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The Proposed
Breastfeeding (Scotland) Bill

UNISON Scotland's response to Elaine Smith MSP's Consultation on the proposals for the Breastfeeding Scotland Bill.

September 2002

Executive Summary

UNISON Scotland welcomes the proposals for a Bill to validate a woman's right to breastfeed her child in public places where children are allowed.

  • Breastfeeding is an entirely natural practice, mothers should be able to breastfeed their young children in public places.
  • Breastfeeding mothers and babies should be treated with dignity and respect.
  • UNISON Scotland recognises the health benefits for both mothers and children who breastfeed. Therefore mothers and babies should be encouraged and supported to breastfeed where possible.
  • UNISON Scotland believes that we need clarity in the law to firmly establish the right to breastfeed. The most effective and efficient way to do this is through a change to the criminal law, rather than changing civil law.


UNISON Scotland is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 145,000 members working in the public sector. 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. Two thirds of our members are women.

UNISON Scotland is pleased to respond to Elaine Smith MSP's proposals for a Breastfeeding (Scotland) Bill. We have been represented on the steering group for the Bill, and supported the launch of the consultation. UNISON Scotland very much welcomes the proposals as set out in the Breastfeeding (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 is possible and/or appropriate.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's submission to the proposed Breastfeeding (Scotland) Bill.


Question 1.

UNISON Scotland believes that it is every child's right to be breastfed by his or her mother.

Question 2.

We do think that it is acceptable to breastfeed in public. Breastfeeding is an entirely natural practice, and we believe that breastfeeding mothers and their children should be treated with dignity and respect.

Question 3.

UNISON Scotland does think it is acceptable to bottle feed children in public.

Question 4.

Children should have a right to be breastfed whenever and wherever required. Young children need to be fed when they are hungry, this can mean mothers need to feed their young children frequently. It is necessary for mothers to be able to breastfeed their children on demand. Therefore, we believe that mothers should be allowed to breastfeed their babies in public places where children are permitted to be.

Question 5.

UNISON Scotland believes that ignorance and fear are the main reasons why certain people believe breastfeeding in public is a problem. There is an ignorance of what breastfeeding a baby involves, with individuals feeling it is exhibitionist activity and being frightened at their own potential reaction to a breastfeeding mother and child. Others have difficulty with the supposed conflict of breasts as sexual objects and a natural means of providing nourishment for a baby.

Question 6.

The Bill to give mothers a legal right to breastfeed their babies in public places is an excellent step to send out a clear message that breastfeeding is an acceptable activity that should be encouraged.

We welcome the current work being done led by the National Breastfeeding Advisor in promoting breastfeeding to mothers in Scotland. This work should continue and be fully supported and resourced by the Scottish Executive.

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

Question 7.

Barriers that deter mothers from breastfeeding at birth include:

  • Embarrassment
  • Lack of support from partner / family / friends.
  • Difficulties in finding places suitable and welcoming to breastfeed whilst out.
  • Lack of support - or indeed objections - from the general public whilst out.
  • The social / cultural perception, often presented in the media, of bottle feeding as normal and associated with "ordinary families", whilst breastfeeding is represented as problematic, and extraordinary.

Question 8.

At six weeks old a baby is probably ready to be taken out into public places with its mother. It is when the mother is carrying out such activities - shopping, attending clinics, taking older children to school or nursery, socialising in cafes, parks or children's play areas, travelling on buses and trains etc. - that she needs to be able to feel safe and comfortable to breastfeed her baby. This is clearly not always the case, and results in many mothers' decision to stop breastfeeding their child at six weeks.

Culturally, there is the belief that it is acceptable to breastfeed a new born baby, but as the baby grows into a toddler some people find this less acceptable.

Question 9.

UNISON Scotland feels very strongly that society has a duty to support and encourage breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding has proven health benefits for both mothers and babies - benefits which last into later life. Mothers who breastfeed have less risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Question 10.

UNISON Scotland strongly believes that society also has a duty to children to support and encourage breastfeeding. As stated above there are numerous health benefits for children who are breastfed - both when they are babies and as they grow up into adults. Breastfed babies have less risk of stomach upsets, ear infections, chest infections, childhood diabetes, asthma, eczema and allergies. Children who have been breastfed have a significantly reduced incidence of obesity, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Additional Comments

Breastfeeding and the Workplace

UNISON Scotland negotiates and campaigns for improved workplace rights for mothers and families. This includes flexible working, extended maternity leave, parental leave rights, child care facilities and time off for emergencies. For some considerable time we have supported working mothers who breastfeed, negotiating for suitable areas for them to express and store breast milk, and additional maternity leave to enable mothers to continue to breastfeed their babies for longer. UNISON is clear that mothers and babies also need support to breastfeed in society at large.

Civil or Criminal Law

UNISON Scotland accepts that a change in criminal law is more effective to validate the act of breastfeeding in public than a change to civil law. Civil law places the burden of proof on the mother to prove her right to breastfeed, resulting in financial costs and possible psychological trauma for the mother and child. A change to the criminal law means that the onus lies with public bodies, businesses or public transport to ensure that breastfeeding mothers are not discriminated against. The change to criminal law allows for a system of fines to be imposed on bodies flouting the law, which would be more direct, and act as a deterrent to discriminating against breastfeeding mothers and babies.

For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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