Women are sometimes told that breastfeeding at, or in, a swimming pool is prohibited. The reasons for this are often cited as hygiene or contamination fears.
Fears that breastmilk will ‘pollute’ the pool
Fears that a baby will vomit in the pool
It is unhygienic for the baby
No eating rule should apply to all
Why can’t the mother get out of the pool?
The Indecency Argument
Equality Act 2010
Report into Breastfeeding at Municipal Pools
Breastmilk does not pose any health hazard to other swimmers. If it did then pools would need to ban all lactating women from using them! Even if any breastmilk gets into the water it is actually antibacterial, and antimicrobial, and won’t cause any problems.
Urine, hair, sweat, mucus, saliva, even faecal matter are found in pools, not to mention the various products people have put onto their skins. Swimming pool water is chlorinated for the purpose of killing bacteria and breastmilk is probably one of the things swimmers need to least worry about.
A baby who has just been breastfed is no more likely to vomit or bring up milk than a baby who had a formula feed. If a mother knows her baby is prone to copious posseting then she will be aware of the possible problems. It seems unlikely that anyone would want their child to vomit in a pool!
It is possible a baby will ingest a small amount of pool water, but probably a lot less than they will when they are actually swimming. A baby’s mouth forms a seal around the breast – if a tiny amount of water is swallowed it will be no more harmful than that swallowed at other times.
This rule was intended to apply to things such as solid food, tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and such like. Breastmilk is not really comparable to these, and will not contaminate the pool in the way other foodstuffs would. Breastmilk is not just a food for a baby but also a way of comforting them. Babies can’t plan when they need to nurse so it is impossible to expect them to eat beforehand or wait until afterwards in the same way that adults and older children can.
Why can’t the mother get out of the pool?
A mother will often be at the pool with an older child. It is impractical to take the child out and certainly not acceptable to leave another child in the pool on their own. A few minutes at the breast may well be enough to comfort the baby and for everyone to carry on without disruption.
A mother nursing her child is not necessarily showing anymore flesh, and most likely a lot less, than many other people in the pool and this includes men as well as women!
It is entirely legal to breastfeed in public places anywhere in the UK. According to the Equality Act of 2010, 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. It is possible that individual business employees, owners or managers may not be aware of these regulations and may tell a woman that she cannot breastfeed on the business premises. If this happens, the mother can challenge their request. If still asked to stop breastfeeding or leave the premises, a woman can contact the Government Equalities Office. A solicitor can advise on whether a claim can be brought for discrimination under the 2010 Equality Act. In previous cases where women have been asked to stop breastfeeding in the pool, the authorities concerned have eventually reversed their decision and stated that women are entitled to breastfeed if they wish to.
In August 2002 a report was prepared on behalf of the Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton (Canada). This looked at complaints made about women who breastfed at public pools and addressed all the issues raised. You can read it here.
Written by Anna Burbidge. Photos courtesy of Jacqueline, Ellen, Sophie.
Breastfeeding at Municipal Pools in Canada – A Report from the Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton. Strange, Barb: August 16 2002.
Copyright LLLGB 2016.