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Breastfeeding juror told to ‘leave baby at home with bottle’ by court official

Aileen Robertson and her son Isaac
Aileen Robertson and her son Isaac

A mother who asked to be excused jury duty because she was breastfeeding was told to leave her baby at home with a bottle.

The comment, made by an official at Dunfermline Sheriff Court, Fife, has been condemned by breastfeeding campaigners as “appalling”.

Aileen Robertson, 39, was cited for jury service when her first-born, Isaac, was only a few weeks old.

She filled in a form asking for an exemption, but received a letter to say she was still to attend court on March 16.

Aileen, from Fife, rang to explain that she was still breastfeeding her seven-month-old, but was told that was not a reason to miss jury duty because she could “use a bottle”.

That would mean leaving Isaac, her first child, at home and either feeding him with enough expressed milk to last at least a week or switching to formula.

Aileen has been forced to get an exemption certificate from her doctor and is still waiting to hear whether she will be excused.

She said: “I was surprised when they told me that I had to provide a doctor’s note.

“Breastfeeding is not an illness or a medical condition, so why use up precious surgery time getting GPs to write up notes in such circumstances?

“Health services are doing everything they can to promote breastfeeding, so it does not make sense for the court service to make things more difficult.

“There doesn’t seem to be any consistency. I have friends who have called up to say they were breastfeeding and were excused, whereas others have had the same issues as me.”

She added: “In my case, I do not have the option of expressing and giving him milk in a bottle because he simply won’t take it. I don’t even have a breast pump.

“There would be the issue of childcare as well. I’m currently on maternity leave so somebody would have to look after him.

“He is fed about five times a day so even if he took milk from a bottle it would be almost impossible for me to express that amount if I was on jury duty.”

Aileen added that there need to be “clearer guidelines” set in place to prevent this from reoccurring.

She said: “I understand there is a need to encourage citizens to help the legal process but this should not be at the expense of what is an important public health issue.

“There needs to be clearer guidelines on this. Surely they should just look at a baby’s date of birth and realise that they will be too young to leave.

“I think mothers with children under the age of one should be exempt from the service.”

The news was universally condemned by those who support breastfeeding mums.

Anna Burbidge of the international charitable breastfeeding support organisation La Leche League GB, said the situation was appalling and being told to give a bottle showed a complete lack of understanding.

She said: “For one thing the mother’s health would be put at risk because of the danger of mastitis from not feeding and her milk supply would be disrupted.

“Many breastfed babies will not take a bottle and in addition, will be very distressed in being away from their mothers.

“We would agree that the needs of a baby to be breastfed should always be paramount and that this need to be made clear.

“Mothers are, in effect, being told they must withhold their babies’ food from them – and this would be considered completely unacceptable in any other circumstances.”

Rosemary Dodds, senior policy advisor with the National Childbirth Trust, added: “If a mother decides to breastfeed her baby, the judicial system needs to respect her choice.

“Society needs to do much more to support women in their feeding decisions.”

A Scottish Court Service spokesman said: “It is not our policy to request a medical certificate to support a request for excusal on the grounds of breastfeeding and we apologise for any suggestion that one is required.

“We simply need an application and the reason a request is being made. If there were any other medical grounds included for seeking an excusal, we would seek supporting documentation.”

He added: “Anyone else wishing to be excused would normally be asked to submit their reasons to the court for consideration and to include any relevant supporting documentation for consideration.

“The sheriff clerk will then consider those applications sympathetically.”