The Law

by Dr Louise Santhanam, General Practitioner 

The following information provides details for GPs on the legal situation regarding breastfeeding in public, the employment of breastfeeding mothers, and return to work issues.


Breastfeeding in Public Places

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The UK Equality Act 2010 defines treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding as discrimination. Providers of services, benefits, facilities and premises to the public, public bodies, further and higher education bodies and associations 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.

  • A mother breastfeeding at a GP Surgery is therefore protected by Equality Law.
  • It is not against the law to prevent a woman breastfeeding where there are legitimate health and safety risks, eg. near to certain chemicals or radiation.

Additionally, in Scotland it is a criminal offence to stop or prevent a woman from breast or bottle feeding a child under the age of two in a public place and a place in which a child under two is entitled to be. Anyone who tries to stop or prevent milk feeding to a child under the age of two can be prosecuted under the The Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005. An employer may also be liable if an employee prevents a mother from breastfeeding in a legitimate location, so responsibility falls to the employer to ensure employees abide by the law.

Maternity Action: Breastfeeding in Public Places

Healthier Scotland Scottish Executive: The Breastfeeding etc (Scotland) Act 2005- Advice for Employers Advice in line with the law in Scotland.


Breastfeeding and Return to Work

The reduction of barriers for working mothers to breastfeed by providing lactation rooms and nursing breaks are low-cost interventions that can reduce absenteeism and improve workforce performance, commitment and retention.

Rollins N.C. et al 2016, Lancet Breastfeeding Series

The Health and Safety Executive recommends that breastfeeding employees should provide their employer with written notification that they are breastfeeding. The advice is to do this before return to work, so the employer can ensure return to a suitable environment.

  • It is not suitable for new mothers to use toilets for expressing milk. 
  • It is advisable for an employer to provide a private, healthy and safe environment for breastfeeding employees to express and store milk, but there is no legal requirement to do so. 
  • An employer is legally required to provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest and, where necessary, this should include somewhere to lie down.

Health and Safety Executive: New and Expectant Mothers- The Law

Health and Safety Executive: New and Expectant Mothers FAQ

Citizens Advice Bureau: Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination

Maternity Action: Continuing to Breastfeed When you Return to Work

ACAS: Accommodating Breastfeeding Employees in the Workplace


Published April 2017, Updated 21st July 2017