Did you know that you have a legal right to breastfeed in a public place – apart from where there’s a legitimate health and safety risk (eg close to dangerous chemicals) or in a men-only environment.
So, if you get challenged just mention the Equality Act 2010, which has made it illegal for anyone to ask a breastfeeding woman to stop or to leave a public place such as a cafe, shop or public transport.
Clearly the message is lost on some over-zealous staff. Here are some of the worst offenders whose employers have had to backtrack and issue apologies…
In a café
It’s always best to choose your words carefully when speaking to a member of the press – especially one who’s breastfeeding. A security guard at the O2 shopping centre in North London learnt the hard way when he told Channel 4 reporter and filmmaker, Jenny Kleeman, to stop breastfeeding in a café because a “customer had complained”. Apparently he expected her to use “a folding chair next to the nappy bins in the baby changing cupboard”.
“I was feeding my son, incredibly discreetly, with a friend of mine when a security guard approached me,” she told The Evening Standard.
“I said I was fine at the table, and he said it was not allowed. When I challenged him saying it was against the law to try to prohibit me, he said it was private property and he did not make the rules.”
Ahh, we’re wondering where he got those ‘rules’ from?
At afternoon tea at Claridges
OK, Claridges didn’t technically ban Louise Burns, but they certainly made her feel really uncomfortable. The mother was told to ‘cover up’ at the posh establishment and describes the event as ‘humiliating’. The mum of a 12-week-old girl was having afternoon tea with her mum and sister when she was told by a waiter that it was against hotel policy to breastfeed without having a large cloth completely covering her baby.
She tweeted pictures of her breastfeeding normally and then the ‘Claridges way’: “Asked to cover up with this ridiculous shroud while #breastfeeding so not to cause offence,” she captioned the picture. “..SO much more obvious with it than without! Such a shame, I can never go back…. @ClaridgesHotel #breastfeeding”
At McDonalds – in Hungary
A Happy Meal was not on the menu for Erika Schmidt when she went to McDonalds. The mother was told to leave the restaurant for discreetly breastfeeding her baby one morning, in one of its fast food eateries in Hungary. Erika was quite rightly fuming and took to Facebook to vent her anger, which spurred an angry gathering of 7 mums ‘breastfeeding’ in defiance at the branch in question.
“Very few women nurse their babies in public in Hungary, because they are afraid they will be harassed or treated disrespectfully,” says Erika.
“This was the first time women have gathered to show their solidarity to each other – it was marvellous.”
In a swimming pool
We reckon this one’s a bit Marmite. Bodily fluids and swimming pools aren’t a great mix. And perhaps that’s why. Certainly Tamara Ecclestone got a bit of flak when she posted the above pic showing her breastfeeding her daughter Sophia in a pool while on holiday. Most of her fans were supportive, but then Katie Hopkins waded into the argument and it all got a bit unpleasant.
“I didn’t realise that it was going to cause so much controversy,” Tamara explained afterwards. “I didn’t realise that people would have so many opinions on it, I just thought it was a beautiful photograph of the person that I love so much and on holiday.”
Other mums have been fighting their own breastfeeding battles in less glamorous swimming pools.
Staff at a Cambridge pool referred to the ‘no food or drink’ rule – yes, even breast milk – when Imajica Gilroy was asked not to feed her 9-month-old son. A lifeguard told her that “customers of all ages” were not allowed to consume food or drink in the pool. “I want to show Parkside Pool that breastfeeding is a wholly natural thing,” she argued. “Women should not feel awkward or segregated while feeding their baby.”
Mum Stephanie Wilby was accused of “indecent exposure” at the Manchester Aquatic Centre. She was told by a member of staff that if she didn’t stop, they would have to call security.
A leisure centre in Ashford has paid the highest price and had to go one step further than issuing an apology by giving Sophie Howes compensation. “I decided to take a stance as I believe no woman should be made to feel embarrassed by wanting to breastfeed their child in public,” she said when she was told she had “offended” a lifeguard.
“Women have rights to be protected from less favourable treatment and to equal access to facilities just because they want to breastfeed their children.”
At a children’s store
You would think a children’s store would be welcoming to mums, but when Rebecca Lunt was breastfeeding her 12-week-old daughter, Isla, in a branch of Kiddicare, she was told to stop after a customer complained.
“It takes a lot of courage to breastfeed in public,” she said. “I always try to be discreet as possible when feeding in public. There were women walking around with shorts and vests that day that would’ve been showing more flesh.”
In a bridal shop
Josephine Fenton had the foresight to call ahead before turning up at her appointment with a Manchester bridal shop with her 7-month-old baby. She alleges she was told it was OK for her baby Ella to come – but she couldn’t breastfeed her daughter in the shop just in case she “would spurt milk all over the dresses”. After deciding she would still go ahead with the appointment, she decided to leave her baby in the car with her partner but says she was then told that if she needed to feed her daughter, she’d have to do it on the street. However, the shop deny Josephine’s claims.
In a hospital
Of all places, you’d think a hospital would be the last place you would be hassled. Gemma Murphy was ushered into a private room when she went to St Cross Hospital in Rugby for blood tests – to avoid her ‘upsetting other patients’.
“It made me feel like I shouldn’t be able to breastfeed her in hospital and it was the wrong thing to be doing,” she says.“I was left upset and very angry by their attitude.
“I am incredibly discreet when I breast feed. There is nothing on display and I wouldn’t have made a big scene.”
She made a complaint to the Patient Advice and Liaison Service in January, and the case has been branded “disgraceful and baffling” by the Royal College of Midwives.
Have you been told you can’t breastfeed anywhere? Let us know in our comments below.