Monday 16 September 2019

Women are entitled to breastfeed in public under law

Mothers may be asked to cover up by KLM. Stock picture
Mothers may be asked to cover up by KLM. Stock picture

Allison Bray and Geraldine Gittens

Women who breastfeed in public and at work are fully protected under Irish law.

Under The Equal Status Acts 2000-2015, mothers who breastfeed in public are protected from discrimination under the gender and family status provisions of the act.

Although the law does not specifically state whether it is illegal to request a woman to cover up while breastfeeding, the acts prohibit against "direct and indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment".

"Harassment is unwanted conduct related to any of the protected grounds, which has the purpose or effect of violating a person's dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person," according to a statement from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

Women are also protected under the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 to breastfeed at work. All women who have given birth within the previous sixth months are entitled to take an hour off each day with pay in order to breastfeed for up to 26 weeks after the birth of their child.

However, they are also required to notify their employers in writing of their intention to do so at least four weeks before they return to work.

Meanwhile, Irish airlines yesterday moved to clarify their policies on mothers breastfeeding on board their flights.

It follows a controversy that erupted when Dutch airline KLM announced its policy on breastfeeding via social media.

KLM said breastfeeding was "permitted" on KLM flights when a Twitter user asked for clarification of the airline's stance.

However, it added: "To ensure that all our passengers of all backgrounds feel comfortable on board, we may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this.

"As an international airline company, we transport passengers with a variety of backgrounds. Not all passengers feel comfortable with breastfeeding in their vicinity and sometimes these passengers complain to the cabin staff."

The airline's response generated an angry response from some Twitter users.

However, Ireland's two leading airlines yesterday said they welcome breastfeeding mothers on board.

"Breastfeeding mothers are very welcome on board our flights... We're a family friendly airline and there have never been any issues on board our flights," said a spokesperson for Aer Lingus.

"Our crew are highly trained to handle many situations, and they're there to meet the guests' needs on board and ensure they have a pleasant and enjoyable flight."

Similarly, a spokesperson for Ryanair said breastfeeding mothers were "very welcome" on board its flights.

Irish Independent

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