We too often see in the online news-sphere stories about Mum's told to cover up their babies when breastfeeding, or even shockingly made to leave certain public spaces whether or not they comply. Thankfully a new trend may be taking hold, as observant passers-by have started photographing all the signs and stickers that signify which cafes, restaurants and other establishments will happily welcome any mother and their hungry little ones for a bit of rest.
As today marks the start of World Breastfeeding Week 2014, we've got to thinking not only about the legality of breastfeeding in public, in which there's plenty of myths and hidden concerns, but also the history of this controversy both here and abroad. We've tried to gather as many facts and important facets of this issue as possible, but if you do spot something in our examination that's debatable or completely mistaken, please let us know in the comments. Anyway, without further adieu...
Breastfeeding's legal status in Britain
In the United Kingdom, the main piece of legislation of relevance here is the Equality Act, which came into force in October 2010. It essentially says that to treat a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding would be tantamount to sex discrimination, and is not allowed by anyone providing services, benefits, facilities and premises to the public, public bodies, education (both further and higher) bodies and associations. In practice this means that a café owner cannot ask you to stop breastfeeding or refuse service to you if you don't, a cinema can't eject you from the premises and a University couldn't refuse you access to its facilities if you wanted to breastfeed.
There was a slight furore when this act was coming to pass, as it seemed to suggest these provisions only applied to mothers feeding children 6 months or under. It was quickly made clear however that what was originally meant was that, say, if you you were asked to leave a public place for breastfeeding your 20 week old child you could actually take action under the grounds of both maternity AND sexual discrimination (after 26 weeks, you can only call upon the latter).
In fact one of the only situations anyone can make you leave or stop breastfeeding is if you try to do it in a place that specifically offers a single sex service for men (and it has to be justified that it is required only by men or more-so by men). This can include charities and voluntary groups designed specifically to benefit a single sex, or religious organisations which might have grounds to object to the presence of the opposite sex if its part of their doctrine. It's also not against the law to stop a woman breastfeeding where there's legitimate health concerns or safety risks in her doing so (e.g. exposure to chemicals or radiation. Not a likely scenario, but still...)
In everyday practice, though the law is on your side, the public perception against breastfeeding may be a greater hurdle for some. Photographing breast-friendly signs is really a highlight that though all restaurants, cafes etc. must allow breastfeeding, not all welcome it. In some cases, even when the place is fine for feeding, some Mum's choose modesty as a personal preference - this is the reason we've an ever-growing range of nursing aprons and covers.
Lists of breast-friendly establishments shouldn't be necessary, but they do exist solely to ensure that you never feel pressured into leaving a place, or worse, breastfeeding in the loo or something equally ghastly.
The History of Public Breastfeeding Laws and Opinion
In England and mainland Europe, breastfeeding's history and status has been linked very much to the changing role of women in society, and the slow but sure readdressing of gender equality. As a unique duty of women, breastfeeding during the 18th century was invariably tied into encouraging women to stay at home. High mortality rates, cited as a side-effect of the common practice of wet nursing, inevitably lead to European governments advising or even requiring higher class women to nurse their own children.
There was a significant decline of breastfeeding in the western world between the late 1800's and 1960's, as many associated it with the uneducated and lower class. Onwards from that point however, ideals changed in the public, and also in more enlightened scientific information. It's because of the latter we can thank the huge resurgence and step forward made in the last few decades. Health departments have now long since advised governments to the health and societal benefits of open feeding, and we have laws and public facilities that protect the rights of breastfeeding mothers like never before.
In the post-2000's, breastfeeding opinions tend to come to light whenever a single hot-button event pushes everyone's limits. Whether that's the Mother & Baby magazine 'creepy' comment, the issue of Facebook's supposed decency code violations or comments from current Pope Francis encouraging mothers by saying: "If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice." You know where we stand on these issues, but what's your take?