A new law is to be introduced protecting mothers who breastfeed their children in public in Northern Ireland.

The legislation will contribute to increasing public tolerance and acceptability of the practice, as part of a range of activities to improve the numbers doing it, Health Minister Michelle O'Neill said.

Northern Ireland has the lowest rates for breastfeeding in the UK.

Ms O'Neill said: "I have listened to mothers and am convinced that specific legislation is a pro-active and necessary approach to ensure that the rights of mothers and their children are fully protected.

"It will ensure that breast and bottle-feeding mothers are given equal access to feed their children with confidence and without interruption in a public place."

A study in 2010 showed the breastfeeding initiation rate in Northern Ireland is 64%, which is similar to the rate five years earlier.

Mothers in Northern Ireland who choose to breastfeed do so for a shorter period than breastfeeding mothers in Britain, evidence published by the Health Department showed.

Ms O'Neill added: "The reasons why women choose not to breastfeed, or stop breastfeeding, are varied and complex. We need to provide support to mothers and address the negative influences."