Law planned to protect mums breastfeeding in public

image captionThe health minister plans to put forward legislation to protect breastfeeding mothers

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill has promised legislation to protect mothers who breastfeed in public.

Mrs O'Neill said she had spoken to mothers about the issue.

She said she would bring forward "specific legislation" as soon as possible.

The Department of Health said the new laws would work to increase "awareness and acceptability" of breastfeeding, and improve breastfeeding rates, which are the lowest in the UK.

Currently, breastfeeding mothers in Northern Ireland are protected by sex discrimination laws that prohibit anyone from treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.

However, Scottish law is tougher, making it an offence to deliberately prevent or stop a person from feeding milk to a child in their charge in a public place or licensed premises.

Liz Skelcher, who was verbally abused for breastfeeding in a Belfast restaurant, said any legislation "could only be a good thing".

"This is really positive news," she said.

'Unapologetic message'

"If the government especially gets behind breastfeeding it sends an unapologetic message.

"As a new mum there is so much insecurity, but feeling uncomfortable about getting your breasts out to feed your baby should not be one of them."

Mrs O'Neill said: "The details of this legislation will be consulted upon as soon as practicable and I hope to introduce this to the assembly at the earliest possible date."

According to the Department of Health, breastfeeding rates in Northern Ireland have remained static over the past number of years.

Mothers in Northern Ireland, who choose to breastfeed, also do so for a shorter period than breastfeeding mothers elsewhere in the UK.

"The reasons why women choose not to breastfeed, or stop breastfeeding, are varied and complex," Mrs O'Neill added.

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