It may be seen as a location for topless sunbathing, but France has emerged as the least tolerant nation towards women breastfeeding in public when compared with the UK and US.
French women are least likely to think public breastfeeding is acceptable, even though it is perfectly legal in the country – with 48% saying it is generally acceptable for a woman to breastfeed, and 40% saying it is generally unacceptable.
France has among the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, at around 70%, while this figure is at 76% for the UK and 74% in the US, according to the World Health Organisation.
Across the channel, 76% of British women feel it is acceptable for a woman to breastfeed in public, and just 18% say it is unacceptable. American woman are slightly more tentative, with 63% saying it is acceptable and 26% feeling it is unacceptable.
In all three countries, men were more open to public breastfeeding than women. 77% of British men think it is generally acceptable for a woman to breastfeed in public, and 19% said it is generally not acceptable.
Beach is favored breastfeeding location
While 84% of Brits say it is okay for a woman to breastfeed on the beach, 62% of the nation would find it acceptable on public transport.
Inhabitants of each country surveyed say it depends on the location as to whether they would find it appropriate for a woman to breastfeed. When at the swimming pool, beach, a park bench, and public transport, British people were more likely to see breastfeeding as acceptable than the French or Americans.
Only in a public toilet were British supporters of breastfeeding outnumbered in terms of percentage by Americans – 69% of Americans thought it is okay to breastfeed in a public toilet, 66% of Brits and 46% of French people. Only one location – on the beach – did French people find it more acceptable to breastfeed on average than the US, where 66% of French and 65% of American respondents found it acceptable.
The most popular location was the beach for British respondents (84%), a public toilet for Americans (69%) and on the beach for French (66%).
A restaurant was the location that people deemed least acceptable to breastfeed in, by France (43%), Britain (59%) and America (51%).
French people were more likely to say breastfeeding was unacceptable than Americans or British at a restaurant, the swimming pool, the beach, on a bench in a park, in a public toilet or on public transport.
While 43% of the French nation thinks it is not appropriate for a woman to breastfeed in a public toilet, just 22% of Americans and 28% of Brits agreed.
Locations our nations were least likely to deem NOT acceptable were the beach for the French (25%) and British (12%), and in a public toilet for Americans (22%).
British politics: Partisan attitudes to breastfeeding
Liberal Democrat supporters in the UK are most likely to be supportive of breastfeeding in public. 84% of British respondents who intend to vote Lib Dem in the next election said it is acceptable for a woman to breastfeed in public, which 80% of Labour supporters would agree with.
Mothers have a right to breastfeed in public places that is protected by UK law, and in Scotland a business owner can be fined around $3,000 for preventing a child younger than two from being breastfed.
People who intend to vote for the Conservatives or UK Independence Party are least likely to feel public breastfeeding is acceptable – 19% of Conservative supporters and 28% of UKIP supporters thought it was generally not acceptable.
France: Age divide over attitudes
Younger people in France tend to be less tolerant of public breastfeeding. 40% of French people aged 18-34 said it was acceptable for a woman to breastfeed in public, compared with 58% aged 55 and over. Whereas just 32% of the 55 and over age group said it was not acceptable for a woman to breastfeed in public, this was 43% among 18-34 year olds.
The former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy went on record saying breastfeeding was both a “joy and a kind of slavery” after the birth of his daughter Giulia in 2011, while the practice of breastfeeding was questioned after two French vegan parents went on trial after the death of their baby, recorded as vitamin deficiency, who was fed exclusively on breast milk.
America: West most amenable to public nursing
People living in the West and South of the US tend to feel public breastfeeding is more acceptable – 74% of westerners and 69% of southerners said it is generally acceptable for a woman to breastfeed in public. The Northeast was the region least likely to find breastfeeding in public acceptable, at 56% of its population.
An American airline was recently boycotted by some nursing mothers after a mother was told to cover up while breastfeeding on a flight. In retaliation, breastfeeding moms staged a ‘nurse-in’ at a ticketing counter to protest the decision.