Right to breastfeed in public could be enshrined in law

// 14 May 2007

The Times reports that ministers committed to the Breastfeeding Manifesto are pushing for women’s right to breastfeed in public to be protected by law. Or rather, it reports that Women may get right to breastfeed in public, misleadingly implying that we do not already have this right. The actual text of the manifesto reads:

We call on the Government to do all it can to protect women’s right to breastfeed in public spaces and encourage greater social acceptance of this important and natural practice.

Hear, hear. As newsagent and supermarket shelves overflow with sexualised images of breasts we as a society seem to have forgotten what they are actually designed for: feeding our young. Seeing breasts used for this purpose apparently offends the sensibilities of those who prefer their breasts safely objectified in lads’ mags, porn films and strip clubs. Sorry, lads, but I’m afraid a woman’s right to feed her child and that child’s right to be fed when it is hungry are far more important than your desire not to be reminded that breasts aren’t all about you.

Another key objective of the manifesto is to create a supportive environment for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace with the recommendation that mothers be entitled to work breaks to feed their children as in France, where women with babies under twelve months old are allowed to take two 30 minute breaks a day. Given that returning to work is the most common reason for stopping breastfeeding for mothers with babies over six weeks old, this seems imminently sensible.

However, while the manifesto and The Times article both focus on the health benefits for babies as the major reason behind the potential new laws – the World Health Organization recommends that babies be breastfed for at least a full six months – the main issue here from a feminist perspective is ensuring that women are not restricted by their choice to have a child. A woman should be able to have a baby and continue to work, just as men have done for time immemorial. She should have the same freedom of movement she did before she gave birth. This means being able to breastfeed wherever, whenever, without feeling uncomfortable or being harrassed. She shouldn’t have to stay in the house for fear that if she leaves she will be unable to feed her baby, and she shouldn’t be forced to choose between returning to work or doing what she thinks is best for her child. Both these situations could hopefully become things of the past if the manifesto’s 180 signatories get their recommendations enshrined in law. Fingers crossed, eh?

Photo by Seaniz, shared under a Creative Commons license.

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