UK Breastfeeding Laws

Breastfeeding and working

There are many good reasons to continue breastfeeding and providing breast milk after returning to work, not only for the nutritional and health benefits for baby but as a comforting way for mother and child to reconnect when the working day ends. Depending on your shift patterns and how long you will be separated from your baby, you may want to pump and store your breast milk at work. Will your employer have to provide facilities to allow you to pump? Are there any employee breastfeeding laws to protect you?

Employee breastfeeding laws

A fourteen page 2014 document Accommodating Breastfeeding in the Workplace from ACAS1 talks you through UK law, good practice, frequently asked questions and more including:

  • An employer must provide somewhere for breastfeeding employees to rest and lie down2
  • It’s good practice but not a legal requirement to conduct a special risk assessment for a breastfeeding employee who is returning to work
  • The law doesn’t require an employer to give paid breastfeeding or expressing breaks
  • The law doesn’t require an employer to provide facilities to breastfeed or express milk however a breastfeeding employee can ask for a safe, private area to express milk in comfort and not in a toilet or sick room which is a hygiene risk.
  • The Health and Safety Executive website is a good place for further guidance on health and safety law
  • A breach of Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations may be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Breastfeeding in public

Mother breastfeeding one twin while the other watches
Breastfeeding in public is protected under the Equality Act 2010 for as long as you wish to breastfeed your child

Breastfeeding in public places is protected under the Equality Act 2010 for as long as you wish to breastfeed your baby, toddler or small child without an age restriction. Protection covers any public space from parks and leisure facilities to public buildings and using public transport. You’re also protected in shops, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, theatres and cinemas. Maternity Action is the UK’s leading charity committed to ending inequality and improving the health and well-being of pregnant women, partners and young children. They summarise the legislation regarding breastfeeding in public places in UK and provides a list of places to go for more information:

The Equality Act 2010 says that it is discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding. It applies to anyone providing services, benefits, facilities and premises to the public, public bodies, further and higher education bodies and association. Service providers include most organisations that deal directly with the public. Service providers 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. Therefore, a cafe owner cannot ask you to stop breastfeeding, ask you to move or cover up or refuse to serve you.

If you are discriminated against you can make a complaint to the organisation who has discriminated against you and if it can’t be resolved to your satisfaction you can bring an action in a county court in England and Wales or a sheriffs court in Scotland.

mother breastfeeding on a train
Protection laws cover any public space from parks and leisure facilities to public buildings and using public transport

Breastfeeding in public in Scotland

The Scottish law relating to breastfeeding in public is slightly different to UK Breastfeeding Laws and is covered by the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005. Maternity Action explains:

In Scotland a person has a right to breastfeed or bottle feed a child under two and it is a criminal offence to try to stop or to prevent a woman from feeding a child under two in any place in which the public has access and in which a child under two is entitled to be. Anyone who tries to stop or prevent a person feeding milk to a child under the age of two can be prosecuted and can face a claim under the Equality Act.

Employers are responsible for ensuring that their staff are fully aware of the law. If an employee tries to stop or prevent a woman from breastfeeding in the course of their employment, the employer may also be liable even if they were unaware of the incident. You should complain to the employer in the first instance and, if necessary, you can report the matter to the police.

There is further information in the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 brochure (pdf) and see Citizen’s Advice Scotland.