Breastfeeding in Public

Breast is best. It is. All moms should be encouraged to breast feed their kids. It’s healthy, it’s convenient, it’s affordable, but it’s not always easy.

I’ve told the story about our family’s struggles with breastfeeding, so dial back to this post, this post and this post if you need to be filled in on our backstory.

Despite both of our boys needing formula at 6 months, I heartily support moms who can breast feed their kids. But…

Lactivists have made headlines this week taking Tim Horton’s to task for asking a woman to stop breast feeding her child while she was standing in line at the coffee and donut shop.

Here’s the story:

“A female supervisor came over to her and said, ‘I have to ask you to cover up while you’re nursing’,” Megan Irvine, the leader of a local breastfeeding support group said. “This mother knew her rights and said no.”

The mother has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Ontario and added “I will not be dealing directly with Tim Hortons as this isn’t an issue with a service they did or did not provide, but a blatant violation of human rights. I’m sure there will be denial on the manager’s part, and allegations that I acted irrationally. I assure you I did nothing of the sort. I did not raise my voice, resort to belittling or name calling or anything of the sort.”

In response, Tim Hortons has apologized to the breastfeeding mother and media spokesperson Michelle Robichaud has spoken out about the “isolated incident.”

“It is important to us that all guests feel welcome at Tim Hortons including nursing mothers, and we regret that was not the case last weekend. We do apologize,” she wrote in an email. “While this was an isolated situation, we can assure you that mothers who choose to breastfeed in our restaurants are welcome to do so.”

This has touched off a huge scandal of rage and debate but unless we were really there, do we really know what happened? How exposed was she? Was the staff member polite and delicate, or rude and dismissive? Did the mother cause a scene? Did the manager? How did escalate so quickly?

I sigh when this stuff happens. I want to be able to support the rights of moms to breast feed their kids, but I also think how and where you breast feed your kid needs to be done with discretion. The cover of Time, for example, isn’t something I really support.

I don’t think a store employee should ever have to tell someone to stop breast feeding. You should feel comfortable to breast feed your kids. You absolutely should. You should also have some common sense about how and where and why you’re doing it.

Now a community has risen up in revolt – (anyone shocked that a pro-breast feeding organization quickly clung to the cause?) – and they held a breast feeding demonstration inside and outside the offending Tim’s.

Yes breast feeding is natural. Yes it should be encouraged. Yes it is the best way to feed your kids. Yes you have the right to breast feed your kid anywhere at any time. Yes you need to have some discretion.

Breastfeeding in public

The cynic in me wonders if this scene wasn’t all staged to entrap the store and give the group a fight. These headlines do nothing to make breast feeding feel normal, natural, and more acceptable. They make it a cause, a fight, and a crusade. They make breast feeding moms feel ashamed and demand they must be liberated.

I’m not asking breast feeding moms to enter a dark closet to feed their children, but looking at this story from the headlines, is it so unreasonable to think a mom would feed her baby quietly at a table for 15 minutes, and THEN get up to stand in line and have a coffee? You don’t need to breast feed in line at Tim Horton’s.

The only time this issue  turns into a fight is when a militant group gets involved and common sense and respect gets tossed out the window.

It’s headlines and fights and feed-ins like this that make me sigh and shake my head at the lactivists. Breast feeding is hard, people. It’s damn hard to do. You’re lucky you can save $40 a case we had to spend on formula. You’re lucky you didn’t have to stay up an extra 90 minutes on each feeding pumping, like my wife had to. You’re damn lucky your body is working as it was intended. Damn lucky. You don’t need to breast feed in line at Tim Horton’s.

It’s a fine line I’m trying to negotiate here as both sides have much to learn. Stores need to stop telling moms to stop breast feeding. They need to be respectful of the challenges of motherhood. Moms need to stop being so aggressively cavalier about breast feeding. They need to be respectful of the personal space of people around them.

When I posted this story on my FB yesterday, it lit a firestorm – as breast feeding issues usually do. I’ve tried to weave a practical response to both sides in this piece, but I haven’t done it as concisely as Paul Minhas did on my page:

“So, the lesson learned for all businesses, IMO: understand the importance of breast feeding; also, try to be as knowledgable as possible with employee/ employer and patrons rights re: breast-feeding in the establishment.

Also be open minded: for the moms, be aware that your right isn’t well-known if its such an issue still; be aware that it can still make people uncomfortable and unsure how to handle the situation, for both a fellow patron and the stores employees; be aware that you do not have to be militant in your insistence of your rights..

For the stores: be open-minded- approach the mom with tact and compassion and understanding; be aware that some patrons are completely comfortable with breast feeding in public, while others are not; be aware that your insistence for the mothers to stop doesn’t have to be militant in nature.

With that being said, could this situation in particular have been avoided? Was there a chance for both the mom and the employees to understand each others perspectives?”

TL; DR If everyone CTFD and used common sense it would go a long way.

Images via Mirmurr, and thekmancom on Flickr

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