Confusion and contradiction over breastfeeding rules at Hitchin pool

PUBLISHED: 09:45 06 August 2019 | UPDATED: 13:45 07 August 2019

Jennifer (R) and her friends say they were prevented from breastfeeding at Hitchin Outdoor Pool. Picture: Jen Charlton

Jennifer (R) and her friends say they were prevented from breastfeeding at Hitchin Outdoor Pool. Picture: Jen Charlton


What was intended to be a dream day at Hitchin’s outdoor pool quickly turned into a nightmare for one group of mums last week.

Jennifer Charlton was looking forward to spending the day at Hitchin's pool with her three friends - who have all recently had babies in the last six months.

Relaxing on the edge of the pool, one of Jennifer's friends began breastfeeding her daughter who was upset and hungry.

To the group's surprise, a lifeguard approached them and explained that breastfeeding was against the pool's policy - as per the duty manager's instructions.

With disgruntled babies and feeling like they were unable to feed their children, the group of four decided to leave the pool.

Before leaving, Jennifer wanted to raise this with the pool's management - knowing that banning breastfeeding without reasonable grounds could be unlawful discrimination.

The duty manager told Jennifer that breastfeeding was banned because "breast milk might get in the water and contaminate it."

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Jennifer says that later a different manager contradicted this point, explaining: "breastfeeding and bottlefeeding is allowed but discouraged."

Section 13 of the Equality Act 2010 states that providing less favourable treatment to a woman because she is breastfeeding could be deemed direct discrimination under civil law.

Jonathan Stone - corporate services director at SLL, which runs Hitchin Swimming Centre - said: "We manage community facilities that are accessible for all. Therefore, as per the Equality Act 2010, our policy is that breastfeeding should be allowed at all our facilities."

When pressed on why the mums were initially told otherwise, a spokesperson for SLL said: "We are aware of staff misunderstanding on this matter and apologise for the incident in question. Training and communication will be provided to ensure instances like this do not happen again."

The National Childbirth Trust is a charity that supports parents through the early stages of pregnancy and parenthood.

NCT senior policy adviser, Elizabeth Duff, said: "No mum should be asked to stop breastfeeding their baby in a public place. It's against the law and it's important that women know they have this right.

"We'd urge venues and businesses to do all they can to welcome and support mums who are breastfeeding."

Cllr Judi Billing - executive member for community engagement at North Herts District Council, which owns the swimming centre - said: "The district council welcomes women who want to breastfeed their babies at our buildings and managed sites in the district.

"Breastfeeding is a natural and healthy thing to do for both mother and baby and the council looks to support this wherever possible. We thank SLL for their swift response in correcting the incident which occurred at the Hitchin Swimming Centre."

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