The Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act was passed in October 2010 and protects the rights of individuals to equal treatment regardless of factors such as sex, race and age.
It contains specific protections for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
This means that women have the right to breastfeed in any public place without being asked to leave or receiving any hostile treatment.
For example, if you chose to breastfeed in a coffee shop, the owner would not be able to refuse you service or ask you to stop breastfeeding.
If a shop owner or other service provider does this, they are contravening the Equality Act and are breaking the law.
All public places, including restaurants, hotels, cinemas, trains and parks, must follow the terms set out in the Equality Act.
Exceptions to the rule
There are some instances in which it is legal for women to be prevented from breastfeeding.
This will be the case if there is a health and safety concern, such as proximity to chemicals that could cause harm.
Another instance where it would be acceptable to ask a woman to not breastfeed would be in a single sex service provided for men.
If you are asked not to breastfeed or to stop breastfeeding for such reasons, these should be explained clearly to you.
It's likely that organisations where these examples could be valid will have a policy in place that they will be able to refer to if there is cause for uncertainty.
What should I do if I'm asked to stop?
If you have been unlawfully asked to stop breastfeeding, you have the right to make a complaint against the service or organisation in question.
You can refer to the Equality Act 2010 as the piece of legislation that protects your right to breastfeed in a public place.
You also have the right to make a complaint if you feel you have been discriminated against for breastfeeding, even if you were not asked directly to stop.
You may find our template letter for breastfeeding discrimination helpful if you're planning to make a complaint directly to the organisation.