Protect My Baby, Protect Me

25 06 2008

There has been a huge explosion in the battle to get legal protection for hungry babies in the UK this past week. Whilst Scotland has had protection for hungry babies for years now, hungry babies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have no protection from being hassled, intimidated, or made to stop feeding if they are in public spaces. There have been many attempts to bring the rest of the UK into line with Scotland, and to introduce protection. The UK Gov has stated it will do so, and it was all being taken care off in the proposed Single Equalities Bill.
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The Bill is a catch all bill, designed to even out Equal Rights for sections of the population facing different types of discrimination. It’s been set out for consultation for some time. The problem with this, is that breastfeeding is not mentioned in the consulting paper. So the UK Gov have asked for feedback, but not mentioned what they intend as far as breastfeeding. So, nothing in writing, just a lot of ‘talk’. More details can be found here.
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Now, when a Private Member’s Bill was first mooted for protecting hungry babies in England and Wales, it was roughly on the lines of the Scottish Bill – simply stating that is was illegal to try and stop a mother feeding her hungry baby milk, if they were in a public space:
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“Make it an offence to prevent or stop a person in charge of a child who is otherwise permitted to be in a public place or licensed premises from feeding milk to that child in that place or on those premises”
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Which is exactly what is required. After all, and this might be a shock to many readers, it is not illegal to breastfeed in public in England and Wales. Therefore, we don’t actually need a law to state you can breastfeed – you can anyway. But just as there is no law saying you can’t breastfeed, there is no law stating you can’t harass, intimidate, or try to stop a mother feeding her hungry child milk. And that’s what we need a law to do.
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We need a law to protect against ignorance and bigotry. We need a law to state that any hungry baby, that is being fed milk in any public space where they have a right to be, can be fed without that feed being interrupted. Protect The Baby. We need a law to state that any caregiver in charge of a child can feed it bottled milk, or any mother can breastfeed it, without fear of harassment, intimidation or that feed being interrupted. Protect The Mother.
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Women bursting into tears and being shouted at by angry and defensive officials (police officers, cafe owners, etc) and being told to stop what they are doing with a hungry and distressed baby in their arms, is not something that can be condoned in our society. But it is something that happens again, and again, and again.
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And it’s something that has had huge amounts of energy, time, political lobbying and money thrown at it. Money handed over by Mums, and Mums’ groups, to help promote equality for hungry babies. Money spent in phone calls, bus fairs, petrol and living expenses in attending meetings and events. It’s a huge drain on the breastfeeding support organisations, and on the Mums, to keep battling at this again and again and again. And we keep going, because somewhere, there has to be a voice for our babies. Our hungry babies have to be heard! Oh the irony, that making them wail in hunger as we collect out bags and red faced, are escorted to the door, or thrown out of the shopping centre! The sheer irony that people complain about the thing that will keep a hungry baby quiet – food!
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So what we need is clear. And the UK Gov said it was listening, and it would act.
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And what do we have?
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Chaos and farce, that’s what we have. Apart from anything else, the chaos of articles and opposing views this week, is all based on smoke and mirrors. For although there was, apparently, a media briefing at Downing Street stating that the Bill would cover to protect breastfeeding mothers as long as their babies were six months old and under… there still is nothing in writing in the published versions of the proposed Bill. There is a reply to a question raised on the Downing Street petition site, that illuminates the thinking that clearly underpins the role of the Bill, and the intent on breastfeeding:

“For example, if a mother who was breastfeeding her baby in a cafe was asked to leave, she could bring a claim of direct sex discrimination against the proprietor, providing her baby is not older than 6 months.”

And this is total farce. Utter utter farce. It’s a back-ended attempt to shoe horn breastfeeding protection in under amendments to maternity rights in the Sex Discrimination Act via the Equalities Bill! Maternity rights? As in, a baby can be fed as long as Mum is still under maternity rights legislation? Doh! What about the baby’s rights? What about the right to food when you are hungry? The implications of trying to shoehorn this in as part of maternity provision issue are just endless, and utterly bizarre!

Think about it – think of the logistics. A breastfeeding baby, out and about with Mum, gets hungry. Mum is having lunch at the local cafe. She starts to feed baby, and the owner demands she leave. What does she do? Well, she has no option but to leave, for there is nothing here to protect her right to stay and finish the feed. She can’t phone the police for help, and explain she is being harassed and prevented from feeding her hungry baby. So she has to leave and go find a lawyer.
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Yes. A lawyer.
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She goes off and finds a lawyer and asks them to sue the cafe owner under the Sex Discrimination Act. And her proof is….? And how long will that take…? And can she hack the stress and the costs… ?

And this is protection for hungry babies?

Oh wait, it gets better. Two Mums are out shopping with breastfeeding babies. One baby is six months old, one baby seven months old. Both babies get hungry, and both Mums feed them. Cafe owner comes over and demands they stop. Feisty number one says “You can’t do that under the Sex Discrimination Act I will sue you if you throw me out with my baby.” And cafe owner says “They are both much older than six months old, out you go.” And two hungry babies, wailing and screaming, are thrown into the streets with two red faced and bursting with fury and humiliation, mothers… and one can sue and the other can’t. Oh dear oh deary me.

Who thought this up? No, seriously, just who took the above wording to the proposed Private Members Bill, and turned it into this? The mind boggles. And the implications just keep coming…

Are we going to have to pay for identity cards, to prove our babies are young enough for a feed when we threaten people with lawyers and suing? Or just carry Birth Certificates around? And who do we sue in a public park? The council who own the park? The park warden who asked us to leave? The bigoted silent individual who wandered over to the park warden and said it was obscene to feed a baby milk near the playground?

As I said, utter farce. And patronising farce to boot! As if mothers would think this was appropriate, or desirable, legislation? How stupid do they think we are? Clearly quite stupid, as they’ve managed to do all this without actually committing ink to paper! It’s still all smoke and mirrors. And worse, much worse, all the fuss over this is creating the idea in people’s minds that it is actually illegal to breastfeed in public spaces in the first place. And that will just encourage bigots to be louder and more obnoxious. “I don’t care what you say, that baby is too old to be fed! Take it away! It’s illegal to feed that baby as it’s older than six months!”
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The inclusion of breastfeeding in this Bill has to stop. Breastfeeding has to be removed from the Single Equalities Bill. It cannot be allowed to continue in this vein. A proper breastfeeding protection bill must be put in place. A Bill that protects babies and protects mothers. A Bill that makes it illegal to hassle, intimidate or try to stop a hungry child being fed milk. We have to make this clear to Government, and let them know we will not be fobbed off by this nonsense.
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One women who has already tried to do this, is Emily Pulling. Last year, Emily held a Breastfeeding Picnic at Parliament Square, outside the Palace of Westminster – that lovely stretch of pavement in front of the grass. She got about 60 breastfeeding babies, toddlers and kids, and their Mums, and had a lovely Summer picnic, raising awareness of the need for protection for both the children, and the mothers. Bottle feeding Mums came too, as this is a milk and hungry babies issue, and this affects us all. Emily is not a professional activist. Not a paid official. Not an organisation. Just a Mum with a computer in the kitchen, bringing together other Mums with computers in their kitchen. Mum to Mum support.
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She had been talking about doing a country wide Breastfeeding Picnic next year, but this week’s chaos has brought the timetable forward. And she’s roped me in! So here it is, the official announcement of how you can help make it clear to everyone, that Mums need protection, not patronising:
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Join Us!

A Breastfeeding Picnic at Parliament Square

And A Regional Centre Near You!

Monday July 21st, Noon Onwards.

“Protect My Baby, Protect Me”

R.S.V.P
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It’s illegal to protest or demonstrate outside Parliament, but it’s not illegal to congregate and feed your hungry babies milk. Your hungry toddlers milk. Your hungry children milk. Here’s hoping no one threatens, intimidates or harass us. Here’s hoping no one demands we stop.
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Emily has organised this before, in this space, so is on top of the legalities. She’s also organising regional breastfeeding picnics, for those who cannot attend London. On 22 July, Parliament goes into Summer Recess, and the MPs sitting on July 21st, will be heading off to their constituencies. So it’s fitting that the constituencies will also hold such a celebratory picnic. So far, we have volunteers to organise simultaneous picnics in Edinburgh, Plymouth, Cardiff, Cambridge.. it’s a long list!
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And it will be totally fascinating that those hungry babies and their mothers in Edinburgh, outside the Scottish Parliament, will be protected from abuse and threat, and we, in London, outside the Mother of Parliaments, will not.
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If you want to help volunteer to run a local picnic on that day, or help with the London one, or need more info, or to interview Emily, you can contact her on Emily breastfeeding.picnic@googlemail.com You can also comment in the next entry, Which will just have all the details as they unfold. We will update it as we got.
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If you are also running events or blogs, or anything to do with protesting this silly proposal, you can comment here, and I will try and give you support and publicity.
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Everyone who can see the innate nonsense of trying to use the Single Equalities Bill in this way, and who can see the need for a proper separate law to protect babies and their mothers, write your MP.
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The really good thing about this week’s fuss… the only good thing about this week’s fuss… is that the Government have still to actually make all this official. As I said, it’s smoke and mirrors and closed briefing and snippets here and snippets there. So with Luck, and a fair wind, and lots of letters.. the Government can easily say this is all a Great Big Mistake. Without it being their Great Big Mistake, for a change. They can say “Hey, we never said that, this this is what we really propose…” After all, every child matters.
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Here’s hoping! See you at Parliament Square! šŸ™‚
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4 responses

26 06 2008
Alison

I am a breastfeeding mum and read your latest post with dismay. At first I have to admit I thought some of your comments were rather sensational, and that you were overstating the hassle breastfeeding mums get. I have been breastfeeding my son for 10 months and have had nothing but positive reactions. However, I then went back and read your examples from the media of appalling treatment of breastfeeding mums. I am horrified that this sort of thing still happens, and shocked that the proposed bill attempts to put an age limit on breastfeeding in public. Thankyou for drawing this to my attention!

2 07 2008
Anonymous

Dear all,I am a breastfeeding mother of an 18month old. I fed my first son til 21 months, tandem feeding him and my daughter til he stopped when she was 4 months old. I then fed her til she was 2.5 yrs old. I intend to feed my son until he wishes to stop. I have never had a problem breastfeeding anywhere but I know of many who have. This infuriates me. I went to London when my first son was 5 weeks old and again when my youngest was 5 months. By coincidence both needed feeding whilst I was at Buckingham Palace. I sat at the steps of the statue facing the palace, if the Queen had chosen to look out of her state balcony she would have seen not one, but two breatfeeding mothers one alive and kicking and the other? A statue, for the one above me is of a women breastfeeding her toddler!!! If the Monarch of our realm can look out at this everyday if she so wishes why can’t the rest of this prudish country get over it and stop harassing women for doing the natural, most beneficial, most wonderful thing for their children. Sarah.

7 07 2008
Naomi

I thought when I originally heard the 6 month rule that it was pretty farcical. After all, when the WHO recommend feeding until at least two years why is the government propogating the sad idea that breastfeeding beyond 6 months is somehow unnatural? My daughter is now 14 months old, and while she breastfeeds less often than when she was 6 months, when she wants fed she wants it NOW. If I were to opt for inferior food (formula) she could have milk whenever she wanted – yet the government is still leaving me open, when I go home to England, for potential harrassment just for providing good nutrition for her. This would be upsetting for both of us, not to mention anyone who was with us at the time.Now, I’ve been lucky enough never to have had a negative reaction to my feeding in Scotland OR England – but I know there are plenty of people who have.Good for you guys. I don’t think I’m geographically in a good place to help on the organisational front but I will certainly make an effort to attend your events. This is too important an issue be left hanging – breastfeeding needs to be normalised, not ostracised.

1 12 2008
Anonymous

I stumbled onto your site by accident, and I’d like to offer you my support and encouragement. I am a breastfeeding mother of a six-month old, and I would be upset if someone tried to stop me as I fed my child. Lucky for me, I live in Canada, in Ontario specifically, and we do have laws here that protect us. People unaware of the laws or unconcerned about the posibility of being penalized under it do still harrass women and ask them to leave sometimes. We have a good technique for dealing with such establishments– stage a nurse-in. Call all your breast feeding Mamas, breastfed babies, supportive frineds and partners, and also the local press, and make an afternoon of it. Just you watch how polite the police will be to all of you there with your babies and the TV cameras rolling! We’ve done that here to good effect. For good measure, invite your local MP’s and other politicians…you are powerful, Ladies.

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