Let mothers breastfeed - wherever they choose

A fall in breastfeeding harms the nation's health, and increases NHS spending

Share
Related Topics

It’s an item we see come around with the regularity of “big cat in August” stories: “woman told to stop breastfeeding in shop/office/library”. The traditional response is a breastfeeding flash mob, a heartfelt apology from the management - then we move on with all seemingly forgotten.

The latest of these stories emerged last week: Tara Powell was left in tears after a female Jobcentre adviser told her feeding her baby in an attempt to calm him during a one-on-one meeting in a private room was “disgusting”. 

Rightly, the centre manager apologised on the spot, and that apology has since been repeated by the Department for Work and Pensions, but the time has come to stop repeating this cycle – and to stop the no doubt many hundreds of similar incidents that never make the media.

They shouldn’t be reoccurring: there is some protection (though not in Northern Ireland) from the 2010 Equalities Act, which indicates that treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding is sex discrimination, but action under this requires the woman to make a complaint, then follow it through a long and taxing process to get redress.

And perhaps as a result, incidents do not seem to have reduced since the Act’s introduction.

Instead, a clear message must be sent that incidents like this must stop – and we have a model of the way forward close at hand.

In 2005 Scotland passed a law making it an offence to try to stop breastfeeding in public places, and businesses who break the law risk a fine of up to £2,500.

Since then, it’s hard to find a case of women being stopped from breastfeeding in Scotland, unlike England in particular, where they seem to crop up as regular as clockwork.

That’s why the Green Party is calling for a similar law for England and Wales.

It’s not that we’d want or expect to see swathes of prosecutions and fines – but it would send a powerful message to businesses that it’s their responsibility to ensure staff know that they must not discriminate against breastfeeding mothers.

The issue is particularly pressing given the recent figures on breastfeeding rates in England, which show the first drop in rates since the NHS started collecting figures in 2004. Previously the trend had been for a too-slow, but at least continuing, increase in rates of starting breastfeeding of about 1 per cent a year.

That’s despite the fact that we know that breastfeeding has multiple benefits: for the baby lower rates of chest, ear and intestinal infections, less chance of developing eczema and lower risk of diabetes in later life; for the mother reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, easier weight-loss, and, it has been recently found, possibly reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

This is also an issue of social equality – all of the figures across the UK show that poorer women and those with less education are less likely to breastfeed, even though there are considerable financial advantages to breastfeeding.

We must make sure that undue pressure isn't put on women to breastfeed - it must an individual choice - but it also must be an informed choice where all possible support and help is provided.

And the reduction in the numbers of women starting breastfeeding can’t, despite the claims of the gentleman I was debating this issue with on Radio Ulster Tuesday morning, be put down to “increasing social conservatism”. 

Instead the Royal College of Midwives’ explanation, that this government has cut funding for efforts to support and encourage breastfeeding in England, is far more plausible.

National Breastfeeding Awareness Week was scrapped, the post of National Breastfeeding Co-ordinator removed, and funding ended for Infant Feeding Co-ordinators in the most disadvantaged communities.

Meanwhile, the makers of formula milk engage in extensive promotional efforts, run glossy adverts and at the moment are having too much of the ground left solely to them. The NHS needs to promote breastfeeding with similar tactics, and ensure that the best possible support is provided to mothers both to start breastfeeding, and to deal with any difficulties.

This is the right thing to do for the long-term health of the nation – and it also makes financial sense:  in 2012 Unicef calculated that the NHS could save £40 million a year through better promotion of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding rates in England are heading in the wrong direction, so we need to provide support for mothers in every way we can – by ensuring they feel comfortable feeding their babies in public places, and providing the education and support they need.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Rohingya migrants in a boat adrift in the Andaman Sea last week  

Burma will regret shutting its eyes to the fate of the Rohingya boat people

Peter Popham
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor