I breastfed my son until he was 19 month old and he was a hungry little bean who wanted to nurse a lot. I offered the boob on demand wherever we went – at the mall, at the park, at the festival, in the van, at the restaurant, anywhere, anytime …
He wouldn’t eat with his face covered up by a nursing cover or blanket and when your baby is hungry, he’s got to eat right now. After all, what could be more natural and beautiful than breastfeeding?
And it is the law. Breastfeeding in public is enshrined in law in Canada under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in the various provincial human rights codes which protect the right to be free from discrimination based on gender. From what I was able to find out for my American readers, most US states have some kind of protection for breastfeeding mothers but the legalities vary from state to state. In British Columbia where I live, the BC Human Rights Code is clear:
“It is illegal to discriminate against a woman because she may become pregnant, is pregnant, or has a baby. 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.”
Two local moms have brought forward their stories on how they were asked to cover up while breastfeeding in public.
On May 18, Tamara and her family visited ABC Family Restaurant in Coquitlam for lunch with her husband, children and baby. Her baby was hungry and when Tamara was feeding the baby, the waitress came over and asked her to cover up. Tamara knew the law and told the waitress her request was illegal but the waitress suggested she move to the nursing room or wouldn’t seat any other patrons in the same area as the baby. The situation was upsetting and embarrassing as well as illegal and Tamara and her family left the restaurant.
Lisa says a similar incident happened to her when she was feeding her then 15 month old baby at StrongStart of all places. StrongStart is a play-based early learning program offered by the Province of BC.
“The teacher sat down with me while I was playing with my kids and said that both male and female parents had said when I feed Avril I make them uncomfortable.” She was asked to use a cover.
“My 3 year old loves StrongStart and the teacher is fabulous with the kids. I didn’t want my kids to miss out (on) something they love so I’ve chosen not to make waves at StrongStart and complain,” says Lisa.
Tamara decided that she was going to take action to prevent this kind of situation from happening to any other moms at the restaurant and contacted ABC Family Restaurants with the help of a lawyer.
Kara-Leigh Moffat, a mother of four children who owns the ABC Restaurant in question, has since apologized to Tamara and says “I was shocked when the incident was brought to my attention. I was under the impression that everybody knew the basic human rights of feeding your child.”
Kara-Leigh has taken action to inform the staff of her policy of welcoming breastfeeding at her restaurants and to clarify the law. She has committed to displaying breastfeeding welcome here stickers at both her restaurants and hopes to work with the corporate office to implement a written policy across all ABC restaurants.
Tamara is satisfied with the result saying, “I am so glad that it [contacting the restaurant owner] prompted the positive changes it has, but I am also sad it was ever needed.”
Tamara and I were part of an online discussion in a moms group on Facebook when this all happened in May and I was disturbed by the viciousness of some of the comments that were posted when Tamara had described what happened. One woman went so far as to describe breastfeeding in public as acting like an animal.
Tamara, Lisa, Kara-Leigh and I feel it is important to highlight the issue of breastfeeding in public to help educate our community about the law and to create a culture of nurturing families and mothers, not shaming them or discriminating against them or uttering unkind and hurtful words.
And even if you can’t respect a mother’s choice to breastfeed in public, then just remember it is a legal right that every woman is entitled to and be kind.<