Breastfeeding in Public- The Laws Made Clear

Press Release from The Art of Change – Confusion lifted over breastfeeding

20th July 2008 01:00

UK mothers who breastfeed their children, are celebrating after the government clarified today that mothers are, and always have been, free to breastfeed in public places. Breastfeeding mothers are also protected in law under the provision of goods, services and facilities section of the Sexual Discrimination Act when breastfeeding, whatever the age of the baby, in places such as cafes, restaurants, libraries, surgeries etc.

When Harriet Harman announced plans for the new Equality Bill three weeks ago, she could not have known that people around the country – and around the world -  would respond so strongly to her proposal to include the word ‘breastfeeding’ in the definition of maternity.

Under the new proposals, the government was stating that a mother, breastfeeding a child of six months or less, would now be more rigorously protected by law from discrimination. It was this six month cut off point that started panic amongst breastfeeding mothers who, in accord with WHO and Government Health guidelines, seek to breastfeed well beyond six months. They were concerned that they could now be discriminated against, for feeding a child older than six months when in public.

As Barbara Follett, Deputy Minister for Women and Equality, stated: “The law is not as clear as it could be. People are unsure of their rights and their responsibilities in this area. Some people also think that women can be charged with indecency for breastfeeding in a public place. This is utter nonsense and completely wrong”.

Barry Durdant-Hollamby, a communications specialist for The Art of Change, became concerned that mixed messages were being given out to the public, when he was alerted to a newspaper story suggesting that it was an offence to breastfeed in public. ‘I found it hard to believe that there could be a law suggesting that breastfeeding in public was an offence. And yet there was this story suggesting it was. And then I thought of all the young, vulnerable mothers – and of all the service providers such as the managers of food chains -  reading that same article and acting according to what they had read in the article. I had to get to the bottom of it. It has been a challenge, but I feel we can spread some positive light on all this now.’ 

As a result of Durdant-Hollamby’s investigations, the Government Equalities Office has confirmed that:

1)       There is not, and never has been, any law that prohibits a woman from breastfeeding a child of any age in public, for example in a cafe.

2)       The 1975 Sexual Discrimination Act created legal protection for a woman under the provision of goods, facilities and services section. This protection covered a woman breastfeeding a child, of any age, by implication, and meant that she could not be discriminated against for breastfeeding in places such as restaurants, cafes, surgeries, libraries etc.

3)       The 2008 amendment to the SDA brought in more specific cover under the wording of ‘maternity’ – this also brought in the first mention of a six-month period, as it is tied to broader maternity rights covering 6 months before and after birth – whereby a mother could also challenge the owner under the grounds of maternity

4)       The Equality Bill seeks to make it even more explicit that this maternity protection includes breastfeeding, by including the word breastfeeding in the statute.

So, for example, if a mother who is breastfeeding a 27 week old baby on a bus or in a café is asked to leave or to stop breastfeeding, she can take legal action on the grounds of sexual discrimination. If that same mother was feeding a child under 26 weeks, she could take action under the grounds of maternity or sexual discrimination.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said: “We, and our colleagues in the Baby Feeding Law Group, are pleased to see the Government making it clear that women are free to breastfeed in public and stating that these women are already protected under the Sexual Discrimination Act. During the consultation phase for the Single Equality Bill, we have also asked for there to be no age limit specified on the additional protection (provided under ‘maternity’) for breastfeeding in public. In many countries I visit, mothers do not give a thought to breastfeeding wherever they may be, which is quick and convenient and nobody sees it at odd.”

Only this week, the need for clarity was demonstrated when the junior manager of a McDonald’s asked a breastfeeding woman to leave the premises. Fortunately Head Office understood the law and offered an apology to the woman involved. It is this type of confusion that Durdant-Hollamby was determined to lift.

Deputy Minister for Women Barbara Follett concluded:  “Mothers have to be confident that they can breastfeed their infants in a café, restaurant or shop without the embarrassment of having the owner ask them to stop.  This type of discrimination has in fact been unlawful for more than thirty years, and the mother – with a baby of any age – could challenge the owner under the Sex Discrimination Act.”

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28 Responses to Breastfeeding in Public- The Laws Made Clear

  1. Rebecca January 26, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    As someone who is very self concious when breast feeding in public I find this post enlightening and feel I can feed publicly with confidence that I am ‘armed’ with knowledge. I only wish I could get a print out to take with me when I go out to use as back up! :-)

  2. Gail January 26, 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    A print out would definitely be useful! That was very informative, thank you!

  3. donna dixon January 28, 2010 at 4:06 pm #

    Well written and very informative, i wish i had known some of this when i have been asked to move etc due to me feding.
    Thankyou

  4. Claire January 14, 2011 at 12:56 am #

    Someone else who has taken what’s been said and not read what’s been written.

    If you are asked to leave or refused service then you have no choice but to go, you can’t call the police and ask for assistance as you can in Scotland. You can, at your own cost, get a solicitor and come back, but the burden of proof is on you.

    If you are harassed in a park, you have no protection. A mall by the security guard, no protection. On the bus by a passenger, no protection. In a restaurant by a fellow diner, no protection. In a supermarket by another shopper, no protection.

    I’d rather be protected in all situations than in theory by the toothless law that England has. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re protected, you’re not.

  5. Emma January 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    Claire, unfortunately you are not correct. If anyone asks you to leave an establishment simply refuse. It is then their burden to phsically remove you – which of course they wont because this would result in common assault which requires police intervention. Once this occurs you have the proof of a police report. A case like that would always be settled and never get to court and cost you nothing (CFA). Same for any other social incidents of harrassment which would merit police intervention if a proprietor (or bus driver!) did not intervene. I know all of this for a fact as I am a lawyer whose specialism is criminal litigation and sexual discrimination..!

  6. Deen February 13, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    What if you are asked to move to changing area while breastfeeding discretely while sitting on steps at shallow end?

  7. Deen February 13, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    Sorry above should say shallow end of swimmimg pool.

  8. Rhea Gale April 11, 2011 at 2:21 am #

    Very well said and it is informative. About comment number 4, Claire is not partially correct, it depends upon the person approach in talking to you.

  9. maz December 10, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    i was told to cover up today by retail staff and she was very rude about it, made me feel embarrised and so uncomfortable i walked out whilst feeding my child. Was she wrong to do this? Her reasoning was that there are men in the shop. I was sat in the femile section of the shoe shop at the time and my baby was fully latched on. She even told me there was a room for feeding across the shopping centre. Can anyone clear this up for me?

  10. liss January 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    so, if I want to get my boobs out just because they are beautiful , why is that wrong… when its OK to get a bloated engorged leaking veiny boob out just cos it has a kid clamped on the end of it . NEITHER IS OK

  11. Mrs Giggles February 11, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    No wonder the Breastfeeding Act 2010 was bought in with such shallow minded people such as the pathetic individual ‘liss’ and her last comment. Any woman who breastfeeds should be proud and have the confidence to feed in public. I have always found people around me publicly have been supportive and women and men alike have given me a small approving smile which I feel is very supportive and not peverted in any way. I also give the same smile to other nursing mothers as it gives them a confidence boost. Breastfeeding is beautiful and completely natural. Some people need to have a little think about why we have boobies in the first place!!!’

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