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Breastfeeding (Scotland) Bill briefing


July 2004
This briefing is intended to provide Branches and members with an outline of UNISON Scotland's support for the private member's Bill introduced by Elaine Smith MSP. The Breastfeeding (Scotland) Bill validates a woman's right to breastfeed her child in public places where children are allowed.

The Bill

The bill is as follows:

"An Act of the Scottish Parliament to make it an offence to prevent or stop a child who is permitted to be in a public place or licensed premises from being fed milk in that place or on those premises: to make provision in relation to the promotion of breastfeeding: and for connected purposes."

This briefing also details ways for Branches and members to raise awareness of the Bill within their local communities and how to apply pressure on local MSPs to support the Bill.

The Bill's Progress

Lead committee:

Health Committee


Proposal lodged on 19 June 2003

Introduced on 16 December 2003

Preliminary discussion:

Health Committee on 13 January 2004; 20 April 2004

Stage 1 (to be completed by 17 September 2004):


Finance Committee on 27 April; 11 May 2004

Health Committee on 11 May 2004; 1, 8, 22 June 2004

Subordinate Legislation Committee on 22 June 2004

Health Committee on 29 June 2004

Why UNISON Scotland Supports The Breastfeeding (Scotland) Bill

Breastfeeding in Scotland

Scotland has amongst the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe. Research in 1994 showed that breastfeeding rates varied between postcode zones in Glasgow, going from around 9% in more deprived areas to 75% in more affluent areas. The World Health Organisation recommends that, when possible, infants should be exclusively fed on breast milk until they are 6 months of age. The health reasons for this advice are not contested.

The Scottish Office set a target of more than 50% of women breastfeeding their babies at 6 weeks in 1994. Despite an overwhelming increase in scientific evidence confirming the resultant health benefits, only 53% of children in Scotland are now breastfed at birth, falling to around 40% at six weeks old. This contrasts poorly with Scandinavian rates of around 98%.

Increases in breastfeeding rates in Scotland are mainly dependent on the individual dedication and initiatives of Health sector workers in this field, many of whom are UNISON members. Without further support from government and wider society, Scotland could retain its place amongst the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe.

Breastfeeding, Health and Wealth

Approximately 30% of Scottish children live in poverty, with all the associated health inequalities. The importance of encouraging breastfeeding as part of a broader scheme to tackle the results of poverty, bad diet, and social exclusion must be recognised. Significant research has indicated that by increasing breastfeeding rates, the NHS could save an estimated £3.82 million annually in addition to improved child health.

Social Inclusion

Social inclusion and breastfeeding are an important part of the Executive's Social Justice Strategy, and whilst the Executive's programme for Government does outline a pro-active approach to dietary health, it does not appear to give breastfeeding adequate emphasis.

A Legal Right to Breastfeed

Young children need to be fed when they are hungry, this can mean mothers need to feed their young children frequently. Mothers should be allowed to breastfeed their babies in public places where children are permitted to be. This is not always the case, and results in many mothers stopping breastfeeding early, or not breastfeeding at all. UNISON Scotland believes that a change in legislation will give out the right message to public bodies, businesses, public transport and to the public generally.

Culturally Acceptable

UNISON Scotland believes that ignorance and fear are the main reasons why certain people will not breastfeed in public. This Bill is an excellent means for sending out a clear message that breastfeeding is not only acceptable, but should be encouraged.

A Public Campaign

UNISON Scotland believes that a public campaign led by the Executive Health Department could also help to promote breastfeeding in Scotland. It would help to change a culture, which at times can be hostile and discriminatory to breastfeeding mothers.

Breastfeeding and the Workplace

UNISON Scotland negotiates and campaigns for improved workplace rights for mothers and families. Two thirds of UNISON's members are women, and we have been at the forefront of negotiating for women's rights. This includes flexible working, extended maternity leave, parental leave rights, childcare facilities and time off for emergencies. Under health and safety legislation employers are required to provide pregnant and breastfeeding women with a place to rest. The Health and Safety Executive also recommends that employers provide women who are breastfeeding with suitable rest periods, access to a private room to express milk, somewhere to store milk, and for additional maternity leave to enable mothers to continue to breastfeed their babies for longer.


UNISON members are employed in the health service and in local government, many of whom are involved in supporting and assisting mothers in breastfeeding and nursing their babies. The majority of our members are women, and we therefore strongly support any course of action that would make women's lives a little easier. UNISON Scotland very much welcomes the proposals as set out in the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Bill. We believe that it is right that we should promote a culture that is supportive of breastfeeding, and encourages women to breastfeed their babies for as long as possible and/or appropriate.

Action for Branches

Write to your own MSP outlining your support for the bill. You can discover contact details for your local MSP on the Scottish Parliament website at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/msps/index.htm. Involve your CLP in the campaign to support the bill. Use your local media, newspapers and radio to raise awareness of the bill within your local community.

For more information on health issues see UNISON Scotland's website containing responses and briefing papers. http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk

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Further Information

Action for Branches

Write to your own MSP outlining your support for the bill. Contact details for your local MSP at www.scottish.parliament.uk

For more information on health issues see UNISON Scotland's Briefings and Responses, in particular...