Breastfeeding in Public

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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?

breastfeeding in public

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.

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27 thoughts on “Breastfeeding in Public

  1. How horrible people react that way to breastfeeding! I understand it can make people uncomfortable (personally, I think they may need some professional help if that’s the case, but we’ll leave that alone!), so don’t look! I mean really.

    I once breastfed Elliot on a packed Tube train in Central London. I mean properly packed, people on either side squashed up against us, three people standing in front of me with their knees practically against my knees. Not a single person said anything, or even seemed to notice. In fact, a mum and her adult daughter smiled at me a lot and gave me the thumbs up as they were leaving.

    I think those nursing covers are much more noticeable than feeding without, but you know, if it makes someone more comfortable about breastfeeding, then they should get one in every colour.

  2. You know, I am definitely pro-breastfeeding, and believe women should be able to feed their children hassle-free. However, it is quite another thing to disregard someone else’s discomfort and say you won’t cover up because it’s the LAW. Certain things make other people uncomfortable. It is just common sense if you think something will make a LOT of people uncomfortable in a very public place, it is common COURTESY to do whatever you can to remedy the situation. Otherwise you are kind of just being an ass. That’s what I think.

    1. Sorry that you seemed to miss the point of the article Laura. It is a mother’s basic human right to breastfeed her baby in public in this province and she has every right to voice that right. Period. If someone is uncomfortable with that, they don’t have to look. In the example in the blog post, ABC restaurant would have found themselves in court if she chose to make a human rights complaint as will any other establishment that doesn’t protect a mother’s right to breastfeed. Fortunately the restaurant was eager to support this mother’s position as well as follow the law. Inappropriate language will not be tolerated on this blog for your future reference.

  3. Laura…when it became the law for people of colour to ride wherever they wanted on the bus, it made a lot of people uncomfortable. Perhaps they should have exercised “common courtesy,” and just moved to the back again…

  4. I still say I have to disagree. I did not “misunderstand” the article, and I have not said that I disagree with breastfeeding, even somewhat public breastfeeding. I am merely saying that there is a time when perhaps covering up a bit more modestly would be the right thing to do. In certain situations. It is also my right (by law) to pick my nose, burp loudly, and scratch myself wherever and whenever I choose. However, because others might find it in bad taste in some situations, I choose not do to so in very public places. I feel that in many situations this sense of self-entitlement is taken to the extreme and people forget that because they CAN do something by law, doesn’t mean they SHOULD. At least, not all the time, in every situation they come across. I guess I am the minority here though.

    1. So basically the naysayers are saying that because being able to breastfeed in public is the law, we shouldn’t do it because it makes YOU feel uncomfortable? We should deprive our babies/toddlers of food because YOU feel uncomfortable? Remember, most babies are exclusively breastfed until six months of age so I’m not sure where YOUR logic is coming from.

      In comparing breastfeeding in public to picking your nose, burping loudly and scratching your genitals, I have absolutely no comment.

  5. If breasts make you, as a woman, uncomfortable that is a massive shame. If the other person is uncomfy they have every right to leave the situation just like any mother has the right to feed her child where ever her child may be hungry…

  6. The fact that this is happening in 2013 blows my mind. Why don’t we just feed our kids? And not worry about how / what / where someone else is feeding their kid?

    Breastfeeding in public isn’t a matter of modesty or common courtesy. It’s a basic human right (here in BC.) If you were asked to leave a restaurant because of your race or gender would you leave because you wanted to acknowledge someone else’s discomfort and be courteous? Doubtful.

  7. Ty Lori for this post <3 it. In regards to comments saying its indecent ride or otherwise need to look into the history of breast feeding. I cannot fathom how we as a society have gone so far backwards from the Victorian era where women posed nursing their toddlers in (now) historical photos. They were in constricting corsets and had to sit for 10 min for the film to develop with a nursing toddler! Cuddos to them to at least being (more) forward thinking on one basic human rights topic.

    Ps as someone noted about racial segregation as recently as the 60s or 70s my mind went right to that when the waitress suggested she would no longer seat people near us. I couldn't get my words out starring that. And I had my other very hungry kids to worry about, I almost stayed only because my oldest is autistic.

    What are we teaching out children if animals have more rights to feed their children respectfully (for the children and no matter how that looks for you)

      1. If it were just me i am not sure I would have done
        Much but something like this happening to a new first time mom could be the last (boobie trap) that makes them decide not to nurse at all. It is a fact formula is only an aproximation of breast milk with our limited knowledge and manufacturing capibilities. And there is a reason it is the last choice on the infant feeding hierarchy.

        That being said I formula fed my first partially as kids they need to eat and there wasn’t a milk sharing network like eats on feats or human milk for human babies yet.

        I’m sad that nursing and milk sharing is taboo still for so many.

  8. We have had these types of issues here in Australia as well over the years. I have breast fed 4 children & when they needed feeding they were fed no matter where we were at the time. People who feel uncomfortable really don’t need to watch you feed your child. It’s just a matter of moving your head in another direction.

  9. I breastfed my son until he was 3 years old. Many times I was made to feel ashamed by glances from others or comments made that I could go to a bathroom etc. Even by other moms feeling uncomfortable with it. I continued anyways. There was the odd time that someone would come up to me and say good for you, or it is nice to see you breast feeding in public. Hopefully there will be more people accepting of it, as it makes breastfeeding a lot easier to continue , which in turn make happier babies and parents.

    1. I hope as moms we can become more accepting of each other’s choices…thank you for sharing your story Chrissy.

  10. With a busy toddler and a 12 week old I often have to breastfeed on the go . I don’t like the tie on covers because I don’t like things that hang from my neck, I do take a receiving blanket mostly because I find I get cold being exposed for any amount of time. That being said, the blanket is for my comfort not for anyone else’s.
    I have also made a point of covering up for my father in law simply because I don’t want to make him uncomfortable in his home, not that he would ever say anything but he is older and very set in his ideas.
    I have also had the male husbands of some of my girlfriends comment that they have a weird reaction to seeing their wifes friends breasts, but that is their hangup and they admitted it.
    I would never want to be the source of someone’s discomfort but at the same time when I’m breastfeeding, other people are the least of my worries, I am busy feeding my baby. For those who are offended by exposed breaststroke they need to learn to put on a pair of blinders, t
    here are lots of things that offend me about the general public but I choose to ignore those. We all need to learn to live together and give a breastfeeding mother her space, even if it is in the middle of a busy restaurant.

  11. I also feel you shouldn’t expose yourself while feeding, it’s simply not necessary, invites ridicule and makes breastfeeding more difficult for other people. Especially, when you are in a restaurant where other people may be squeamish and eating just don’t be rude and cover up a bit. No one is saying to let the baby starve just a modesty and courtesy.
    As a child I remember my mother’s cousin whipping her breast out to feed her baby in front of my father and I found it the most revolting , obnoxious behavior and I think other children feel uncomfortable with it as well. As natural or necessary as it is it’s not appealing to many people.

    1. Do you wear a cover over your head when you eat? because i sure like to breathe when i eat. Its a boob. if a boob offends you, you probably need to get out more. . . BTW did you just say breastfeeding is uncomfortable for other people? IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. IT’S NOT about ANYBODY BUT THE BABY EATING. Modesty is a personal choice not a requirement. But if you truly feel this way i highly suggest you eat with a blanket over your head a few times 😉

  12. I nursed my daughter until she was 30 months old, and I am currently still nursing my son. He is 26 months old. I’m in no hurry to wean him off. Of course, I’ve never breastfed them in public. They’ve never asked me to. In India where I live, women routinely breastfeed infants in public, under a sheet or cover of course, but not toddlers. I think a law to protect breastfeeding in public might be a very useful thing.

  13. The fact that some people may be uncomfortable makes no difference when feeding your child…I preferred to keep a receiving blanket handy for my comfort, and completely agree that being told to cover up likens to being told to move to the back of the bus! I abhor liver as a food, can I tell someone eating it at a restaurant to move to the bathroom until they have completed their meal?! No, I suck it up and don’t watch, because I am there to eat, not stare at the other diners. Wake up and join the 21st century, people…rights are rights. If you think the comfort of other people are more important than basic human rights, I suggest you move to somewhere that these rights don’t exist and see how voicing your opinion there works out for you…

  14. I didn’t know this law existed, good to know. I have always breastfed my kids in public almost until they turn 2 and I have never had this situation happened to me before.

    My kids wouldn’t eat with their face covered up either so I am glad this has never happened to me, it would make me mad if someone asks me to stop breastfeeding my kid because it makes him/her uncomfortable.

    Thank you for sharing Lori.

    1. Thank you Karina for stopping by. I didn’t know either about the law when I was breastfeeding but I think it is important to know your rights!

  15. I am a bit confused. I breastfed all my children and I did it where necessary. However, breastfeeding can be discreet. Usually the baby’s head covers the nipple and most of the breast and the most anyone sees is the little but of side or under breast. My children all curled in and usually patted me with their free hand so for the most part it wasn’t like flashing my breasts in public to anyone who wanted to gawk. I had several people comment to me that it took them a couple of minutes to realize I was actually breast feeding instead of just holding my baby.

    So I do not understand why people are offended? Are the offended by the sight of a breast or the potential sight of part of a breast. A decent person would just look away and give the mom and baby as much privacy as can be afforded. No mother should be forced to hide in a bathroom, car or at home in order to provide what their child needs most – love and nutrition. Blankets often don’t work because the babies rip them off, they want to see mommy and the world, it is part of the bonding.

    I do feel sorry for those who cannot understand that bonding and that beauty. They see shame where none exists and it is a reflection of their beliefs structures not a fault of the nursing mother. For my child I will move heaven and earth to make sure they are happy and healthy, and quite fundamentally your shame issues are not my problem nor will I let them become my child’s.

  16. I feel it is a sad reflection on society that people should be so sensitive or disturbed at the sight of a woman’s breast, especially when it is being used for it’s natural purpose. I 100% support women feeding their babies in whatever place, at whatever time or in whatever way they choose and applaud those who are strong enough to lead the way in tackling this disgusting prejudice.

  17. Another thought: since it seems that mothers who breastfeed in public often get negative reactions, it would be wonderful to be able to communicate positive support to publicly breastfeeding mums. Would a positive indication be appreciated or helpful? Does anyone have suggestions as to how this might be done in an appropriate way? As a man I am concerned that indicating approval might be mistaken as creepiness.

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