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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Fines threat over breastfeeding
Baby being breastfed
The Scottish average for breastfeeding is below UK targets
Businesses in Scotland could be fined up to 2,500 if they obstruct mothers from bottle or breastfeeding their babies in public.

The proposals are contained in the Breastfeeding Scotland Bill and are being supported by the Scottish Parliament's health committee.

It has recommended that parliament approve the Bill's general principles.

However, committee member David Davidson has objected over making non-compliance a criminal offence.

The Member's Bill, introduced by Labour MSP Elaine Smith last December, seeks to make it an offence for bars, restaurants or shopping centres, which usually admit children, from deliberately preventing those under the age of two being fed breast milk or bottled milk.

SNP MSP Christine Grahame, convener of the committee, said: "The primary aim of this Bill is to bring about a cultural change in attitude to feeding babies in public and hopefully, as a consequence, increase the number of women who choose to breastfeed.

Education campaign

"While our committee members acknowledge that there is unlikely to be a high number of prosecutions if this Bill becomes an Act, the general view that we received is that the Bill and any implementation campaign that goes with it could help eradicate any adverse reactions to breastfeeding."

The committee also argued that encouraging the provision of special breastfeeding facilities should not be regarded as an alternative to the provisions of the Bill, but complementary to its aims.

Such facilities should be encouraged "where appropriate and so far as practicable," it said.

MSPs believed the Bill would be most effective when backed by an education and awareness campaign.

Bottle milk
Companies could be fined if they obstruct the feeding of babies
The health committee issued an open call for written evidence in January and received 48 responses, nearly all of which were supportive of the measures.

It heard evidence from representatives of organisations including the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), the Breastfeeding Network, the Association of Police Officers in Scotland and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association.

The committee also heard evidence from Jenny Warren, NHS National Breastfeeding Adviser and Dr Pat Hoddinot of the Highlands and Islands Health Research Institute.

Earlier this year police chiefs warned MSPs against passing "punitive and combative" measures to encourage breastfeeding.

The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos) said the Bill aimed to improve the wellbeing of Scots children, but warned the legislation could be counterproductive.

And the Scottish Tories attacked the plan as "the ultimate in nanny state nonsense."

The party's deputy health spokeswoman Nanette Milne said: "Owners of cafes, shops and restaurants should be free to decide for themselves whether to allow breastfeeding or not on their premises.

Health benefits

"They should not be forced into doing so under pain of prosecution for a criminal offence."

She said attitudes to breastfeeding in public were already changing without government help.

Scottish Executive statistics have shown the rate of breastfeeding at the age of 6-8 weeks rose gradually from 34.6% in 1999 to 36.5% in 2003.

But the Scottish average remains well short of a national target, set in 1994, to have more than half of women still breastfeeding their babies at six weeks.

Breastfeeding babies can reduce rates of gastroenteritis and respiratory disease which require admission to hospital.

In the longer-term, breastfeeding has been shown to lead to lower rates of diabetes and obesity in children, according to the NCT which backs the Bill.

The full parliament is due to hold a stage one debate on the Bill on 14 September.

If the majority of parliament supports the general principles, the Bill will proceed to its stage two consideration.

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