On 21 July 2016, John Bercow, The Speaker of the House of Commons was quoted in the press as saying that MPs should be allowed to breastfeed in the House of Commons (1). He said an independent review into Parliament had concluded that allowing women to breastfeed would be “symbolic” and showcase the Commons as a “role model parent-friendly institution”.
Equality Act 2010
The right to breastfeed in public places anywhere in the UK is contained in the Equality Act 2010 (2). The Act makes it clear that treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding a child of any age is considered sex discrimination. This applies to any business or premise providing services to the public, including public institutions, associations and higher education bodies. Service providers dealing directly with the public must not discriminate, harass or victimise a woman because she is breastfeeding. Discrimination includes refusing to provide a service, providing a lower standard of service or providing a service on different terms.
Abiding by the Act
In the past there have been reported cases of MPs being criticised for taking their babies into the Commons because they needed to breastfeed, and Mr Berkow was quoted as saying that Parliament has been “lazy” in reforming its “antiquated” traditions.
Breastfeeding in public spaces, along with continuing to breastfeed when returning to paid work, are challenges which concern many mothers. Women often face a balancing act when they return to paid work while also meeting the needs of their baby.
The more often breastfeeding is noticed, the more easily it will be accepted, hopefully leading to a change in people’s attitudes and a reduction in any criticism. Supporting the right of women to breastfeed in the Commons will be a welcome step forward for mothers and make it clear that breastfeeding a baby does not have to be hidden away, or come to an end when women go out to work.