Feeding mothers need protection, MPs told

Parliament should pass laws protecting women's right to breastfeed in public and the workplace, MPs were told yesterday.

Elizabeth Weatherly presented a submission to a select committee considering her petition calling for more protection for breastfeeding women.

A series of "views and taboos" meant women were uncomfortable about breastfeeding, and enshrining the right to do so in the Human Rights Act would help break down the barriers, Ms Weatherly said.

"Women who breastfeed are in the closet, especially those who breastfeed past the early months of childhood," she told MPs.

The Human Rights Commission had either not accepted complaints about discrimination against breastfeeding mothers or "sat on them".

Ms Weatherly began her campaign after she had to withdraw her son from a childcare centre because staff objected to her breastfeeding the toddler in the cloakroom.

The Human Rights Commission, the Commissioner for Children, and other government agencies had all either passed on responsibility or said there was nothing they could do without a law change.

"I came to Parliament because there is nowhere else to go," she said.

All MPs on the cross-party select committee appeared to be sympathetic to the petitioners' request.

Parliament could also set an example by reversing a ruling by former Speaker Jonathan Hunt banning breastfeeding in the House.

Ms Weatherly presented a series of submissions telling of women being abused in public, "mooed at", asked to leave buildings and generally being shunned when they were breastfeeding.

One women was told to stop breastfeeding her baby while helping her 5-year-old get used to school.

She was told it was "culturally offensive" but was unable to work out whose culture she was offending as both Maori and Pakeha were in the room.

Those who objected to breastfeeding should not be punished for their views, but a law should protect women's right to breastfeed and a child's right to be fed.

Ms Weatherly said the World Health Organisation recommended infants were breastfed exclusively until at least six months and then alongside solids until at least two years of age.

There were many health benefits for both mothers and children from breastfeeding but in New Zealand less than 20 per cent of babies were exclusively breastfed by the time they were 6 months old.

Despite all the Health Ministry's attempts to improve breastfeeding rates and the length of time babies were breastfed the status quo was being maintained.

A law would both practically and symbolically empower women to say it was okay to breastfeed, she said.

A number of countries had breastfeeding protection laws.

- NZPA

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