The right to breastfeed: Real Progress



Background to the autumn 2004 conference emergency motion calling for a Breastfeeding Bill


A Green Party press office briefing


Prepared by Mark Fitzsimons


Edited by Spencer Fitz-Gibbon


Contact Green Party press office, 020 7561 0282,



Breastfeeding Bill


1.        A Breastfeeding Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 23 September 2004.


2.       The Bill proposes to change Scottish law to make it an offence to stop a baby (meaning a child under two) being fed milk by either breast or bottle, in any place where that baby is lawfully permitted to be present.


3.       A person guilty of this offence could be liable for a fine.  The current fine is up to £2,500.


4.      The Bill also encourages the promotion of breastfeeding.


5.       The Bill is wide ranging and includes almost everywhere: buses and trains, supermarkets and shops, restaurants, churches, footpaths, parks etc.  It would mean that babies can be fed even in places where adults are not allowed to eat. No specific places are exempted. 


6.       The only exceptions are places where children under two are not allowed anyway. Private premises would still be free to exclude children or babies. If they do let children or babies in, they would have to allow them to be breastfed.


7.       The Bill does not mention privacy or require organisations to provide private places to breastfeed. Even if a private breastfeeding area exists, mothers cannot be compelled to use it. Leading Greens are arguing that places should be encouraged to make such provision according to current examples of best practice, in order to provide the option for a mother who wishes privacy.


8.       The Bill will be cheap to implement. The main cost to organisations will be training staff to be aware of the new offences.




A similar law in England and Wales would not:


l        Require women to breastfeed.

l        Require organisations to have a policy on breastfeeding.

l        Require organisations to spend money on providing or converting facilities.

l        Impose any health and safety duties on anyone.  



What it would do:


While it will not in itself increase the number of women breastfeeding, it could:


l        Return breastfeeding to being considered a normal activity.

l        Create a supportive environment for women who choose to breastfeed.

l        Make it easier for more women with babies to go out, without fear of inconvenience caused by prejudice against breastfeeding.

l        Encourage more women to try breastfeeding.

l        Encourage more women to continue breastfeeding for longer.

l        Discourage people from challenging women who are breastfeeding in public.

l        Promote the message that society considers that breastfeeding is a good thing wherever it is done.



Why promote breastfeeding?


l        Breastfeeding boosts babies’ developing immune systems.

l        Breastfeeding is much cheaper than bottle feeding.

l        Breastfeeding has low environmental impact – it does not need processing, packaging, transporting or manufacturing.



Facts and figures:


1.        Both the Department of Health in England and Wales and the World Health Organisation recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life. However only 22% of babies in England and Wales are still being breastfed at 6 months. Many of those have formula as well as breast milk.


2.       The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe. Almost a third of women (29%) in England and Wales never try to breastfeed, compared to 2% in Sweden.


3.       Women from higher socio-economic classes are much more likely to breastfeed. For example, 90% of mothers in social class 1 start breastfeeding compared to 50% in social class 5.


4.      Mothers who are least likely to choose to breastfeed are the young, those who have poor educational attainment and mothers from disadvantaged groups. Over 40% of mothers under 24 never try to breastfeed.


Prevalence of breastfeeding in England and Wales (2000)


1 week

2 weeks

6 weeks

4 months

6 months

9 months










Do mothers want to breastfeed in public?


1.        Over two thirds (67%) of women believe that the general public find breastfeeding in public unacceptable. But in fact most people (84%) think it is fine for mothers to breastfeed their babies discreetly in public. (1) 


2.       Half of women who were breastfeeding at about 20 weeks prefer a specially designated mother and baby room for breastfeeding when they were out. The other half was split about equally between those who prefer to breastfeed without going to a special place and those who did not have a preference.


3.       While a law like the Breastfeeding Bill will not directly help those mothers who do want private places to breastfeed their babies, it will directly help the other half by making it clear that the law supports their right to breastfeed wherever necessary. It may also encourage those who currently desire privacy for breastfeeding to become more comfortable with the idea of breastfeeding in public.





(1)        Source: Department of Health press release “Myths stop women giving babies the best start in life”, 10 May 2004.  Available on the Department of Health website


All other data from Infant feeding 2000, a survey carried out by BMRB Social Research on behalf of the Department of Health, the Scottish Executive, The Assembly for Wales and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland.

Authors: Becky Hamlyn, Sue Brooker, Karin Oleinikova, Sarah Wands

Published 13 May 2002. Available on the Department of Health website