Last week a lady was asked to cover up when feeding her tiny baby in Claridges, of all places! A row ensued with some very strong opinions viewed. Of course Nigel Farage said something which was then over analysed and caused everyone to get very upset without really thinking about it too much.
I have an opinion on breastfeeding in public because I was fortunate to be able to feed my son and am still feeding my 20 month old daughter. So I have considerable, recent experience with this issue.
People often get very outspoken in their defence of breastfeeding women because breastfeeding (and being a mum) is very challenging. Especially when they are little; positioning is crucial to ensure the little one doesn’t get a blister on their top lip and that mum doesn’t get sore leading to having to give up sooner than otherwise.
Trying to feed under a shroud adds a new level to this already difficult procedure of meeting the immediate needs of a tiny human. Trust me, I don’t want strangers staring at my boobs so if you do see more than either of us would like then it was not intentional, please just look the otherway, or enjoy the wonder of new life.
We all know that “breast is best” for the health of both mum and baby, so how about we all try to be supportive of our fellow human beings doing the right thing.
Nobody should have to sit in the corner as Mr Farage suggested. While his comment has indeed been blown out of all proportion, I’m afraid that it is just unfortunate that he used the phrase:
“That’s up to Claridge’s. I think it should be. If you’re running an establishment you should have rules.”
I’m afraid any establishment “rule” which asks someone to sit in a corner because they are breastfeeding would, in a court of law, be discriminatory. The law on whether asking a feeding mother to cover up would count as discriminatory treatment is unfortunately less clear (see bottom of this article for “official advice”) and needs clarifying. This is something I will be looking into if I should be elected.
It is clearly very unkind to humiliate a mother who is minding her own business trying to have a nice time and simultaneously meet the needs of her small child, as summed up nicely by writer Deborah Orr:
“this indicates that human adults persist in believing that pandering to their own tastes and preferences is more important than supporting the nurture of babies”
So there has been a justifiable reaction to a few silly people putting the sensibilities of some very conservative folk before the wellbeing of babies and their mothers (offendable conservative folk who might not even really exist?).
As part of the ensuing campaign to protect and promote the rights of feeding mothers (and hence also their babies), I support the #ostentatiousbreastfeeding campaign.
Here is my daughter Skye, enjoying some milk… and waving, to try to be ostentatious about something so simple and natural.
Official Advice from the Equality Advisory Support Service
“Thank you for your e-mail to the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) dated 02 December 2014 regarding breast feeding.
The EASS provides advice and information on the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998.
We do recommend you consult a lawyer if you require legal advice, wish to take legal action or want advice on the merits of your case.
In your e-mail you explain that you are a breast feeding mother and given recent news stories (for instance the one relating to breast feeding in Claridges) you wish to know what your rights are when it comes to breast feeding in public places and how you would be able to officially make complaints or take action against people or places which discriminate against you.
For the Equality Act 2010 to apply you would need to have experienced discrimination that is related to one of the protected characteristics within the Equality Act 2010. There are nine protected characteristics defined within the Equality Act which are race, disability, sex (gender), age, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, religion or belief, pregnancy or maternity and marriage or civil partnership.
The issue of breast feeding could fall into under the protected characteristic of pregnancy and maternity or sex, depending on the age of the baby.
In relation to the rights of breast feeding mothers, service providers must not discriminate, harass or victimise a woman because she is breast feeding. Discrimination can include refusing to provide a service, providing a lower standard of service or providing a service on different terms.
If you are breast feeding a baby that is not more than 26 weeks old and experience unfavourable treatment by a service provider (for example being for asked to leave a café because you are breast feeding or being refused service) this could amount to pregnancy and maternity discrimination. However, if the baby is more than 26 weeks old this would fall outside of pregnancy and maternity discrimination and would need to be considered under the protected characteristic of sex as direct sex discrimination.
Direct discrimination occurs when a person treats another less favourably than they treat or would treat others because of a protected characteristic (for example sex). In order to show direct discrimination you would need to show:
That you have experienced less favourable treatment, (treatment that causes a detriment or disadvantage to you) for example that you were asked to leave/refused service.
That the reason for the less favourable treatment (i.e. the reason you were asked to leave/refused service) was because of your sex. So for example to show that you have been refused the service because you are breast feeding. The protected characteristic does not have to be the only reason for the treatment; however, it would need to be proved as a substantive reason for the treatment.
In order to show the above, you need to a comparator who can be a real or hypothetical person. The purpose of the comparator is to show how you have been treated less favourably than others are (or would be) treated in comparable circumstances. If a hypothetical comparator is used, it would be to establish how you (a woman) would have been treated if you were not breast feeding.
If you were to experience one of the above forms of discrimination (depending on the age of the child) you would first of all make a complaint to the service provider using their complaints procedure. However, if you were unable to resolve the issue with the service provider and escalated the complaint as far as possible with them, you have the right to make a claim to a county court. The time limit for making a claim to a county court is 6 months minus one day from the date of the discrimination.”