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TOUCHY TOPICS

A brief history of women politicians who’ve dared to breastfeed at work

By Annabelle Timsit

This week, US senator Tammy Duckworth successfully spearheaded the passing of a bill that allows new parents to bring babies onto the Senate floor. The landmark legislation paves the way for more family-friendly policies in the governing body. But the vote also revealed a persistent bias in the Senate: Many people are still uncomfortable with the sight of a woman breastfeeding.

Duckworth’s colleagues had a lot of questions for Duckworth about whether she would breastfeed her daughter during Senate sessions. Presumably, some senators were worried it would either be a distraction or demonstrate a lack of decorum.

Duckworth has indicated that she has no plans to breastfeed on the Senate floor. But elsewhere in the world, female politicians have opted to breastfeed in front of their colleagues—with varying results. Here’s an incomplete list of the women who’ve established that breastfeeding is accepted in their governing bodies, and those who’ve found that the act is still taboo.

Breastfeeding welcome

  • Willow-Jean Prime, a Labor MP from New Zealand, breastfed her baby in the parliament debating chamber in November 2017. The image was all the more striking because she was sitting next to MP Kiri Allan, who had also brought her child into the chamber.
  • Ellen Sandell, an Australian MP in the state of Victoria, breastfed her baby daughter in the Victorian parliament in September 2017.
  • Larissa Waters, an Australian MP, breastfed her daughter in parliament in June 2017. Waters didn’t stop there: She later addressed the chamber and proposed a motion about a condition affecting coal miners while breastfeeding.
  • Unnur Bra Konradsdottir, a former MP for Iceland’s Independence Party, breastfed her baby while giving a speech in parliament in October 2016.
  • Carolina Bescansa, a Spanish deputy, breastfed her infant son in January 2016 in parliament during a session where she ran to be elected speaker.
  • Victoria Donda, an Argentinian deputy, breastfed her daughter during a meeting in the Argentine National Congress in July 2015.

No breasts (or babies) in parliament

Attitudes towards breastfeeding politicians are not always welcoming. Some female politicians have gotten kicked out of parliament for even attempting it, while others were simply told their babies weren’t welcome.

  • Kirstie Marshall, then an MP for the Australian state of Victoria, was kicked out of the chamber of the Victorian state parliament while breastfeeding her baby in February 2003. The problem, she was told, wasn’t the breastfeeding—it was that her baby was a non-elected stranger who couldn’t attend parliamentary hearings.The Australian House of Representatives has since changed its rules to allow lawmakers to breastfeed in the chamber.
  • Julia Drown, then a Labour MP in the United Kingdom, formally requested to feed her newborn infant during committee meetings at Westminster in April 2000. Her request was denied. British MPs are still not allowed to breastfeed or bring their young children into parliament.

This reporting is part of a series supported by a grant from the Bernard van Leer Foundation. The author’s views are not necessarily those of the Bernard van Leer Foundation.