‘Make a law to protect breastfeeding in public’

Mothers who breastfeed in public should be given legal protection against people who tell them to cover up, a new group argues.

'Make a law to protect breastfeeding in public'
A mother breastfeeds her two-month-old baby. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

Kicki Sahamies, a mother of two young children, launched the Breastfeeding Appeal (Amningsuppropet) after she noticed a change in attitudes in the years since she had her first child in 2012. 

Back then nobody complained when she breastfed sitting down, or standing up and walking around with her baby in a harness. 

But after she had her second baby last year, she found that more people looked at her disapprovingly and were more open with their distaste. One incident in particular jolted her into action. 

“I was at the library breastfeeding my baby in a harness when a librarian told me, in front of a crowd of people, that what I was doing didn’t look good,” Sahamies told The Local. 

“I was hurt and upset, and a lot of mothers who hear comments like that feel the same way. They’re ashamed, often to the point that they won’t even bring it up at home.” 

When she looked into the legalities she found that breastfeeding mothers weren’t getting much help in Sweden. Women are allowed to breastfeed in public but there’s nothing to stop a business owner, say, from putting up a sign forbidding it. 

Sahamies and her fellow members are now trying to convince local councils to safeguard the right of mothers to breastfeed in all council-owned buildings. They’re also lobbying national politicians, and have been heartened by the response so far. 

“Politicians across the spectrum are getting behind the appeal and the number of members joining our Facebook groups has exploded,” said Sahamies. 

“A lot of women don’t speak out when people tell them not to breastfeed in public because they’re worried that it will only make matters worse, but we can’t keep a lid on this anymore.” 

Sahamies, currently on maternity leave from her night job in the health sector, said she feared more mothers would simply stay indoors for the first six months after the birth of a child.  

“As a society we’ve grown more intolerant in the last few years.” 

Young people especially aren’t keen on breastfeeding in public. A 2011 survey by Philips Avent showed 75 percent of young people in Sweden thought there were some public places where mothers shouldn’t breastfeed. 

The Breastfeeding Appeal’s message to people who don’t like it is: Put up or look away. And Sahamies thinks opposition to public breastfeeding should be legislated against as a form of discrimination. 

“It discriminates against the mother, but also against the child. I’d like to make clear that we’re not against bottle feeding, that’s not what this is about. But breast milk is very good for a baby and it’s not acceptable for a child to be denied this food in public places.”