Mothers who want to breastfeed their babies in public should be protected from the prejudice that sometimes stops them from doing so, an MP says.
'A third of mothers do not breastfeed from the outset'
Labour's David Kidney is calling for the Department of Health to give nursing parents more information about the benefits of breast feeding.
He is introducing a bill to stop "discrimination" against breastfeeders.
"It beats me that people can ogle breasts in newspapers" but cannot bear seeing a breastfeeding mother, he said.
Mr Kidney told MPs that there was "research findings piling up" that shows "breast milk is best".
It leads to fewer infections in babies, promotes healthy hearts long term, improves cognitive development and offers protection against insulin dependent diabetes, he said.
It also leads to greater weigh loss in mothers if they breastfeed for six months and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
But despite efforts by groups like the National Childbirth Trust to promote the benefits of breast milk for the first six months of a child's life, "a third of mothers don't breastfeed from the outset" in England and Wales, he said.
And by four months of age, only about a quarter of babies still receive breast milk, he said.
He contrasted these figures with Norway, where 97% of new mothers start out breastfeeding their children.
"The proposal in this bill is to address some deep weaknesses in this society's attitude to breast-feeding," Mr Kidney told MPs.
It would require the Department of Health to make arrangements to support and encourage families to increase the rate of breastfeeding in this country.
"This is a bill about the health benefits of breast feeding, ensuring parents know about those benefits and have support to take it up," he said.
"It is to stop a form of discrimination that stops parents from feeding their children in public areas."
Mr Kidney told MPs that a GP in a Birmingham restaurant was asked to stop feeding her baby at the table and to use the toilets instead.
He said another woman at an exhibition suffered a volley of abuse and had her pushchair thrown away by a man offended by her breastfeeding.
Earlier this year, legislation in Scotland came into effect to make it an offence to stop nursing mothers from feeding their babies in places like bars, buses and shopping centres. Businesses who break the law there risk a fine of up to £2,500.
Mr Kidney said his bill, which would apply equally to bottle and breastfeeding of children under two years old, had the support of Unicef and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).
He said an NCT breastfeeding counsellor in his Stafford constituency summed up the position when she commented: "The issue of breastfeeding in public places has come up in every single antenatal session.
"Mothers say: 'I would like to breastfeed but what about if I go out in public?'"