding in public unsightly and inappropriate, while others say it is natural and should be welcomed.
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The issue has long been an emotive one, with talk often turning to a woman’s right to breastfeed in public.
There are laws in place to protect mothers who opt to do so. Maternity Action explains that under the new Equality Act, which came into force in October 2010, it is sex discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.
It applies to service providers – that is, most organisations that deal directly with the public – and says they must not discriminate, harass or victimise a woman because she is breastfeeding.
Discrimination includes refusing to provide a service, providing a lower standard of service or providing a service on different terms.
Women are protected in public places such as parks, shops, restaurants, cinemas, sports and leisure facilities, public buildings and when using public transport.
If a woman is discriminated against because she is breastfeeding she can bring an action in a county court in England or Wales, or a sheriffs court in Scotland, as long as she starts the case within six months of the date of she is complaining about.
If she wins her case the court can order compensation, an injunction or a declaration, but if she loses she may be ordered to pay the other side’s legal costs. Compensation can include an amount for injury to feelings.
There is additional protection for women in Scotland – there, a person has a right to breastfeed or bottle feed a child under two. It is a criminal offence to try to stop or to prevent a woman from feeding a child under two in any place in which the public has access, and in which a child under two is entitled to be.
Anyone who tries to stop or prevent a person feeding milk to a child under the age of two can be prosecuted and can face a claim under the Equality Act.
But despite the law, many women across the UK still face stigma and difficulties when opting to breastfeed in public.
According to babyworld.co.uk, a survey conducted by Kamillosan Chamomile Ointment in 2011 found 54 per cent of breastfeeding mothers have been subjected to unwanted attention.
A fifth of mothers are so worried about people’s opinions they have left their baby crying for milk rather than breastfeed in public, the survey found, while a third have felt forced to bottle feed – either with expressed milk or formula – in public simply to avoid trouble.
Many women complain of the pressure to breastfeed in a toilet when out in public, while others have been asked to leave businesses or public premises.
In October 2011 a woman was told by a member of staff in an Oxford department store it was inappropriate for her to breastfeed there. The department store chain later apologised, and vowed to retrain staff to help support breastfeeding mothers.
Meanwhile another woman was asked to leave a Scarborough café following a complaint from a customer, after she breastfed her four-week old daughter.
The café later explained it is pro-breastfeeding, and apologised for not meeting its usual standard.
A spokesperson for the National Childbirth Trust said in 2007: "We regularly receive calls from distressed mothers who have been told they can't breastfeed in restaurants or shops, or even in schools and health centres.
“It leaves them embarrassed, shocked and angry, and it is time it stopped."
A number of celebrities have made clear their stance on the issue. Earlier this year singer Beyoncé fed her new-born daughter Blue while enjoying lunch in New York City.
Meanwhile Selma Blair told People: “We all have nipples. I don't care who I offend; my baby wants to eat. If I can't get a cover over me quick enough, so be it."
But what is it that makes breastfeeding such a taboo? Rosie Dodds, senior public policy officer of the National Childbirth Trust, spoke to the Daily Mail in 2009 of “the prudish British attitude that breasts are for sex, not for babies”.
The spokesperson also noted: “Breastfeeding is a generational thing - if you've never seen your mum, parents or aunts breastfeed, it's hard to start doing so yourself.
“Many young women have never seen another woman breastfeed.”
Many people have hit back at those who disapprove of breastfeeding in public, citing research from accredited bodies.
The World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the Department of Health recommend a baby is breastfed on demand, the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers says, “so you'll want to feed your baby whenever she asks - including when you are out and about.”
The Association lists the advantages of breastfeeding: “Your milk is always ready and just at the right temperature, so it's easy for you to feed wherever you are.
“No worries about carrying sterilised bottles, milk powder or bottle warmers with you. You can just sit down anywhere and feed.”
Meanwhile two servicewomen in the US posed for photographs of them breastfeeding while in uniform, to raise awareness of women’s right to breastfeed in public.
What do you think? Leave your comments below.