Breastfeeding in public places
The Equality Act came into force in October 2010. This information sheet gives a brief guide to the new law and what to do if you are treated unfavourably because you are breastfeeding.
For more information on your rights to continue to breastfeed on return to work, see the information sheet Breastfeeding on return to work.
What does the law say?
The new Equality Act says that it is sex 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 or refuse to serve you.
How long does protection apply for?
There is no age restriction, the law protects you for as long as you wish to breastfeed your baby.
Where can a woman breastfeed?
You are protected in public places such as parks, sports and leisure facilities, public buildings and when using public transport such as buses, trains and planes. You are protected in shops, public, restaurants and hotels regardless of how big of small. You are also protected in places like hospitals, theatres, cinemas and petrol stations.
Am I protected if I am asked to stop breastfeeding at work?
If your employer provides services to the public, your employer is also responsible for the actions of its employees.
The law does not currently provide a right to time off at work to breastfeed but you have health and safety rights at work as an employee and the right to ask for flexible work. For more information, see the information sheet Continuing to breastfeed when you return to work. Employers are not obliged to provide facilities for expressing and storing milk but they may wish to as a matter of good practice and they must take steps to protect the health and safety of an employee who is breastfeeding on return to work.
What protection is there for students?
Further and higher education bodies must not discriminate, harass or victimise a student who is breastfeeding in terms of admission or provision of education or by excluding the student or subjecting her to any detriment. This includes access to benefits, facilities or services.
Which associations are included?
An association must not discriminate, harass or victimise a person because she is breastfeeding by refusing membership or discriminating in provision of benefits, facilities or services.
An association includes clubs, such as golf clubs, that have rules of membership, with at least 25 members, where members have to apply to join. Private clubs, with less than 25 members, that have no formal rules of membership, such as a book club, would not be counted as an association. Clubs where you simply pay a membership fee to join are not counted as an association but would be considered to be providing public services.
Are there some places where I cannot breastfeed in public?
Yes, it is not against the law to prevent a woman breastfeeding in a service which is a single sex service for men. This single sex service must be justified, for example, where only one sex needs it or one sex needs the service more than the other. Voluntary groups or charities set up specifically to benefit one sex may be acting lawfully if they exclude women. Religious organisations may offer services to one sex if it is in line with the doctrines of that religion. In some cases, where single sex services are justified, it would be reasonable to object to members of the opposite sex being there.
It is not against the law to prevent a woman breastfeeding where there are legitimate health and safety risks, for example, near to certain chemicals or radiation.
What can I do if I am discriminated against because I am breastfeeding?
Firstly, you should make a complaint to the organisation that has discriminated against you. Most service providers, educational bodies and other groups should have a complaints procedure, if not, you should ask who to complain to.
If you cannot resolve the matter you can bring an action in a county court in England or Wales or a sheriffs court in Scotland but you should seek advice as these can be expensive cases to bring. You must start the case within 6 months of the date of the act you are complaining about. This time limit will only be extended where it is just and equitable. If you win your case the court can order compensation, an injunction or a declaration but if you lose you may be ordered to pay the other side’s legal costs. Compensation can include an amount for injury to feelings.
If you have been refused a service or treated unfavourably you should seek advice.
Additional protection in Scotland
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.
This information sheet was produced in March 2015. It is important to get up-to-date advice.
Where to go for more help
Advice on maternity rights and benefits for UK citizens and foreign nationals
Helpline 0845 600 8533
For advice on employment rights or for Early Conciliation if you are thinking of making a tribunal claim
Helpline: 08457 47 47 47 (offers telephone interpreting service)
For information about your rights and to find details of local advice bureau
Factsheets available in English, Welsh, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu and Chinese
The CAB is currently developing a national advice phone service. If you live or work in Wales call 08444 77 20 20. For England, call 08444 111 444 or check your local bureau’s contact details as it is not available in all areas yet. www.citizensadvice.org.uk
Civil Legal Advice
If you are eligible for legal aid you can get free legal advice on 0845 345 4 345 (offers translation service). To check your eligibility see www.gov.uk/civil-legal-advice
To search for specialist legal advisers or solicitors in your area see find-legal-advice.justice.gov.uk
Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
For information and advice about discrimination law
The EHRC helpline for advice and information is run by the Equality Advisory Support Service. The contact numbers for the new service are:
Phone: 0808 800 0082
Textphone: 0808 800 0084
Mon.- Fri. 9am – 8pm
Sat. 10am – 2pm
The government’s online information service
For information and advice on benefits and rights at work, see
Helpline 0300 012 0312
More Maternity Action information sheets
Additional paternity leave and pay – new rights for fathers and partners
Adoption leave and pay – rights for parents – your rights to time off and pay if you are adopting a child
Benefit and tax credit rates 2015-16 – annual schedule of rates
Breastfeeding in public places – your right to breastfeed when you are out and about
Child-friendly working hours – rights to ask for changes in your working hours to fit with your childcare or other caring responsibilities
Continuing to breastfeed when you return to work – your rights if you wish to continue breastfeeding on return to work
Dealing with problems at work – a guide for new parents and parents-to-be on how to deal with problems at work
Discrimination during maternity leave and on return to work – your rights during maternity leave
Health and safety during pregnancy and on return to work – health and safety protection for new and expectant mothers
Keeping in touch days – a guide to working KIT days during maternity or adoption leave
Maternity and parental rights for agency workers – maternity and parental rights and benefits
Maternity and parental rights for apprentices – maternity and parental rights and benefits
Money for parents and babies – benefits and tax credits for working and non-working families
Maternity pay questions – how to qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance
Pregnancy discrimination – what is pregnancy discrimination and what you can do about it
Pregnant at work – a brief guide to your rights to maternity leave and pay
Pregnant during maternity leave – your rights if you become pregnant again during or shortly after maternity leave
Redundancy during pregnancy and maternity leave – your rights if you are made redundant
Redundancy during pregnancy and maternity leave – additional questions
Resigning from your job during pregnancy and maternity leave – what to do if you wish to resign
Rights at work for fathers and partners – a brief guide to rights for fathers and partners
Rights for parents with more than one job – rights for parents working more than one job
Sickness during pregnancy and maternity leave – rights and benefits during sick leave
Time off and pay for parents in surrogacy arrangements – rights to paternity leave, parental leave and time off in an emergency as relates to surrogacy
Time off for working parents – rights to paternity leave, parental leave and time off in an emergency
Polish language information – rights at work for mothers, fathers and partners
Portuguese language information – your rights at work
Spanish language information – your rights at work
Maternity rights for refugees, asylum seekers, refused asylum seekers and women with no recourse to public funds - information sheets for EU nationals and other migrants subject to immigration control
Available at: www.maternityaction.org.uk