xpectant mums are almost force-fed the message that ‘breast is best.’ Breastfeeding is the most natural and healthy way to nurture and bond with your baby, yet, according to a new survey, many mums still feel uncomfortable about doing it in public.

Of the 1,200 women who participated in an online Mother & Baby poll, 60 per cent felt the UK isn’t breastfeeding-friendly. Two thirds of the mothers were so conscious of being stared at that they wouldn’t attempt it in public, and 50 per cent had been asked to move from a restaurant or café while breastfeeding.

During pregnancy and after giving birth, mothers are told that, rather than bottle feeding, ‘breast is best’. Most mums recognise the health benefits: protection against childhood infections and allergies. All mums want to do the best for their child by giving them the best possible start, but it seems some are being put off doing what comes naturally because of prudish attitudes.

Bingley mum Victoria Burrows recalls a few negative experiences while breastfeeding her son Oliver in public. She was asked if she minded feeding him elsewhere, including the toilet. “But they are still eating and it should be hygienic and clean,” says Victoria.

Unlike some mums, Victoria refused to be discouraged by public opinion. In fact, the comments she encountered gave her an enterprising idea. It’s almost a year since she opened Café In The Park, the family-friendly café in Bingley’s Myrtle Park where parents and pushchairs are welcome.

The café has become a sanctuary for parents who dine out with their little ones without worrying about, or being conscious, of interrupting fellow diners.

Victoria says it is also often the first place where new mums have attempted or practised breastfeeding in public.

“We always have breastfeeding mums in here, and I think once they have tried it, they can keep doing it. You can do it discreetly,” says Victoria.

Despite the few negative remarks she received while breastfeeding in public, she says it is the most natural thing and should be encouraged rather than discouraged.

New mum Jess Robinson, from Ilkley, who runs moormums. co.uk, an information and social networking website for parents, says she believes breastfeeding is increasing, indicating that more mums are feeling comfortable about doing it. Nevertheless, she says there is still a long way to go.

Jess, who has been breastfeeding her eight-month-old son, Frank, is currently compiling tips and advice for breastfeeding mums on the Moormums website.

She says there are various things mums could do to be discreet, such as wearing a scarf to conceal themselves while feeding.

Mum-of-three Rebecca Terry, from Menston who has co-written books on pushchair walks and runs a website promoting the walks around Yorkshire, breastfed all her children – she is currently breastfeeding her seven-month-old daughter – and says she doesn’t care if people have a problem with it.

“I don’t find it a problem. Some people give me some funny looks, but it’s natural and I don’t really care what they think,” she says. “It’s the most natural thing to do and I would rather do what is best and ignore what other people think.”

Ellen McTeer, who runs the Bradford La Leche League group, part of a global organisation promoting mother-to-mother breastfeeding support from pregnancy to weaning, says she believes there are still mixed feelings about breastfeeding in public.

“There is an increasing number of women who are breastfeeding and a lot of them are feeding outside their homes and in public places and feel quite comfortable with it. A lot of women are looking for support networks and are finding places like La Leche or baby cafes – places to go where they feel supported,” she says.

However, Ellen, who breastfed her three children without any negative experiences, says she still hears of mums being criticised or being asked to stop feeding in public.

“I think attitudes are still mixed,” says Ellen. “I think some mums feel worried about feeding in public because they have heard that people will say things, but often the people who may complain wouldn’t even notice that the woman is feeding a baby. It can be discreet.”

Donna Heaton, breastfeeding peer supporter and site editor of Netmums, Bradford, an online information network, says breastfeeding in public is a debate which often comes up on the Netmums Coffeehouse – a forum for mums to chat.

Donna, who breastfed her three children, says she believes we need to encourage a more breastfeeding-friendly community. She would also like to see more support groups in local communities that mums can visit, ask questions and share stories.

On a light-hearted note, a visit to the site reveals that some mums have been discussing through the Coffeehouse forum the most unusual places they have breastfed their child – they range from in a helicopter to walking around the supermarket while pushing a trolley!

  • For more information visit netmums.com or to find out more about La Leche Bradford call (01274) 844314.