Gloucestershire’s mums should be encouraged to breastfeed wherever they can, according to parental charities and health organisations.
Last month more than 2,600 people responded to a ThisIsGloucestershire poll on whether mums should be allowed to breastfeed in restaurants. More than two-thirds (69 per cent) said they should.
Campaign and health groups have support the majority of respondents but said that the significant minority view can cause nervous new mums to feel humiliated and intimidated.
The Equality Act, passed in April 2010, states that mums cannot be discriminated against or asked to leave a venue because they are breastfeeding in public.
But the health benefits – breastfeeding is good for the baby’s immune system and development and can reduce the risk of cancer among mums – are sometimes overshadowed by social awkwardness.
This can even cause staff in public places which are unaware of the law to ask mums to stop breastfeeding, for example in restaurants.
Rosie Dodds, senior policy adviser for NCT, the UK’s largest charity for parents said: “Breastfeeding can bring about long-term benefits and is beneficial for both mum and baby. Breastmilk contains many ingredients which help a baby stay healthy, such as antibodies to fight germs and hormones that help a baby’s development. For mums, breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer and helps the uterus return to its normal size after birth.”
“It is important that mums are able to breastfeed whenever and wherever they can.
Steven Johnson, founder of campaign organisation Collaborative Change, said that while the benefits are widely known, the prevailing attitude among more socio-economically deprived groups tends to be that breastfeeding isn’t “the done thing”.
He said support needs to come from friends and family, as well as from those responsible for public places. The benefits, he said, would not only affect the health of the babies and their mothers but also save money for families and the health services.
He said: “Breastfeeding in public places is a massive barrier for these mums. They already feel that the people around them frown on breastfeeding, so doing it in public can be extremely daunting. In situations where retail or public establishments actively discourage breastfeeding, this is felt as almost an establishment ratification of the bottlefeeding norm and can be extremely damaging.
“The public declaration is at least as important as the provision of a comfortable environment when it comes to tackling wider societal norms.”
Nicole Hastie is chairwoman of Gloucester Breastfeeding Supporters Network (GBSN). She said: “Breastfeeding is such a natural and discreet act which is frequently sensationalised, which says far more about the UK's attitude to women's bodies than it does about the natural and ancient act of feeding a human baby.
“How a mum chooses to feed her baby is a personal choice that should be supported by those around her.
“Nursing in public shows less of a mum's body than some of the more revealing fashions, such as plunged necklines. Mums who need to feed their babies are always aware of the possibility of a negative response and I've never met a mum who wanted to be the centre of attention for this. They just wish to continue theirs and their baby's meal in peace.”
GBSN, together with Gloucestershire PCT, is running a campaign called Gloucestershire Welcomes Breastfeeding, promoting baby-friendly places to eat out in the county.
The campaign has its own growing Facebook page and one of the 121 current supporters is the Subway fast food chain branch in St Oswald’s, Gloucester. Franchisee and father-of-three Mario Bassi said: “We take pride in our store’s open and family-friendly environment. We sincerely hope it is a place that busy new mums feel comfortable and happy to breastfeed their children in.”