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Response to the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Bill

The UNISON Scotland Submission To the Scottish Parliament's Health Committee On their call for Written Evidence on the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Bill

March 2004


UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the call for written evidence from the Scottish Parliament's Health Committee regarding the above Bill. UNISON Scotland strongly supports the Bill, as we believe that it validates a woman's right to breastfeed her child in public places where children are allowed.

Breastfeeding in Scotland

UNISON Scotland has already submitted a response to the Scottish Executive's consultation on the Proposed Breastfeeding (Scotland) Bill, but it may be worth re-iterating some of the key issues to the Health Committee.

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. (1) At the time just under 30% of women were breastfeeding at 6 weeks, increasing to 36% by 2001. (2) This contrasts poorly with Scandinavian rates of around 98%. (3)

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. 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 substantiation 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. 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. Any strategy relating to diet, nutrition and future health of our nation must have its beginnings rooted firmly in early stages of life. Many of UNISON's members who work with mothers and babies believe that the Executive needs to do more to advocate breastfeeding in Scotland. This Bill is one step towards achieving this.

There is a huge amount of medical research emphasising breastfeeding as the natural way to feed babies. It is the simplest way of ensuring positive health advantages in infancy, childhood and adult life. In infancy, breastfeeding has a protective effect against ear infections, diarrhoeal illness and urinary tract infections. It aids mental development and reduces the incidence of eczema, asthma and diabetes in later life. For mothers it cuts the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and can help them regain their shape after pregnancy. Furthermore, 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.

A Legal Right to Breastfeed

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. Therefore we believe that mothers should be allowed to breastfeed their babies in public places where children are permitted to be. A mother needs to feel safe and comfortable to breastfeed her baby. This is not always the case, and results in many mothers' decision to stop breastfeeding early, or not to breastfeed at all. Many US states have legislation to protect breastfeeding in public, and federal law protects women's rights to breastfeed on federal property, so this Bill is not an unusual attempt to protect women's rights. Here, there is no measure protecting mothers from being subjected to discrimination and segregation while breastfeeding in public. UNISON Scotland believes that a change in legislation will give out the right message to public bodies, businesses, public transport and to Scottish people.

Breastfeeding must be Culturally Acceptable

UNISON Scotland believes that ignorance and fear are the main reasons why certain people will not breastfeed in public. Much of this belief is due to ignorance of what breastfeeding a baby involves. Some people believe it is an exhibitionist activity and are afraid of their own 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. This Bill is an excellent means for sending out a clear message that breastfeeding is not only acceptable, but should be encouraged. 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. 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, and somewhere to store milk. Two thirds of UNISON's members are women, and we have been at the forefront of negotiating for women's rights. This includes negotiating for suitable areas for mothers to express and store breast 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.


1 Warren J, Breastfeeding in Scotland Where are we now Health Bulletin 1998 56 (4): 772-9

2 Scottish Executive, Social Justice Annual Report 2002 page 27

3 Anderson Professor A, Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 16 2003 p 27


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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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