Poll: Do you find breastfeeding in public offensive?
13% of people in Northern Ireland say it is embarrassing
Four percent of people in Northern Ireland have said they find breastfeeding offensive and distasteful, according to a new health survey.
More than one in 10 people who responded to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety questionnaire said they believe that women should only breastfeed their babies at home or in private, with 13% of respondents branding it embarrassing.
While the majority of people said women should be made to feel comfortable when breastfeeding, a leading figure at the Public Health Agency (PHA) said the figures show more work is needed to ensure women in Northern Ireland feel confident they can breastfeed in public.
Janet Calvert said: "These figures are disappointing, although they aren't a surprise.
"Women should never be made to feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding as they really are doing what is best for their baby's and their own health."
The survey asked for opinions on breastfeeding, including whether breastfeeding is good for the baby and whether it is normal, offensive, distasteful or embarrassing.
Despite extensive research lauding the benefits of breastfeeding, only half of respondents agreed that breastfed babies get fewer ear, chest and kidney infections.
Meanwhile, more than 70% of people said there should be a law in Northern Ireland to protect women who want to breastfeed women in public and Ms Calvert said she would support such legislation as it would provide mums with more confidence when making the choice to breastfeed.
"If you were only to breastfeed when you were at home, you would never be able to go out," she said.
"I think these figures show that we still have some way to go to educate the public about the importance of breastfeeding. We want to normalise breastfeeding so that every woman who chooses to do this can feel confident they aren't going to be criticised.
"It can be difficult enough and just the worry that someone may say something to them about breastfeeding can make mums much more anxious. All it takes is a funny look or a tut from someone to make a woman feel uncomfortable.
"Sadly, it can actually be older women who are more judgmental and that is something we're working to address."
Ms Calvert said the PHA has a number of initiatives aimed at educating the public on the importance of breastfeeding - among these is the Breastfeeding Welcome Here scheme, which has already recruited more than 400 businesses to sign up since its launch.
It has also attracted the support of Stormont, with speaker Mitchel McLaughlin stating he would permit MLAs to breastfeed in the Assembly chamber.