Belfast Telegraph

Plan for new law to halt harassment of breastfeeding mums in Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

People in Northern Ireland who attempt to prevent mums from breastfeeding could face fines of up to £2,500.

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill intends to bring forward a new law providing extra protection for breastfeeding women.

Northern Ireland has the lowest rates for breastfeeding in the UK.

The legislation would make it an offence to deliberately prevent a woman from breastfeeding a child aged under two in a public place or licensed premises.

It would be similar to a law in Scotland, where offenders can be fined up to £2,500.

The issue has been in the spotlight locally.

Several months ago Liz Skelcher was feeding her 11-week-old daughter in a Nando's restaurant in Belfast.

She was reprimanded by three young females, who said she was putting them off their food.

They refused to move to another table.

The DUP's Sammy Wilson came under fire when he accused an MP who breastfed her child in the Commons chamber of "exhibitionism".

Four years ago a Stormont report concluded breastfeeding promoted health, prevented disease and helped contribute to reducing health inequalities.

Breastfeeding initiation rates in Northern Ireland soared over the 20-year period up to 2010 - from 36% to 64% - suggesting that more women want to breastfeed than bottle-feed. Nonetheless, breastfeeding rates here remained static for the past five years, and are lowest among mothers from a poorer background.

Women in Northern Ireland who choose to breastfeed also do so for a shorter period than their counterparts in Britain, the report stated.

Ms O'Neill said: "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."

The move has been welcomed by parents' groups.

Muriel Bailey, director for family support services at Parenting NI, said: "Northern Ireland would have the lowest rate of breastfeeding in the UK, particularly among young mums, and this needs to change."

Anne-Marie O'Leary, editor of the online forum Netmums, said: "In reality, we still have a long way to go before a lot of mums feel comfortable feeding out and about without worrying about comments and stares."

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