09 Nov

#MakingItWork – Expressing Breastmilk at Work

In the first of our #MakingItWork real-life case studies, Jade tells us about the issues she faced when returning to work, when her daughter was 9 months old.

“I returned to work at my local special needs school. During my back to work meeting, I discussed my need for expressing breaks and a place to go, I was told “I’m sure there is a bathroom you can use” by the assistant head teacher. Obviously I made her aware this is unacceptable and I require a private area to use. It was arranged that I use the medical room, my half hour expressing break was interrupted on more than 4 occasions, one of these times causing me to spill the milk I had spent time pumping. I then fought for 3 more months to find a room every day, despite there being a whole school full, I was told it was not possible to book out a meeting room, or have the same room each day. So on my lunch break every day I would traipse around the school, find an empty room, stick my “expressing mother” sign on the door and do my thing.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t an uncommon story. The law does not currently allow a simple, straightforward right to breastfeeding breaks, though employers are required to provide a place for breastfeeding mothers to rest. The Health and Safety Executive and guidance from the European Commission recommend that employers should provide:

  • access to a private room where women can breastfeed or express breast milk;
  • use of secure, clean refrigerators for storing expressed breast milk while at work, and
  • facilities for washing, sterilising and storing receptacles.

The ladies toilet for example is never a suitable place in which to breastfeed a baby or collect milk.

ACAS guidance also gives the following advice to employers when asked to consider additional breaks for breastfeeding:

“Employers should consider providing short breaks for breastfeeding or expressing milk, weighing it up against the likely impact it might have on the business. Employers should be careful not to discriminate against breastfeeding employees. If employers are unable to grant additional breaks, they could consider slightly extending normal breaks for the employee such as a mid-morning coffee break or leaving earlier in the day to minimise any disruption to the business.”

Each employee will need to have a discussion with their employer – preferably in advance of their return to work – but hopefully this guidance will be helpful in these negotiations, and helping your employer to understand your needs and their obligations.

To read more about Making It Work, BfN’s campaign for breastfeeding mothers returning to work or study, click the image below:

06 Nov

Guest Blog: Shared Parental Leave & Breastfeeding

Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi

As part of our #MakingItWork campaign, this guest blog by Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi (York St John University) explores the impact that shared parental leave can have on breastfeeding.

Introduction

The reduction of maternity leave by way of shared parental leave raises the question of what impact it could have on breastfeeding. The WHO recommends two years breastfeeding with exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of the baby’s life. Since the introduction of shared parental leave, the uptake has been low (2%), and the question is whether breastfeeding could be one of the reasons for the low uptake.

I am a mother of two, I breastfed my first daughter for 10 months and stopped because she just wouldn’t take it anymore. I felt bad because I wanted to be able to breastfeed for longer. I breastfed my second daughter for 15months. The bond and the emotional attachment to the baby when breastfeeding could not be the same if I had to bottle feed. Breastfeeding my first daughter was so hard at the beginning because I was very ill after giving birth, but the support my husband gave me helped me to carry on. I recognise the importance of breastfeeding and I recognise the importance of dads being there to support the mother and bond with the baby (which was what happened in my case). I was super excited when shared parental leave was introduced but questioning how it might impact on breastfeeding. I then set how to investigate which I here present the key findings.

The research was conducted through an online survey to investigate the impact of shared parental leave on breastfeeding. The survey was restricted to mothers who were pregnant or had babies after the 5th of April 2015 (when shared parental leave started). The survey was designed to collect qualitative data on mother’s experience and opinion on shared parental leave and breastfeeding. The survey retained 460 responses with rich qualitative data.

Key findings:

  • 95% of the mothers agreed that breastfeeding was the preferred choice for young babies and were aware of the benefits
  • 72.7% breastfed or planned to breastfeed for 49 weeks which is still less than the recommended two years by the WHO.
  • 96.1% of the mothers breastfed their babies on demand in the first 6 months.
  • 88.5% of the mothers knew what shared parental leave was
  • 17.2% had heard of shared parental leave from their employers
  • 59.7% said they had a workplace policy on shared parental leave
  • 43.6% of the mothers felt they would have to stop breastfeeding if they took shared parental leave.
  • 24.9% of the mothers took shared parental leave
  • 57.4% of the mothers were happy to express breastmilk at work
  • 42.6% of the mothers said they were not happy to express
  • 34% of the mothers said they were supported in the workplace to breastfeed
  • 48.9% of the mothers were not provided with any resources at work to encourage breastfeeding.
  • 47% said they were provided with a private room and sockets but no fridge

Key themes:

  • Most employers are not supporting breastfeeding mothers at work. Consequently, some mothers stop breastfeeding after returning to work.
  • Mothers who are not happy to express breastmilk will not take shared parental leave
  • Mothers who are happy to express breastmilk at work would take shared parental leave if the employer is supportive of breastfeeding at work.
  • Some mothers thought that shared parental leave and breastfeeding had no impact on each other. However, the thoughts were slightly limited to the first six months because most of the mothers (85.6%) were on maternity leave for at least the first six months and breastfed their babies exclusively in the first six months as recommended by WHO.
  • Most of the mothers who took shared parental leave or went back to work after 6 months massively reduced breastfeeding frequency and some stopped breastfeeding altogether.
  • Mothers who placed more value on breastfeeding dismissed the idea of shared parental leave entirely especially if they wanted to breastfeed for longer than 48 weeks.
  • Some mothers felt they were put under pressure to be to express breastmilk because if shared parental leave.
  • Societal pressure and ‘unacceptance’ of breastfeeding make some mothers not to breastfeed and shared parental leave was viewed as one of such ‘unacceptance’ of breastfeeding.

Conclusion

Breastfeeding is a contributory factor to the low uptake of shared parental leave and shared parental leave is also contributing to the low rate of breastfeeding in the UK.


To read more about Making It Work, BfN’s campaign for breastfeeding mothers returning to work or study, click the image below:

09 Oct

“Advancing Our Health: Prevention in the 2020s” – BfN’s Response

BfN sees supporting women and families with breastfeeding as an important way to tackle some of the causes of preventable ill health in England. Here is BfN’s charity response to the Government’s Advancing Our Health: Prevention in the 2020s. Our response focuses on several themes important to the protection and promotion of breastfeeding, making a special call for early days support for all women and families. For our full response read on below. The consultation closes on 14th October so there is still time to submit an individual response. 


From Life Span to Health Span

Which health and social care policies should be reviewed to improve the health of people living in poorer communities or excluded groups?

Young, poor and less-educated women are less likely to breastfeed. This is also true of minority groups such as gypsy, traveller and Roma communities. Not breastfeeding widens the health inequalities gap for groups who already experience hardship and compromises maternal and infant health outcomes. The Healthy Start welfare food scheme needs an overhaul as eligibility has declined and it fails to catch the most vulnerable groups in society. Also, the scheme offers no breastfeeding support.

Improvements to breastfeeding support overall would make a difference, but targeted efforts to encourage and support these excluded groups to breastfeed needs investment and engagement with the voluntary sector as delivery partner as often charities have established local buy-in from communities.

More broadly, education policy doesn’t adequately address choices around infant feeding at primary or secondary level. It would be a great advantage to future generations if discussions around infant feeding could be introduced at an earlier age.

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Intelligent Health Checks

Do you have any ideas for how the NHS Health Checks programme could be improved?

Family culture and beliefs are passed through the generations within families and influence how an infant is then cared for. This includes infant feeding decisions where a family history and support network congruent with women’s infant feeding intentions has been shown to be important to women’s breastfeeding experience. This is reflected in breastfeeding rates where women who were not breastfed themselves are less likely to initiate and continue with breastfeeding. Given the importance of family infant feeding history in the initiation and duration of breastfeeding, and the limited ability of some families to provide support; it is unclear why infant feeding family history and support networks are not explored during pregnancy. There should be routine information collection on infant feeding history as part of family history data. An infant feeding genogram could be included as a time efficient tool to assist health professionals and support workers to stimulate discussions around breastfeeding and help design support interventions.

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Supporting Smokers to Quit

What ideas should the government consider to raise funds for helping people stop smoking?

Helping people to stop smoking is a fundamental part of preventative health work in the UK and should be funded by government without need for external funding. While BfN welcomes the steps the UK has taken to ban and control use of tobacco the loss of many local authority funded cessation services has been a retrograde step. We would like to see smoking cessation services be reinstated and include dedicated antenatal smoking cessation support.

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Eating a Healthy Diet

How can we do more to support mothers to breastfeed?

Women tell us they struggle to breastfeed because of pain, worries about milk supply and because there was no skilled support to help them. Women frequently report a lack of consistent information on feeding their babies given at the right time including on the safety of medication in breastmilk.

The vast majority of the issues women raise as barriers are amenable to good support and the following actions would help:

  • Develop a National Infant Feeding Strategy Board with all relevant government departments, health and third sector stakeholders driven by appropriate leadership.
  • In a national infant feeding strategy/plan include actions to promote, protect and support breastfeeding in all policy areas where breastfeeding has an impact.
  • Implement the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative across all relevant services.
  • Protect babies from harmful commercial interests by bringing the full International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes into UK law.
  • Commission and fund universal, evidence-based breastfeeding support programmes and services delivered by peer supporters with accredited qualifications and specialist/lead midwives and health visitors.
  • Maintain and expand universal, accessible, affordable and confidential breastfeeding support through the National Breastfeeding Helpline.
  • Deliver universal health visiting services and the Healthy Child Programme (including the 5 mandated contacts, plus an additional review before the 10-day visit to resolve early feeding issues)
  • Establish/re-establish universal Children’s Centres with a focus on areas of deprivation, offering breastfeeding peer support.

We support the commitment to undertake an Infant Feeding Survey and this should build on the data previously collected in the 2010 cancelled IFS.

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How can we better support families with children aged 0 to 5 years to eat well?

One in five children are already overweight or obese before they start school. There is a wealth of evidence about the importance of breastfeeding, support for responsive bottle feeding and timing of starting solid food and the difference this can make to both child and maternal obesity levels. Recent government policy on obesity has failed to address the importance of how we feed our babies and early years nutrition. The Government should improve the legal protection and support for breastfeeding, improve availability of caregiving / parental education around introduction of solid foods and feeding responsively.

Where babies are not breastfed, given formula and commercial foods there should be strong legislation in place to regulate nutritional composition and tight regulation of labelling and marketing of commercial foods in line with Public Health recommendations and WHO Europe with implementation of WHO Code.

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Support for individuals to achieve and maintain a healthier weight

How else can we help people reach and stay at a healthier weight?

Children who are obese are likely to become obese adults. More should be done to help prevent children from becoming overweight or obese in the first place. Breastfeeding has a very significant effect on childhood obesity, with some studies indicating that breastfeeding to a year or more could reduce rates by 25-50%. Support for breastfeeding, particularly breastfeeding to 12 months or more, must be part of any obesity reduction strategy.

For some women breastfeeding makes it easier to lose weight, since additional calories are used. This can help some women to return to pre-pregnancy weight more quickly. The role that breastfeeding can play in managing maternal weight should be discussed with a health care professional or peer support worker.

The Department of Education should ensure that all young people learn about the importance of healthy body weight and good diet before and after pregnancy.  Breastfeeding as a normal human behaviour should be more thoroughly explained as part of the curriculum to remove stigma.

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Taking care of our mental health

How can we support the things that are good for mental health and prevent the things that are bad for mental health, in addition to the mental health actions in the green paper?

Up to 20% of women are affected by mental illness either during pregnancy or in the 12 months after giving birth. A woman’s risk of postnatal depression can be lowered by successful breastfeeding. On the contrary, when women who wanted to breastfeed are unable to meet their goals, their mental health can be adversely affected. Given that 8 out of 10 mothers stop breastfeeding before they wanted to, one means of safeguarding the mental health of new mothers is to improve breastfeeding support and protection. This is particularly important soon after birth. https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/breastfeeding-ad-perinatal-mental-health/

Being born in a Unicef UK Baby Friendly accredited hospital and supported to breastfeed there has been linked to improvement in child emotional development and maternal mental health.

Data from the Millennium Cohort Study found that term children breastfed for four months or longer had lower odds of abnormal scores on a strengths and difficulties questionnaire compared with never breastfed children. There is also evidence that breastfeeding for less than 6 months compared with 6 months or more is an independent predictor of mental health problems, both internalised and externalised through childhood and into adolescence. Reviews of many studies linking breastfeeding with mental health of mothers and children can be found here https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/news-and-research/baby-friendly-research/infant-health-research/infant-health-research-mental-health-and-emotional-development/.

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Sleep

We recognise that sleep deprivation (not getting enough sleep) is bad for your health in several ways. What would help people get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night?

New parents or parents of young children will rarely get 7-9 hours’ of unbroken sleep a night. New parents should be supported to understand that normal infant sleeping patterns involve frequent night waking. New parents should be able to access advice and support to cope with lack of sleep and tiredness from their health care professional, peer supporter or maternity support worker. It is also useful to highlight that exclusively breastfeeding mothers report sleeping for longer than mothers who mix feed or formula feed as a positive effect of hormones. Therefore actions to better support and protect breastfeeding may also have benefits for sleep among new parents.

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Prevention in the NHS

Have you got examples or ideas for services or advice that could be delivered by community pharmacies to promote health?

Pharmacists have a key role to play in promoting and protecting breastfeeding in the community. Women contacting us through BfN’s Drugs in Breastmilk Service for information and support on the effects of medication on their breastfeeding tell us that pharmacists in their community lack sufficient knowledge and understanding of breastfeeding and the effects of medication on it. This means families in the community struggle to get advice on breastfeeding and how to maintain breastfeeding through illness of mother or baby. Often we see that this leads to breastfeeding ending unnecessarily or a mother denying herself medication so she can continue to breastfeed her child. See ‘A lifeline when no one else wants to give you an answer’ An evaluation of the Breastfeeding Network drugs in breastmilk service Professor Amy Brown, March 2019 https://breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/wp-content/pdfs/BfN%20Final%20report%20.pdf

Unicef’s infant feeding learning outcomes for pharmacy students set a standard for the level of knowledge and understanding that could be reasonably expected of a newly qualified pharmacist; see: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/accreditation/universities/learning-outcomes/learning-outcomes-pharmacy-students/. Pharmacists should also be aware of local breastfeeding support services and be able to signpost accordingly.

Worryingly, many pharmacists receive information about breastmilk substitutes (BMS) from sponsored materials provided by the BMS industry. This is a clear conflict of interest and means that advice provided by a pharmacist may be inconsistent with advice from other health workers. All pharmacists should be encouraged to work within the WHO Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

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What could the government do to help people live more healthily: in homes and neighbourhoods, when going somewhere, in workplaces, in communities?

Supporting women to breastfeed and for as long as they choose requires societal action and support. All too often responsibility is placed on women to breastfeed when so much more can be done in communities, work, health and education settings to support breastfeeding.

To improve community support for new and young families the Government should provide all Local Authorities with ring-fenced funding to establish, re-establish or support the development of universal Children’s Centres. These should focus on areas of deprivation, with Centres able to offer a range of support services including breastfeeding peer support. Building community support encourages breastfeeding to be more visible. This is key to changing attitudes in the UK to breastfeeding and improving all parents to feel more comfortable when out and about with their infants. Whilst the Equalities Act means that women have the right to breastfeed in public, many women remain anxious about feeding their baby outside the home. Consistent efforts are needed to normalise and support breastfeeding anywhere that a baby needs to be fed.

The Department of Education should ensure all young people, boys and girls, learn in school that breastfeeding is a normal human activity should be explained and de-stigmatised. Government should also follow initiatives in the London Food Strategy implementation plan which aim to improve breastfeeding across London, including looking at how Transport for London can better support women travelling with infants on the network.

Often returning to work or education is seen as a barrier to breastfeeding and a reason for women to stop before they want to.

The current protection for breastfeeding when a women returns to work is inadequate and the burden is placed on the individual mother to negotiate arrangements with her employer, at a time when she is feeling vulnerable and not entitled to ask for support. Explicit protections for breastfeeding protection are missing in the current legislation. Protection should also extend to provision of adequate storage for her expressed milk. Clarity through the policy on storage will be useful to women and employers alike in navigating the practical arrangements that are needed to continue breastfeeding and giving breastmilk.  

Question: What more can we do to help local authorities and NHS bodies work well together?

To ensure that women’s intentions and efforts to breastfeed are upheld and supported following initiation good breastfeeding support needs to be available at every step of a mother’s journey. As a charity that has been involved in delivering peer support services for over 20 years working in communities and also alongside health care professionals in a complimentary way we have learned that moving breastfeeding peer support services from the NHS to local authorities has not only been damaging for families accessing quality breastfeeding support but it has also damaged relationships. Many community services have been lost and an increased burden has been placed on an already struggling health visiting workforce. Supporting breastfeeding requires dedicated skills, time and patience often supporting a Mum for several hours on several occasions.

Many services funded through local authority structures are operating on reduced budgets or have been de-commissioned because of cuts. Previously, many of these services worked well because relationships with health professionals were strong and an engaged local volunteer base was supported. Going forward it is vital that breastfeeding peer support services are protected and there is a close contact between local authorities and NHS services. 

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Question: What are the top 3 things you’d like to see covered in a future strategy on sexual and reproductive health?

Just one thing from BfN’s perspective. There is good research that suggest that attitudes to infant feeding are shaped long before individuals become parents. We would like to see all children and young people learning about breastfeeding and early nutrition at school so that they have the information they need about their bodies years before they become parents. Working with school age children helps open up space to start conversations at home and help normalise breastfeeding in the wider community. To help shift attitudes and future generations to breastfeed the Department of Education should ensure all young people learn about breastfeeding as a normal human activity. This will help explain normal functions of the body and help to de-stigmatise it. The following resources are available for use in schools on breastfeeding https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/breastfeeding-information-for-children-and-young-people/ and https://abm.me.uk/resources-for-schools/.

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25 Apr

Breastfeeding Mothers Returning to Work – Top 5 Tips

Law firm Slater and Gordon recently published a report on the rights of breastfeeding mothers returning to work, highlighting the fact that many employers are unaware of the law. Slater and Gordon have written the following guest blog for us, explaining the top five things you need to know about returning to work whilst continuing to breastfeed.

1. Plan your discussion with your employer in advance of your return

Take time to consider the support and facilities you need to help you breastfeed or express at work before you go back to work and plan to have a conversation with your manager or HR, ideally well in advance of your return date. You may wish to use one of your KIT days to arrange a meeting.

The support you need will very much depend on your own personal circumstances. Some mothers would like to visit their baby during the working day and others plan to express breastmilk. 

Check whether your employer has a breastfeeding policy, or a return to work policy outlining the type of support they provide or what you need to do to request support. Most good employers will.

2. Know your rights

The law does not currently allow a simple, straightforward right to breastfeeding breaks though employers are required to provide a place for breastfeeding mothers to rest.

In terms of breastfeeding support, the Health and Safety Executive and guidance from the European Commission recommend that employers should provide:

  • access to a private room where women can breastfeed or express breast milk;
  • use of secure, clean refrigerators for storing expressed breast milk while at work, and
  • facilities for washing, sterilising and storing receptacles.

The ladies toilet for example is never a suitable place in which to breastfeed a baby or collect milk.

ACAS guidance also gives the following advice to employers when asked to consider additional breaks for breastfeeding:

“Employers should consider providing short breaks for breastfeeding or expressing milk, weighing it up against the likely impact it might have on the business. Employers should be careful not to discriminate against breastfeeding employees. If employers are unable to grant additional breaks, they could consider slightly extending normal breaks for the employee such as a mid-morning coffee break or leaving earlier in the day to minimise any disruption to the business.”

3. Consider a request for flexible working, such as for reduced hours

If you have worked for your employer continuously for 26 weeks, you have the right to make a request for flexible working. You are likely to qualify to ask as maternity leave counts as continuous service.

You might want to reduce your hours, change which hours you work (to start later or finish earlier) or work the same number of hours but over fewer days. You may also want to work from home or as a job share, or return part-time. Your employer must agree to flexible working where it can accommodate the request, but can turn it down on business grounds defined in flexible working regulations (there are 8 grounds including inability to meet client demand and detrimental impact on performance). However, it must make sure it does not discriminate and cannot simply refuse a request without fair process or reasons.

Employers are obliged to deal with requests in a reasonable manner. If your employer refuses your request you should have a right to appeal your employer’s decision so that you have an opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings or explore other options. If you do not appeal there is a risk that this implies you accept the decisions made.

If it is still refused you should seek legal advice, as you may have claims for discrimination, including indirect discrimination if your employer for example has a policy or practice which disadvantages women and which cannot be justified by the employer.

For example, an employer might require all posts to be full time. If a breastfeeding employee asked for a temporary alteration in her hours in order to continue breastfeeding and she would be disadvantaged if this was refused (because she would be unable to breastfeed), her employer should grant her request unless there are good business reasons for refusing.

4. Consider whether there is a health and safety risk to you and your baby, and know your rights

Is there a risk to your health or safety or that of your baby from your working conditions or hours?

All employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their employees. While you are breastfeeding, you and your baby have special health and safety protection under the same regulations that give protection to pregnant employees.

Employers of women of childbearing age employers must also carry out a ‘specific’ risk assessment of risks to new and expectant mothers arising from ‘any processes, working conditions, physical, biological and chemical agents’.

Some hazardous substances can enter breastmilk and might pose a risk to your baby. If your work brings you into contact with a dangerous substance, your employer should take appropriate steps to make the job safe, remove that risk or if that is not possible they may have to explore temporarily changing your working conditions or hours, such as working shorter shifts, giving regular shifts or avoiding night work or overnight stays.

Reasonable action to protect your health and safety while you are breastfeeding could include adequate rest breaks to ensure proper nutrition, access to water and washing facilities. Your employer should ensure that the environment is not too hot or too cold. Employers should also consider levels of fatigue, stress and changes in posture.

If adjustments to your working hours or conditions would not remove identified risks, then you should be given a temporary transfer to alternative work, or suspended, without loss of pay.

5. If your employer is not supportive and you have concerns about harm to you or your baby or in relation to possible discrimination of harassment, know your options

If support is not forthcoming, then it may be concerns need to be raised. It’s usually best to raise concerns informally initially with your manager or HR, and if that isn’t successful, it may be necessary to raise concerns more formally in writing through a grievance process.  If the concerns relate to working hours, you may wish to firstly consider making a formal flexible working request. If support is still not forthcoming, you have to consider a more formal route again, such as exploring potential legal claims. You should seek support from your trade union or seek legal advice in these circumstances.

Do keep a record of the requests being made, the experiences you’ve had and the responses received.

It is worth noting that if you consider your situation is serious enough to merit taking legal action, there are strict time limits and you only have three months less one day from the date the last act of discrimination took place to lodge a start the compulsory ACAS Early Conciliation process with a view to bringing an Employment Tribunal claim.

It is important to take advice quickly and you should seek support from your trade union or take specialist advice if you find yourself in this situation.  

You can find information on returning to work, discrimination and flexible working on the Slater and Gordon website, and on the ACAS and gov.uk websites.

27 Jun

Feeding baby out and about in the UK?  What’s the fuss?

Fact: Feeding your baby out and about is protected by law. In Scotland breastfeeding is protected by the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005, which says that it is an offence to stop someone in a public place from feeding their child, if under two, with milk. The legislation allows for fines for preventing breastfeeding in public places.
In England & Wales this protection comes from the Equality Act 2010 (EA 10), which states that it is sex discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.
Fact: Few people know the legal position. While the law is more explicit in Scotland, does it offer more protection?  We don’t yet know as the current EA 10 law has not been tested in court. All cases brought have been settled out of the courts. (Hogan Lovells, 2015)
What does this mean for parents breastfeeding out and about in the UK?  This could mean that although the law is protective, it has little cultural influence at a societal or individual level unless it is better understood and adhered to.
Fact: Many women are worried about feeding in public places. They are worried about feeling embarrassed, possible negative reactions from the public and the risk of confrontation.
Fact: Communities in the UK are generally not supportive of breastfeeding (Victora, 2016).
Fact: Worries about feeding in public are real for women and form a serious barrier to starting to breastfeed, or can mean a mum stops breastfeeding before she wants to.
Although infrequent, there have been several high profile cases of women being vilified in public for breastfeeding outside the home. The negative treatment of breastfeeding women in the media affects feeding decisions. One mum recently told me that her reason not to breastfeed was that she was worried about feeding in public; she had since questioned herself and felt guilty about her decision. She became less assertive as she reflected on her experience but I was sorry to hear her apologise for something that was not within her control.
Was her choice not to breastfeed based on freedom or the lack of it?  Who is responsible for that? The law? The media? Society? The influence of an industry that repeatedly and blatantly blurs the line between breastmilk and formula?
Many women tell us they worry that if they do decide to breastfeed they will end up isolated from their friends and family because they don’t feel welcome to breastfeed their baby when they are out and about.
So, you can understand any woman or concerned relative being worried that she might be treated badly, even though we know that breastfeeding happens all the time and largely goes unnoticed. Most women have a positive experience of breastfeeding, but this isn’t seen or shared with others. Only the negative stories make the press. Whether it’s just perception or reality, the worry stops breastfeeding happening.
We need to change the conversation about feeding out and about. This doesn’t mean pitching individual women against each other or suggesting women are more discreet or, indeed, by asking individual women to speak up alone for breastfeeding.
We collectively need to support communities to understand and value breastfeeding so it can be seen as just a normal thing to do. This is only achieved if we can bring it out of the closet or home and into the mainstream in an open and celebrated way. This requires conversations with others outside of the present breastfeeding movement.
We know what works. It is essential that breastfeeding protection and support is embedded in all maternity care and birthing facilities. This must be accompanied by consistent training of medical professionals.
Using a peer support model, through which women support each other, is a proven way for them to develop skills and confidence to rehearse breastfeeding out and about. This has a positive impact on breastfeeding choice and duration (Hoddinott 2006, Blake Stevenson 2016).
Designating places as breastfeeding-friendly is another way a community can act together to declare support for the value of breastfeeding, with the intention of changing local culture one place at a time.  The Breastfeeding Network has developed a scheme with information for parents, families, businesses and organisations to use. It is simple and accessible and can be used in a variety of contexts: single small businesses, retail parks or even airlines! The information is available for anyone who wants to help make places more breastfeeding-friendly by equipping them with information to help change the conversation around breastfeeding. The BfN scheme helps families feel confident breastfeeding out and about, offers communities and businesses a way to show that they welcome and support breastfeeding, and raises awareness about the benefits of and barriers to breastfeeding.
While some might see schemes like this as controversial or as a necessary evil, many women report positively that breastfeeding friendly schemes helped them cross the threshold from home to out and about and allowed them to see and feel that their community would support their decision to breastfeed their baby.
As one mother put it, seeing a breastfeeding friendly scheme in operation by a coffee shop owner made ‘…me feel like I was being held by my community while I was holding my baby…’.

Shereen Fisher, Chief Executive Officer, Breastfeeding Network
Useful resources and references
The National Breastfeeding Helpline (0300 100 0212), offers independent, confidential, mothercentred, non-judgmental breastfeeding support and information from volunteers with experience who trained by The Breastfeeding Network and the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers. Lines are open 9.30am – 9.30pm every single day of the year. Calls to the Helpline cost no more than calls to UK numbers starting 01 or 02 and are part of any inclusive minutes that apply to your mobile provider or call package.
Opinion on Breastfeeding Discrimination for Hogan Lovells International 2015
Hoddinott, P, et al (2006), One-to-One or Group-Based Peer Support for Breastfeeding?

Women’s Perceptions of a Breastfeeding Peer Coaching Intervention, Birth, 33: 139–146. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0730-7659.2006.00092.x/abstract

Unicef Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding: http://www.unicef.org/newsline/tenstps.htm

Breastfeeding Network: Breastfeeding-Friendly Scheme: https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/bfn-breastfeeding-friendly-scheme/

Evaluation of Breastfeeding Network peer support https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/evaluation/
Victora, Cesar G. et al (2016), Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. The Lancet, Volume 387, Issue 10017, 475 – 490.

For further information contact Shereen Fisher, Chief Executive Officer, @shereen_fisher, ceo@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk

A version of this blog first appeared on the UNICEF BFI website in August 2016