Call for Sunderland businesses to do better for breastfeeding mums

Nichola Austin-Ratcliffe is angry over the lack of breast feeding facilities. She is pictured with baby Austin Thomas Ratcliffe and daughters Summer and Jersey Ratcliffe.
Nichola Austin-Ratcliffe is angry over the lack of breast feeding facilities. She is pictured with baby Austin Thomas Ratcliffe and daughters Summer and Jersey Ratcliffe.
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Sunderland mums say businesses need to latch on to offering them a better place to breastfeed their babies.

A call for help has been made to stores across the city when it comes to giving mothers somewhere suitable after being confronted by conditions they say are dirty and stink.

Andy Bradley, centre director of The Bridges.

Andy Bradley, centre director of The Bridges.

Mum-of-four Nichola Austin Ratcliffe, from Fulwell, is championing the message after she says she struggled to find somewhere clean to feed six-week-old Austin Thomas.

She faced difficulties while visiting the Bridges with her other children, Laila, 13, Summer, five and Jersey, four.

The 35-year-old surgical nurse, who is married to plumber Thomas, 34, turned her youngsters away from the changing area in The Bridges because she felt it was unclean.

When she headed to Debenhams, she found its conditions slightly better, using the room so that she could keep her little ones close to her, rather than find a cafe.

I think the businesses in the city centre could help more.

Nichola Austin Ratcliffe

She said: “I don’t mind feeding in public but the kids were off school and it was really busy.

“The Bridges’ changing area was disgusting, it was horrible in there, and my baby was four weeks premature, so he’s still really tiny.

“I went to Debenhams and its room is like a cupboard, it’s about the size of two telephone boxes, you can’t get pram in there.

“Everybody says breast is best and I fully support that, but I think the businesses in the city centre could help more.

“There are some unsavoury people out there and as it’s my fourth child I’m not really bothered, but some mums might not want to do it in public.

“Some mums struggle. It’s supposed to be the most natural thing to do, but there aren’t always the facilities to do it or even the facilities to heat milk.”

On a return trip into the city centre, Nichola also checked out the baby area of Marks and Spencer in High Street West and felt it could be improved.

Other mums have told the Echo they struggle, with some taking their own changing mat so they know its clean.

They have singled out Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens and Wilko’s cafe for being among those being welcoming and willing to heat up baby food.

However, the Bridges says it has a dedicated feeding area for parents - a facility Nichola and other mums she had discussed the issue with had heard nothing of until told via the Echo.

Centre director Andy Bradley said: “The Bridges appreciates that mums with young children are important customers and we would encourage them to breastfeed anywhere on the malls if they are happy to do so.

“For those who would prefer privacy, we have a specially decorated baby changing and feeding room on the first floor of the centre - which is constantly cleaned - and we also have a large toilet in our public facilities which can accommodate a double buggy.

“These public facilities have a permanent cleaning presence and we are extremely vigilant in ensuring they are in pristine condition.

“At the same time we are always happy to get customer feedback if they have suggestions to improve their experience which can be done via our customer services desk or by email, which is always responded to within 24 hours.

“For anyone using the centre unsure about what is available to them then the best course of action is to talk to our staff at the customer service desk.”

An M&S spokesperson said: “Mums are welcome to breastfeed anywhere in our store.

“Our colleagues are always happy to move a chair to a suitable area for any customers.”

No one from Debenhams was available for comment.

* Is your business happy to accommodate breastfeeding mums or help heat up food for youngsters? Email fiona.thompson@jpress.co.uk and we’ll draw up a list to let parents know.