Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Why it's people's minds that need changed on breastfeeding

Baby debate: the law should keep out of it

Here comes the Breastfeeding Brigade again, bellowing about their leaky boobs and the amazing powers they possess. There's nothing quite as angry as an earth mother who thinks someone is trying to take away her right to breastfeed anywhere and everywhere she likes.

But the fact is that nursing mothers already have the right to feed anywhere and everywhere they like. So there's no absolutely no need for the Stormont Department of Health to launch a public consultation on whether the law should be strengthened so that businesses can be fined if they don't let mothers flow free on their premises.

Northern Ireland has lower rates of women breastfeeding than the rest of the UK but it's a complete nonsense to blame that on weak laws. It's ridiculous to think that bringing in stronger legislation would somehow see rates rocket, because it wouldn't.

That's because the law is not the problem. When did you last hear of anyone being thrown out of a cafe, restaurant or any other public place here for breastfeeding? It's simply not a widespread problem.

I can only think of one case to hit the headlines in Northern Ireland in recent years, when a young mother was asked to stop feeding her baby in a public space. She got a prompt apology when it emerged it was down to the intervention of just one member of staff who didn't know his employer was a supporter of breastfeeding.

All the law would have done in that case was hand a hefty fine to a well-meaning and publicly funded organisation.

The law in Northern Ireland is not as strong as the rest of the UK, granted, but women here are still protected from being discriminated against if breastfeeding. So if women aren't being thrown out or asked to stand in a cupboard to feed in the first place, then why does the law need to be strengthened?

What makes feeding in public an uncomfortable experience is the reaction of those around you – not slack legislation. A law won't stop that, only a change in mindset can do that and heaping more bureaucracy on businesses is a strange way of going about it.

Before you think I'm anti-breastfeeding, I'm not. I did my six-month sentence of nursing and I got the badges to prove it. I got the Mastitis and Abscess badges along with the Embarrassing Public Squirts and Leaks one, too.

I agree fully it is a wonderful experience for those who can do it, and without doubt the best start for a baby. It's not without difficulty but of all the problems I had, getting thrown out on the street or looked at askance in a public space was never among them.

What I'm against is the introduction of a law that just isn't needed. I'm against the waste of public time and money on a needless consultation that will likely only attract responses from this band of nursing mothers who shout militantly about their rights – or else!

It is possible to breastfeed without making an almighty fuss. There are discreet ways to feed in public, and I too have felt uncomfortable in the company of the not-so-discreet.

I often felt uncomfortable feeding in public myself, not because anyone ever made me feel that way but because I personally felt awkward. It's my right to feel like that as much as it is any other mother's to feel liberated.

Can't we just leave the law-makers to make better use of their time? Can't we leave businesses alone? We need to change the mindset of many in order to push up breastfeeding rates – and rubbing people's faces in a swollen bosom just isn't going to help.

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