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Breastfeeding

The law on breastfeeding in public

You have the right to breastfeed or bottle feed a child in public until a child is 24 months old under Scottish law. In addition you cannot be discriminated against for breastfeeding a child in public up to the age of 26 weeks. This is the law under the Equality Act which applies throughout the UK and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of 'sex'. On this page you can find out what the law means in practice if someone tries to stop you breastfeeding.

The right to breastfeed in Scotland

When you are in charge of a child of under 24 months you have the right to breastfeed your child in a public place or on licensed premises (for example on a bus, in a restaurant or in a cinema), as long as the child is lawfully permitted to be in that place.

The Breastfeeding etc (Scotland) Act 2005 gives you this right and also the right to bottle feed.

You are stopped from feeding a child in public

If someone deliberately prevents or stops you from feeding a child under two they are committing a criminal offence. If you are asked to move to another part of the premises, or leave the premises completely this is also an offence. Anyone trying to stop you breastfeeding can be prosecuted and, if found guilty, ordered to pay a fine.

If you want to report the matter to the police, you may find it helpful to collect information to support your complaint, for example, the name of anyone who witnessed the incident and what they saw and heard happening.

You can also complain to the manager of any premises that you are permitted to be in when you are breastfeeding if someone tries to stop you.

Depending what happened you may want to consider taking action against someone because they have been harassing you.

You want to prevent or stop someone feeding a child in public

If you want to try to stop or prevent someone feeding a child in public because you don't think it is something that should be done in public, you should check:

  • what age the child is
  • what right the child has to be in the place.

If the child is under 24 months old and is lawfully entitled to be in the place, you will be committing an offence if you try to prevent someone feeding the child. You may also be creating the opportunity for the woman who is breastfeeding to take civil legal action against you for discrimination relating to her status of pregnancy and maternity if the child is 26 weeks old or less.

If the child is older than two years old there isn’t any legal protection for the mother to be allowed to breast feed but, if you try to prevent her feeding the child, a court may agree that you are discriminating against the mother and child unreasonably. Under the Equality Act 2010 the mother or other carer is protected from discrimination on the grounds of maternity and pregnancy for 26 weeks after the birth but a court may agree that even after 26 weeks this is sex discrimination.

Responsibilities of managers of places where a child is entitled to be fed

In places where a person is entitled to breast feed or bottle feed a child the manager or employer is responsible for telling their staff about this right. (Section 3 of the Breastfeeding (Scotland) Act 2005). If a member of staff unlawfully stops or prevents feeding taking place, the employer could be prosecuted, even if s/he was unaware of the incident at the time.

The right not to be discriminated against for breastfeeding

A woman has the right not to be discriminated against (Section 17 and 18 of the Equalities Act 2010) for breastfeeding both at work and in public within the first 26 weeks of the baby's life. This is because women are protected from discrimination or unfavourable treatment on the basis of having become mothers. After the child is 26 weeks old someone trying to stop you feeding your baby could be accused of sex dicrimination.

A woman who has just had a baby also has rights at work relating to health and safety issues and about not being treated unfavourably.

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