Breastfeeding in public: Why do it?

Babies eat little and often. For the same reasons adults and children need to eat in public, so do babies!

Why not?

In lots of countries nobody bats an eyelid. Unfortunately here in Ireland we have lost our breastfeeding culture, unlike Scandinavian countries like Norway that have a breastfeeding rate of 99%.

Mothers who choose not to breastfeed in public tend to breastfeed for shorter periods; generally well shy of the WHO and HSE recommendation of two years and beyond.

What laws protect breastfeeding mothers and how do they work?

The Equal Status Act (2000) protects people from discrimination and harassment (including sexual harassment) in the use of and access to a wide range of services including shops and restaurants. Protection for mothers breastfeeding in public is provided under two of the nine discriminatory grounds covered by the Act:

The Gender and Family Status grounds – This Act helps mothers to breastfeed comfortably in public places by protecting them from being discriminated against or harassed because they are breastfeeding. (Discrimination is less favourable treatment, for example, asking someone to leave a premises because they are breastfeeding.)

The Intoxicating Liquor Act (2003) – Section 19 protects against discrimination occurring in a public house and provides access to the District Court for redress. Harassment is unwanted conduct (of a sexual nature in the case of sexual harassment) related to any of the discriminatory grounds covered by the Equal Status Act which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person, in this case a breastfeeding mother.

What responsibilities do you have as a business?

Your only responsibility is to ensure that mothers are not hindered in any way in breastfeeding in your establishment, either by staff or other customers.

In the unlikely event that a customer were to complain about a mother breastfeeding, the customer in question should be informed of the law protecting breastfeeding mothers and their children.  Any other supportive measures for breastfeeding mothers are entirely optional.

How can I help breastfeeding mothers?

Most breastfeeding mothers will just get on with it, feeding their baby as and when it is necessary and there is no need for any special treatment. Some less confident mothers may ask you to assist them in finding somewhere they can feed more privately. Having a private space available is ideal but not always realistic; offering a booth in your restaurant or another quiet corner area which affords more privacy would be helpful to these.

What shouldn’t I do?

If a mother is happy feeding her baby wherever she happens to be, there is no need to approach.  In the event that a mother does request a private area to feed her baby/ child, the toilet is not an appropriate suggestion. You wouldn’t eat in there, no one else wants to either!