A Robertsbridge woman has accused the county council of discriminating against breastfeeding mums who are completing the process of naturalisation as British citizens.
Louise White, 34, was due to attend a free citizenship ceremony at Hastings Town Hall next Wednesday (July 3) after passing her Life in Britain test having lived in the UK since 2007.
However, as she attempted to confirm her attendance, she was told she would have to attend a private ceremony which costs £100 because her five-month-old son Patrick could not be with her at the free public ceremony.
In a statement, the council said it brought in a policy in which children under the age of 12 are not permitted to attend as ‘crying babies were disrupting an important event in people’s lives’.
Mrs White, who is from Australia, said: “When I questioned the exclusion of a breastfeeding mother from the ceremony and the additional expense that I will have to incur due to this, the woman informed me that I should express and give him a bottle. He won’t take a bottle as he is breastfed. She said it’s only one hour so he could just wait. No, he doesn’t feed to a schedule, he is a baby.
“Her attitude was extremely dismissive and she basically made me feel that I had to pay the £100 or there would be no ceremony for me, which means I am not British as I have only three months to undertake the ceremony and my son will be breastfed for those entire three months.
“Breastfed babies have to be with their mothers. It’s that simple. We are their food source. We should not have to be punished for this. It is discrimination.”
The county council said this was the first time this situation had arisen and has now offered to refund Mrs White her £100 and offer a private ceremony free of charge.
It said going forward ‘any mother who is breastfeeding will be offered a short private citizenship ceremony free of charge’.
Mrs White added: “I still think East Sussex County Council has ruined this experience of becoming a British citizen for me.
“The woman I spoke to made me feel humiliated. She made me feel that breastfeeding wasn’t natural.
“I studied for a month to pass that test and spent a lot of money. It’s a real process and it’s also expensive.
“Next Wednesday should be a huge celebration but East Sussex have made me feel devastated.”
The county council said it would be contacting Mrs White to ‘apologise for the offence caused’.
A spokesman added: “(We) would like to reassure her that we’ll do everything possible to welcome her and ensure her citizenship ceremony is a happy occasion. We’d welcome the opportunity to talk to her and discuss her concerns in more detail.
“The change of policy means this situation will not arise in future and we are reminding all staff of what the policy is and the options we should offer to breastfeeding mothers in future.”