A mass protest of approximately 25 mothers was staged outside Claridges hotel in London on Saturday. Mothers came to feed their children in protest against a woman being asked to put an oversized napkin over her baby’s head while she was feeding her, in order to avoid “causing offence” to guests. Claridges said it "embraced" breastfeeding but "urged mothers to be discreet".
This most recent demonstration was organised by Free to Feed, an organisation set up by Emily Slough, a mother who was called a “tramp” on Facebook for breastfeeding in public. It is the latest uproar, following a series of incidents in which women have been told to either stop feeding their babies in public or to cover them up. In May, a mother was asked to leave Sports Direct after feeding her son, and in June another mother was asked to leave a public swimming pool after breastfeeding her child at the side. An international study, led by the Maternal and Infant Nutrition and Nurture Unit at the University of Central Lancashire, found that mothers are feeling “marginalised and ashamed” when they breastfeed in public.
Mumsnet chief executive, Justine Roberts, said: "It's bemusing that some people have a problem seeing mums breastfeeding … It is of course a natural, essential human process." NHS advice is that breastfeeding is incredibly important to a baby’s health, with breastfed babies being less prone to diarrhoea and vomiting, chest and ear infections and of becoming obese, while women who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
This latest incident comes at a time when experts are claiming that “new mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed their children up to the age of 18 months to save the NHS money”, with researchers from Brunel University calculating that “the health service could save nearly £50 million a year by reducing the incidence of childhood diseases and curbing the risk of breast cancer in women”.
Alison Johnson, senior associate at Penningtons Manches LLP, commented: “It is worrying that there have been so many incidents recently of women being told to cover their babies or not to breastfeed in public. This could well result in less mothers deciding to breastfeed at all, leading to more children losing out on the many health benefits that breastfeeding can provide. Women should have the choice whether to breastfeed or not and shouldn’t be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed by breastfeeding in public if they wish to and feel that it is the best thing for their babies.”