Miss604 Poll: Breastfeeding in Public


Monday, August 18th, 2008 — 6:00am PST
Comments 27

Photo credit: © Carol Browne on Flickr

I have to give my sister credit, after having four kids she is the grand master of stealthy breastfeeding in your presence; it’s like she’s got some kind of cloaking device.

What I have learned over my 8 years of being an auntie is that when the baby is hungry, the baby’s gotta eat. Some women slip away to another room, others use a blanket to mask the process, and others just whip it right out and let the baby go nuts. Admittedly the latter makes me somewhat uncomfortable for the first 10 seconds, but all in all, it’s a perfectly normal and natural act.

Recently two stories about breastfeeding have made headlines in Canada. The first involves an incident in Windsor, Ontario where a mother started feeding her child while waiting to check out at a local La Senza lingerie store. She was asked to move into a fitting room after being told that breastfeeding was not allowed in the store. [source: Canadian Press]

The second mishap of this nature happened here in Vancouver at our shiny new H&M store in Pacific Centre. Once again a nursing mother was told she had to move to a change room as she could not breastfeed on the store floor. [source: CBC]

At both of these locations, protests have been held in order to express outrage at the stores’ policies and/or the staff’s behaviour. Moreso it was also to show support and solidarity for mothers, as demonstrated in the Nurse-In at the H&M a few days ago that saw crowds of nursing mothers gather inside the store to nurse.

“I don’t want to live a world or city where that’s acceptable to shun women for breastfeeding,” said nursing mum Sonia Tilley-Strobel.

As for H&M, their corporate spokeswoman Laura Shankland flew in from Toronto for what could have been a public relations disaster to openly welcome the nursing moms.

“We apologize. And it seems to be a miscommunication and a misunderstanding. Our policy is to allow breastfeeding nursing mothers to breastfeed or express milk freely in our stores,” said Shankland. [CBC]

I can almost see the Breastfeeding is not a crime tshirts now (complete with easy-access flap of course). I’m curious to see the reaction of everyone else regarding these incidents and their escalation (by the Vancouver mother) to the Human Rights Tribunal [24 Hours]. As such, it’s time for another Miss604 poll and feel free to share any other thoughts in the comments.

[poll=12]

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27 comments

  1. Tyler Ingram says:

    I’ve seen women breastfeeding all over Vancouver and I’ve never felt uncomfortable around it or had any issues. People who have issues with it need to grow up. Granted I don’t sit there and stare lol but I’m always like meh whatever. It’s fun to see other people’s reactions especially other women. Though the majority of woman who I have seen breastfeed do use some sort of blanket and are careful not to ‘flash’ people near by.

  2. GZ Expat says:

    Haa…what is with the puritan attitude when it comes to breast feeding? It’s OK to buy a kid a PSP loaded with violent games, but it is disgusting to have a woman feeding her child in the most basic of ways?

    When Tai-Tai gave birth to Expat Son, she immediately decided to breast feed, as the quality and reliability of local (China) formulas was definitely in question. What better than the good ol’ teet for breakfast lunch and dinner?

    Needless to say, Tai-Tai employed a variety of tactics when feeding the kid. She had the cloak, which worked well when he was small, but once his finger dexterity got to working, he’d grab that thing and pull it off his head (and her breast) because it was just too hot under there…giving everyone a show in the meantime.

    My favorite memory was when she returned to Guangzhou with baby in tow. I had already arrived in Gz about a month earlier and met her at the old airport. Their flight arrived and I could see them through the passageway…no bags. Alas, the bags were on the next flight…so Tai-Tai waited the 40 minutes for the next flight at the luggage claim. Expat son was hungry, so she whipped it out and fed him, sitting on the baggage carousel. Every guard, customs agent and janitor in the airport had to walk by and check out what was going on. By the time her luggage arrived (4 bags worth), she was quickly ushered through Customs…they had seen enough of her! heh…

  3. Pathetic, in this modern era to have such idiotic behavior is embarrassing. I am a grandfather and would freak if anyone ever told my daughter that she had to leave a store because of it. To be honest, the store would not stand a chance if they told my daughter to leave due to breastfeeding.

    If asked to leave the store, mothers need to tell the employee to either call the cops or to piss off, perhaps a call to their head office to confirm the policy would be suggested to the employee as well.

  4. Rob says:

    I might have felt uncomfortable with seeing someone breastfeed in public a few years ago, I think. But, since becoming a dad, I know that a mother breastfeeding in public isn’t about some narcissistic act of self-exposure, nor is it an act of defiance against social norms. Both of these accusations are leveled at many nursing mothers. It’s just nature, kids. Your kid cries, and you do the thing needed which will respond to it, and you do it as soon as you are able whatever it is. That’s not politics, that’s parenting.

  5. Colleen says:

    It is all in how its done. I have sat in a restaurant in North Vancouver across from a family, and the lady decided to breastfeed. I don’t have any issues with that, but the way she went about it was not very descrete at all. She pulled out the breast let it flop out side her shirt and then spend the next couple of minutes drinking her beer, and shoving fries down her gob before retreiving the screaming baby. Who says dinner theatre is dead in this town.

  6. David says:

    While I have no problem with the activity, it would probably be a bad thing to overly scold those who do. Being comfortable with a more common form of public nudity is something that develops over time. Let’s give everybody a moment to adjust before organizing protests.

    For those who are less adaptable to changing societal standards of behavior, I’d ask them to consider the alternative: Screaming, hungry babies in most public places.

  7. Miss604 says:

    @ Colleen – oh dear – wouldn’t that beer filter down into what the baby would be ingesting? like some sort of draught? 😛

  8. Alan says:

    Breastfeeding in public is perfectly legal. Other things that are legal to do in public include: walking barefoot, singing, picking your nose, performing mime, and taking off your shirt and applying underarm deodorant. And if a private business wants to enact policy to preclude customers from doing any of those things while on that business’ property, then they are within their rights to do so, as long as it is applied fairly. And if customers don’t like the policy, then they have every right to complain, protest, boycott, and take their business elsewhere. I don’t see what the problem is here.

  9. Phaedra says:

    It’s legal and not be something that the mother should be made to feel shameful about. It’s natural, better for the baby, and it’s only a partial peek at a breast. Shit, we see more nudity and obscenity on billboard ads and TV, and people are going to complain about breastfeeding?!?

  10. Beth says:

    It does amaze me that people get uptight about breastfeeding in public. Breasts are not obscene! People eat in public all the time and why should babies be an exception to that?

  11. Darren says:

    My only slightly-controversial comment is this: if one can’t bring a milkshake into a store, then that restriction ought to extend to breast-feeding women.

    I thought the silly clerks at H&M used entirely the wrong rationale. They should have just said “I’m sorry, there’s no eating or drinking in our store”.

  12. cam c. says:

    As a dad I’m probably biased, but I’ve always seen it not as a woman’s right to bare her breasts but a child’s right to receive nourishment. Babies have ridiculously tiny stomachs and you can’t just top them up for half a day and expect them to be good… a lot of people don’t realise that it causes a ton of discomfort for the mom and even raises the risk of infection if she waits too long too.

    As for the milkshake thing, Darren, I’ve heard that before, and it’s a good point but not a very valid comparison for a couple reasons. The anti-milkshake/softdrink/food rules in stores are to prevent spillage on merchandise… it’d be very hard to “spill” breast milk; a little can dribble out when the kid is done, but the mom’s bra is usually back on before that happens. Second, I’ve never been in a store where they gave me a hard time about letting my kid drink from a bottle… breastmilk and artificial baby formula are the only drinkable liquids they even let you take through airport security (despite a few incidents with the TSA down south) in significant amounts, so it must be important, no?

    Honestly, I can see where H&M would have a problem… I mean, it’s defeating their whole industry’s attemps to hypersexualise women’s breasts (something, to be fair, I’ve never really complained about as a man). That can’t be good for business, but neither can be telling the roughly 50% of their clientele that has kids that they’re not family-friendly…. and the fact that it’s in violation of the BC code of human rights probably won’t do them much good either.

  13. FTR, I think women should be able to nurse wherever, whenever, but I had to laugh when I read the PR Manager’s response: “We apologize (…) Our policy is to allow breastfeeding nursing mothers to breastfeed or express milk freely in our stores.”

    Nursing I can see, but expressing milk freely in stores?! ROFL! That’s how I used to figure which side to feed my son on… give ’em both a squeeze and whichever shoots the farthest was the fresh one.

    I think that key messaging should have been rehearsed before being spoken.

  14. Jon says:

    As a father of a 4 day old, when babies need to eat, they need to eat. By not accepting breastfeeding, we are in effect encouraging formula feeding, which is nowhere near as healthy for the baby as what a mother can provide. We in Vancouver live in a place where we care about what we put in our bodies, we like the organic/local/whole food/no spray ethic. Our babies should also have the opportunity to get the absolute best nutrition nature can provide without harassment, and without shutting mothers away in the home and away from public view like we used to.

  15. Matt Simpson says:

    Ok, this might come off as insensitive but a few things about the incident in Vancouvers H&M kind of irk me.

    First, she says she was told to go to a change room, the store says they _offered_ her one which is a HUGE difference. Admittedly, most people are inclined to believe the lady with the new baby, but I have a hard time dismissing what the store is saying out of hand when the story is being blown up so very very much.

    Now, some 18 year old sales person may have messed up the message from management, but either way the store acknowledged the situation as at least partly of their making and apologized right away! What more do you really want from them? Moreover, what more could they even really do?

    Also, Manuela Valle, the lady who got all this started here? Is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Women’s Studies and Gender Relations, so I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to think she might have a vested interest in this story becoming as big as possible.

    I don’t have any problem with breast feeding in public. It has never bothered me (although I can get why some people might be made uncomfortable by some of the more blatant examples I’ve seen), but it does bother me when something like this gets blown way out of proportion.

    And in closing, I think it’s great that most people don’t have a problem with breast feeding, but I think it’s BS to push that belief onto someone who obviously does have a problem with it. Kind of like religion, or politics, or anything else really, there’s just some stuff you’re always gonna have to agree to disagree with people about.

  16. Amber says:

    The right to breastfeed in public is protected by the BC Human Rights Commission. See the section on ‘Sexual Discrimination’ here: http://www.ag.gov.bc.ca/human-rights-protection/pdfs/SexDiscrimination&Harassment.pdf

    A relevant quote:
    “Nursing mothers have the right to breastfeed their
    children in a public area, and it is discriminatory to
    ask them to cover up or breastfeed somewhere else.”

    So, in fact, in this province women do have a legally protected right to breastfeed in public.

  17. […] Rebecca wrote a blog post and ran a poll about the breastfeeding controversy and subsequent protest at Vancouver’s […]

  18. Sis604 says:

    I totally agree that there should not be an issue with breastfeeding babies in public but personally (as stated in the post) I like to be private about it. I don’t really need to be flashing strangers, there are ways to discreetly nourish your baby.

  19. Jeff says:

    I feel woman should not be allowed to breast feed in public, yes it is natural and I am sure there are tons of other points to be argued, but lets take a step back and think about it from a different angle. Just because a woman made a choice to have children doesn’t mean that everyone else should have to accept certain terms based on her choice. This isn’t the 19th century anymore where there aren’t alternatives, now for everyone that hates baby formula – what about:breast pumps (the baby still gets its nutritious breast milk this way, without everyone around having to watch and put up with it)

  20. Matt Simpson says:

    I forgot to add a link to the fact that Manuella Valle is a PhD Candidate. So here it is:

    http://www.wmst.ubc.ca/studentsPhDStudents.html

  21. sis604 says:

    @Jeff, it is the most natural and healthiest way to feed a baby. Sometimes pumping is an option but sometimes it’s not. As I mentioned , there are discreet ways of doing it where people wouldn’t even notice or even know. I don’t see what you would have to ‘put up with’?

  22. Camille says:

    I think Breastfeeding is the most beautiful and natural experience in the world. It angers me that women who breastfeed can be stared at and treated rudely, especially by other women (from experience). So I left a post on my website with a video showing just how wonderful it is. Thought it might help educate some people.

    http://www.cutajar.net/camille/2008/08/20/breastfeeding/

  23. Grumbler says:

    Hey Jeff,
    Can I assume that you would be happier with a blow up doll because you won’t have to see a real woman’s breasts! After all, “This isn’t the 19th century anymore where there aren’t alternatives”!
    As for food rather than going out to eat, how about vitamins only, after all they can be nutritous without anyone having to watch you eat!
    You have a choice where to look and if nature offends you, go hide in a corner and keep your eyes shut! It is a choice after all!

  24. Roshan says:

    I don’t I would be offended but I would immediately look away. However, not to be mean, but if the store can offer u some privacy and you can sit down, relax while ur baby feeds….why not take it? If there isn’t a private section or room available well then, the baby can’t go hungry can it?

  25. Sue says:

    Thanks for posting your poll.

    As a nursing mother, what bothers me about being told to “cover up” or go to a private room is that it implies that what I’m doing is obscene or shameful. It’s based on someone else’s belief that breasts are sexual body parts and should be covered up, lest some person see my breast or nipple and accidentally find it sexually titillating. It comes down to the way breasts have been sexualized in our society, so that their primary function becomes sexual instead of functional.

    My breasts ARE functional. That’s all there is to it. When I pull up or down my shirt to allow my son to nurse, I am meeting his needs for food or comfort. I’m not showing breast in a sexual way, as someone who wears a low-cut shirt or a skimpy bikini. I’m not doing it FOR YOU and it’s not ABOUT YOU. It’s about my baby.

    Now… tell me, why should I have to go into a private change room, a tiny nursing room off the back of the women’s restroom, or cover myself with a blanket to do this?

  26. killa says:

    In Australia, about 10 years ago, a woman was asked to stop breastfeeding her child in a restaurant or leave. (She was apparently doing it discreetly.)

    There was absolute uproar in the news media and a heap of hate mail to the restaurant. Even a court case about discrimination.

    Finally, the general public had its way, and breast feeding was accepted as a natural and healthy activity to be undertaken in public (with reasonable discretion, of course!). Restaurants and other public venues accepted the general public’s desires and not one other restaurant acted negatively from then on.

  27. killa says:

    BTW, I think that it is only reasonable that breast-feeding mothers excercise some level of discretion/modesty when they feed their children.

    In the way that it is not acceptable to have topless women serve meals or drinks in a public (non-adult entertainment) venue, so neither should others be exposed to breasts and nipples in unexpected places … irrespective of the right to breast feed. (Not that topless venues and breast-feeding has much in common!)

    I think that modesty is a small price to pay for the right to breastfeed in public.

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