As many as 60% of women take steps to hide breastfeeding in public, while 34% of mothers say they feel embarrassed by it, a survey by Start4Life, Public Health England’s (PHE) parenting advice service, has found.
The survey of 2393 people found that, while 72% of people support public breastfeeding, 48% think that a woman should always feel comfortable breastfeeding in public. PHE has raised concerns about this, as breastfeeding has health benefits for both the mother and baby, and so should not be discouraged.
‘One of the great benefits of breastfeeding is that it can be done anytime and anywhere, so as a society we need to help new mothers feel comfortable in feeding their babies wherever and whenever they need to, and we all have a role to play in that,’ said Dr Ann Hoskins, deputy director of health, wellbeing, and healthy people at PHE.
The study also identified that, while 74% of women start breastfeeding their children from birth, only 47% are still doing so six to eight weeks later. One in 10 of women who chose not to breastfeed said the worry of doing so in public influenced their decision. ‘Worries about stigma and embarrassment around breastfeeding can lead to some women feeling unable or unwilling to breastfeed in public,’ Dr Gill Thomson, from the Maternal and Infant Nutrition and Nurture Unit at the University of Central Lancashire said. ‘This can lead to isolation and some women stopping breastfeeding before they intended to.’
Other findings from the survey showed that 44% of people agree it is acceptable to breastfeed anywhere, while 57% felt restaurants were an acceptable venue for breastfeeding, and 51% that that it was acceptable to breastfeed on public transport. Public Health England say these results show that most people believe that public breastfeeding is acceptable.
Dr Hoskins added: ‘One of the great benefits of breastfeeding is that it can be done anytime and anywhere, so as a society we need to help new mothers feel comfortable in feeding their babies wherever and whenever they need to, and we all have a role to play in that.’