Where can you breastfeed?

We’ve been pretty heavily immersed in cycling stuff recently, so let’s switch back over to the baby side of this blog and talk about breastfeeding.

Given I lack the equipment to be able to comment on most practical aspects of breastfeeding (no matter how hopefully Owen suckles on my shoulder…), I’m instead going to look at where breastfeeding is allowed and what rights you have as a breastfeeding mum within the UK (and more specifically within Scotland).

As usual, if you want to read along I’ll be digging through the Equality Act 2010, the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005, and a few other bits and pieces I’ll link to as we go. Quotes in italics.

Given we venture into stuff involving your job, please remember I’m just a nosey chap on the internet writing about bikes and babies. If your livelihood relies on this, please go and find a lawyer!

Breastfeeding outside your home

… is pretty intimidating, by all accounts. The NCT has a whole bunch of information on the subject here (including Out & About—Where can I breastfeed?), and the NHS has also written about breastfeeding in public. All I can add in support is that you’re doing the best thing for you and your baby, and passers-by honestly can’t see anything.

Some general tips if you’re with someone breastfeeding:

  • Don’t be a bizarre 21st century prude. Feeding babies is what breasts are for, after all. Don’t wander off and hide, suggest that mum waits until you’re back home, or make any other disparaging comments. If you’re slightly uncomfortable with breastfeeding, tough; it’s not as if you’re the one having to expose yourself in a society that generally frowns on nudity outside of Page 3. I could summarise this bullet with the delightful phrase “suck it up, princess”.
  • Don’t overreact. Popping up a portable gazebo in the middle of Costa and then guarding the entrance is too much. Just because mum is breastfeeding doesn’t mean she can’t continue talking (or wolf down a second slice of the carrot cake).
  • If you’re picking seats in a café, park, or wherever, maybe go for ones slightly off to the side.
  • Breastfeeding is spectacularly dehydrating. Make it your job to ensure you’ve got a big bottle of water with you before you leave the house (along with all the other baby paraphernalia like nappies, wipes, bibs and muslins).
  • Why haven’t you gone for the second slice of cake, yet?

Moving on:

Where can you breastfeed in Scotland?

All public places and licensed premises, providing your child is allowed there in the first place

This is all covered by the short and snappy Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005. There’s also a handy guide.

In Scotland you can feed in any public place or licensed premises, as long as your child is at that point lawfully allowed to be in that public place or licensed premises. So if children aren’t allowed into a pub after a certain time anyway, for example, breastfeeding doesn’t overrule that.

Public place means anywhere that the public or any section of the public has access, on payment or otherwise, as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission. When combined with Scotland’s world-leading outdoor public access rights through the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, this covers pretty much anywhere that you’d ever consider breastfeeding: shopping centres, supermarkets, restaurants, cafés, libraries, museums, public transport (including taxis), parks and gardens, hospitals, places of worship, etc.

Licensed premises includes places that serve alcohol, as well as theatres and cinemas, etc, although these are all pretty much covered by the public places bit above.

All this applies to any child under the age of two being fed milk, whether by breast or bottle. It protects the person in charge of [the] child, so if you’re a dad feeding with a bottle, you’re covered too. You’re also still “in charge” even if the delightful child in question is running around you screaming.

Somebody attempting to prevent or stop this feeding taking place is guilty of an offence, with a maximum fine of £2,500. If that somebody is operating in the course of [their] employment then their employer is also regarded as having committed the same offence, even if it was done without the employer’s knowledge or approval. There is some wiggle-room for employers if they can demonstrate that they had educated their employees in advance.

Before we leave the Breastfeeding etc. Act, it has a final bonus in section 4:

Scottish Ministers shall make arrangements, to such extent as they consider necessary to meet all reasonable requirements, for the purpose of supporting and encouraging the breastfeeding of children by their mothers.

If you’re having problems with breastfeeding and want a bit of political clout to back you up, this is the bit to wave at your MSP.

The situation once you return to work is a little more complicated

Health Scotland has a cracking guide called Breastfeeding and Returning to Work. Well worth a read. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also has a more tedious/comprehensive FAQ section here.

Firstly, HSE states that you should provide written notice that you’ll be continuing to breastfeed on returning to work (even if you’ll be expressing at work rather than directly feeding).

Next, if you work in a public place or licensed premises in Scotland, then you’re covered by the Breastfeeding Act above. Result.

If not, then we need to hop between a bunch of different pieces of paper.

Firstly, arm yourself with this statement from the HSE:

Obstacles to breastfeeding in the workplace may significantly affect the health of both mother and child.

This is because of the known health benefits to mum and baby that come from breastfeeding. We’ll use it to trigger the health and safety laws that require your employer to look after you—not being able to feed your child with your own milk is a risk.

Your employer must then complete a risk assessment (triggered by your written notice), in line with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. In particular, §16 requires consideration for workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. Your employer must do all that is reasonable to help you continue to provide breastmilk for your baby.

Suggested (but not mandatory) actions to mitigate this risk include alter[ing] [mum’s] working conditions or hours of work and, if necessary, suspend[ing] [mum] from work for so long as is necessary to avoid such risk. §17 of the regulations specifically applies if you’re a new mum working night shifts. Other possibilities your employer should consider (not from the Act, but from the Health Scotland guide) include access to a private room to breastfeed or express and secure, clean refrigerators and sterilising equipment. Lots of different documents state clearly that a toilet is not fit for feeding or expressing.

An employer must provide suitable rest facilities for nursing mothers…near to sanitation facilities and [including] the facility to lie down (from the guide to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992). The lying down bit is important, as elsewhere in the guide work areas, canteens and restaurants can count as rest areas. If your work area already includes the ability to lie down, then I’m jealous.

The Equality Act 2010 specifically prohibits treating a woman unfavourably because she has given birth…, in particular, … treating her unfavourably because she is breast-feeding (§17 ¶3 and 4). More on this in the next section.

The Work and Families Act 2006 §12 also has a bit on flexible working, if you haven’t already managed to get a workable deal together.

If you work in the public sector (health service, government, civil service, police and fire, etc), the EU Council Directive 92/85/EEC will definitely be of use (in particular Article 5, which gives a very strong statement on what your employer must do to protect breastfeeding mums).

Where can you breastfeed in the rest of the UK?

It’s similar to Scotland, except you can’t rely on the explicitly clear Breastfeeding etc. Act. The breastfeeding-at-work elements are almost identical, but for breastfeeding in a public place you need to use the Equality Act 2010 as there’s no specific breastfeeding legislation.

The Equality Act prevents anyone who provides a service from providing a lesser service to you just because you’re breastfeeding. So a café couldn’t treat you any differently to a non-breastfeeding woman (eg by asking you to move on). In the wording of the Act there’s no difference between refusing to serve someone breastfeeding and refusing to serve someone because of the colour of their skin, so it’s pretty serious stuff.

However, whilst the Scottish legislation applies to anyone trying to prevent you breastfeeding, the Equality Act only applies to those who you’re trying to procure a service from. As such, I think some oik could technically ask you to stop feeding in public in England without committing an offense. You wouldn’t have to stop, but there’s nothing stopping someone asking apart from their own sense of decency.

The conclusion?

If you want clear support from legislation from breastfeeding, visit Scotland…

PS If you happen to have experience in this area and spot a mistake, or have tales of what arguments worked well with your employer, please let me know in the comments!

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