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Breastfeeding in public: legality, challenges and tips

Breastfeeding in public is a highly controversial topic—not only among breastfeeding mums, but also in society in general. While some mothers have no problem putting their little one to the breast in public places, others can’t even think of it without feeling uncomfortable.

Not to forget that some people might feel offended by the sight of a mother breastfeeding her baby in a café or restaurant. The fact that there is a certain social stigma to public breastfeeding is enough to put many mothers off the idea of nursing their baby when out and about.

But what does the law say about publicly nursing a child? Is breastfeeding allowed in public? What are the rules for breastfeeding in public in the UK? And how does breastfeeding in public work?

Is it appropriate to breastfeed in public?

Many mothers follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization and breastfeed their baby on demand. While breastfeeding on demand is easy to implement at home, it can quickly become complicated when out and about with the little one in tow. That’s because breastfeeding in public is anything but a natural course of action.

For one thing, many mothers simply don't feel comfortable with the idea of nursing their baby in restaurants, pubs or other public places because they are embarrassed to expose parts of their body. And for another thing, not everyone agrees with mothers breastfeeding their children in public places.

In fact, one could go as far as to say that there is a certain social stigma associated with breastfeeding in public. Many mothers are anxious about nursing their baby somewhere that is not the comfort of their own home because they are afraid to face stigmatisation and direct confrontation.

Very often, a disapproving look from someone passing by or being asked to stop breastfeeding by restaurant or bar owners is enough to make mothers switch to bottle-feeding when they’re somewhere public. But what does the law say about public breastfeeding in the UK?

While being confronted by strangers or asked to leave by the staff in a café or restaurant is definitely an unpleasant experience for breastfeeding mothers, there actually is some good news when it comes to breastfeeding in public, and that is that it’s totally legal in the UK. Even more than that, mothers who want to nurse their baby in public enjoy legal protection.

When it comes to breastfeeding in public, the UK has very clear rules. The 2010 Equality Act clearly states that treating a woman unfavourably just because she’s breastfeeding constitutes an act of discrimination. What this means is that it’s illegal for anyone (be it the staff at the café or restaurant where you’re having lunch or the employee at the public library) to ask you to stop breastfeeding or leave the premises.

Nor can they ask you to move to a different table or provide you with a lower service standard because doing so would, again, be an act of discrimination. As for the question of whether you have to cover up while breastfeeding in public in the UK, the answer would be a ‘no’. There is no law in the UK that requires mothers to cover up when nursing their baby in a public place, and mothers definitely don’t have to be worried about public decency issues.

Public places in the understanding of the law include public areas, such as parks and leisure facilities, public institutions, such as hospitals, theatres or libraries, public means of transport, as well as restaurants, cafes, bars, cinemas, and more.

In Scotland, breastfeeding mothers enjoy even greater legal protection. The Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 states that “it is an offence deliberately to prevent or stop a person in charge of a child from feeding milk to that child in a public place or on licensed premises”. According to the provisions of the law, a person who doesn’t respect a mother’s right to breastfeed in public can be fined for up to £2,500.

Breastfeeding in public: tips for making it work

Now that we know that breastfeeding in public is perfectly legal, the next question to address is: How does breastfeeding in public work? Basically, there’s no difference between breastfeeding at home and in public. But there are a few things you can do to make the experience more comfortable for you and your baby. Here are the best breastfeeding-in-public tips:

  • Practise at home: Getting other family members or friends to sit with you while you breastfeed is good practice for breastfeeding in public and will help you get used to people watching you breastfeed. This is especially important for mothers who feel insecure about nursing their baby when out and about.
  • Think about possible locations for breastfeeding breaks: It’s impossible to know when your little one will be hungry. Since finding a suitable spot for breastfeeding can take some time, it’s best to think about suitable places for breastfeeding before you leave home.
  • Pack everything you need: In order to make breastfeeding in public a success, you should bring all the breastfeeding accessories you usually use at home. It may not be possible to bring your breastfeeding pillow, but smaller items such as silver nursing cups or nursing pads easily fit into your bag.
  • Choose appropriate clothing: Whatever you wear for your day out with your baby, make sure the clothes you choose allow you to breastfeed without exposing a lot of skin. Wearing a nursing bra and a nursing top under your normal clothing is usually all you need to be able to breastfeed your baby discreetly.
  • Use a baby sling, scarf or baby blanket: Many mothers start feeling uncomfortable as soon as they’re being watched while breastfeeding in public. To avoid this, you can bring a baby sling or scarf to cover your breast and your baby’s head. You can also use a baby blanket for this purpose.
  • Watch out for early signs of hunger: Every mum knows that breastfeeding an agitated baby who is crying with hunger is no fun. To take the stress out of breastfeeding in public, you should offer your baby the breast as soon as he or she shows any signs of hunger. If your little one has already started eating solids, you can also try to distract him or her with a little snack until you find a suitable spot for breastfeeding.
  • Don't let verbal confrontations intimidate you: Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world and keeps both you and your baby healthy. Remember this every time someone tries to put you off breastfeeding in public.
  • Choose the right breastfeeding position: There are many different breastfeeding positions, but not all of them lend themselves to breastfeeding in public. While lying down for your baby’s next feeding is near impossible when out and about, the cradle hold is absolutely perfect for nursing your baby in a café, a restaurant or any other public space.

How to do laid-back breastfeeding in public?

The cradle hold is not the only breastfeeding position you can do when you need to feed your baby in a public place. Depending on where you are, you might also be able to nurse your little one in the laid-back position. After all, you don’t need to recline as far as lying down.

Many cafés and libraries have comfortable upholstered chairs or even slightly reclined armchairs that are perfect for laid-back nursing. Coats or bags can provide additional comfort when leaning backwards, and then you’re good to go. Just remember to wear comfortable clothes that allow your baby to access your breast and latch on properly.

Where to find support for breastfeeding in public?

As a mother, you have a right to breastfeed your baby in public whenever you want. And since breast milk is the best nutrition for infants, you shouldn’t prevent your baby from getting as many feedings as he or she needs. So, if you still feel anxious about breastfeeding in public, it’s important to overcome whatever reservations you may have.

If you struggle to get there on your own, it’s best to seek professional support and ask your midwife or lactation consultant for help. They can provide you with valuable tips on how to breastfeed in public and can also check your breastfeeding technique so that you can be sure that everything will run smoothly.

It also helps to talk to other breastfeeding mothers and ask what their experience with breastfeeding in public is. Hearing about positive experiences can help boost your confidence and develop a more positive attitude towards nursing in public places. If you don’t have other breastfeeding mums in your friendship circle, you can visit a breastfeeding café or join a breastfeeding group.

Breastfeeding in public is every mum’s right

Breastfeeding in public may be controversial, but it’s important to remember that you have every right to nurse your baby when you’re in a public space. Breastfeeding mums enjoy legal protection in the UK and restaurant and café owners have no right to ask you to leave or to not breastfeed on their premises. So don’t be intimidated when you get confronted.

Breastfeeding on demand is the best thing you can do for your baby and no one should stop you from giving your little one access to breast milk whenever he or she needs it. And let’s be honest, breastfeeding is way more convenient than carrying around all the equipment needed to prepare and feed formula.

Breastfeeding in public: legality, challenges and tips

2023-05-31 12:00:00
Breastfeeding in public: legality, challenges and tips - Breastfeeding in public: legality, challenges and tips

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