New law will protect breastfeeding mothers in Northern Ireland
A new law is to be introduced by the Health Minister to protect and allow Northern Ireland mothers to breastfeed their children in public without interruption.
The Sinn Fein MLA said the legislation will give breast and bottle-feeding mothers access to feed their children with "confidence and without interruption" in a public place.
Northern Ireland has the lowest rates for breastfeeding in the UK.
Mothers here who choose to breastfeed do so for a shorter period than those in Great Britain, the Health Department highlighted.
Mrs O'Neill said: “I have listened to mothers and am convinced that specific legislation is a pro-active and necessary approach to ensure that the rights of mothers and their children are fully protected. It will ensure that breast and bottle-feeding mothers are given equal access to feed their children with confidence and without interruption in a public place.
“My Department’s Breastfeeding Strategy 2013-2023, includes a strategic action to introduce legislation to support and protect breastfeeding infants and their mothers in public places.
"I intend to take this forward and I aim to do it as quickly as possible. The details of this legislation will be consulted upon as soon practicable and I hope to introduce this to the Assembly at the earliest possible date.”
The Minister added: “The reasons why women choose not to breastfeed, or stop breastfeeding, are varied and complex. We need to provide support to mothers and address the negative influences.
"This legislation will contribute to increasing public tolerance and acceptability of breastfeeding, as part of a range of activities to improve our breastfeeding rates.”
Earlier this year a debate began following an independent review that said MPs should be allowed to breastfeed in the parliamentary chamber.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson questioned women's "motives" for wanting to breastfeed in the chamber.
The East Antrim MP initially described it as "voyeuristic" before changing the word to "exhibitionism".
The DUP distanced itself from Mr Wilson's comments saying they represented a "personal view".
Mr Wilson also spoke more broadly on the topic and said that women outside of the chamber should also seek to find a more "private" place to feed their children as "the woman has to expose her breasts".
"I think the very nature of the action is something that should be a more private action rather than a public.
He added: "Where it is possible it should be a private action."