This summer, I gave notice to the Assembly of my intention to bring a Private Member’s Bill in response to the need for legislation to protect the right of babies to be fed in public places. In order to inform this Bill, I am launching a public consultation exploring public attitudes to breastfeeding.
Unlike other parts of the UK and Ireland, there is no specific legislation to protect a breastfeeding mother and baby in Northern Ireland, and this may be contributing to us having among the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world.
Unlike other parts of the UK and Ireland, there is no specific legislation to protect a breastfeeding mother and baby in Northern Ireland.
The health benefits of breastfeeding are well established and we know that higher breastfeeding rates result in savings of millions of pounds to health services, however there are many factors that contribute to whether and how long a mother breastfeeds. This legislation aims to address these. Any ‘pull factors’, like anxiety about being able to feed in public places, need to be addressed.
The Bill I am proposing would provide a clear, easily identifiable piece of legislation that makes sure that a baby and mother can’t be moved on or be prevented from feeding anywhere that they are otherwise entitled to be, like in a cafe, bus station or museum.
This legislation will also provide clarity and protection to small businesses, who will not have to provide any additional facilities or services to comply with the legislation.
The Department of Health have explored the possibility of legislating on this issue for a number of years but this has not progressed due to understandable pressures within the NHS. This is why I feel this legislation is best progressed via a private member’s bill, as it was in Scotland.
The consultation is open to members of the public, addressed to key stakeholders, and is supplemented by a Consultative Group I have established, bringing together advice from small business, health professionals, parents and the child’s rights sector.
The closing date for receipt of responses was December 30th, 2016.