Posted by: Admin | June 26, 2011

The Week-End Post – More on Breastfeeding in Public and What you Need to Know about it!!!

In the last Dear LC post, I mentioned the right of the child to be breastfed and the right of the mother to breastfeed. But what about the mother’s and the child’s right to receive breastfeeding support? And then, if your rights were infringed upon, what can you do? Here are some answers, a videoclip of mothers that fought for their rights, and a funny discussion on breastfeeding in public from the Dad Labs.

The Community and the Health Care Workers’ Responsibilities

 In October 1979 a joint WHO/UNICEF meeting on infant and young child feeding adopted a statement saying:

Breastfeeding is an integral part of the reproductive process, the natural and ideal way of feeding the infant and a unique biological and emotional basis for child development. This, together with its other important effects, on the prevention of infections, on the health and well-being of the mother, on child-spacing, on family welfare, on family and national economics, and on food production, makes it a key aspect of self-reliance, primary health care and current development approaches. It is therefore a responsibility of society to promote breastfeeding and to protect pregnant and lactating mothers from any influences that could disrupt it [5].”

Another article, Article 24, paragraph (e) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, also concerns all care givers and says that everyone should take appropriate measures:

“To ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents.”

As a society, we have a responsibility to see to the well-being of a child. As breastfeeding offers the “highest attainable standard of health”, children have the fundamental right to be breastfed and we, the people, have the unavoidable responsibility to promote, encourage and protect breastfeeding. When a mother is being asked to leave a public place because she is breastfeeding her child, we have not only failed to protect breastfeeding, we have also infringed on this child’s right to the “highest attainable standard of health” by taking away the safest food source available to him.

And what about health care workers? They represent “health”, they promote “safe conduct”, they advise on “healthy living”. All health care workers are obliged to encourage, support and protect breastfeeding. It cannot be a question of belief or cultural ways. The Codes of Ethics for all health care professionals hold them liable for their conduct. Promoting artificial milk over breastmilk, or simply not giving all the support needed for a mother to breastfeed successfully, is simply not ethical!

We all have responsibilities towards mothers and children. We have the most important responsibility of all as health care workers. As a Certified Lactation Consultant, I feel this responsibility every day, every minute of my life. Every time I see a mother and child at a feast, walking down the street, or waiting at the clinic, I feel an overwhelming sense of sincere worry about them and the choices that this mother will make for herself and for her child, and also about the information she may or may not be getting to make those choices properly. I know I make choices for my child from the information I possess, but I realize that I sometimes made bad choices because I simply did not know better! Health care workers must realize that they have a fundamental responsibility to help women make all their choices “informed” choices. Letting a mother know about the benefits of breastfeeding and the consequences of not receiving breastmilk for her baby is not “making a woman feel guilty”, it is simply allowing her to make an informed choice. Health care workers need to support women in their decisions, but they also need to make sure these decisions are based on accurate information.

As the clients receiving the health care, you and your child are entitled to the “best of care”. You are entitled to be supported in your decisions, but you are also entitled to the correct information so you can make your decisions based on truths and facts, not on someone’s belief or cultural values. That is your right!

Two Provinces that Protect Breastfeeding in many ways

Of all the provinces of Canada, Ontario and British Columbia have provincial laws that specifically address the rights of breastfeeding mothers. In Ontario, women are legally protected from discrimination and harassment because of sex, including pregnancy and breastfeeding. There is also protection based on Family Status for being in a parent and child relationship. It is illegal to discriminate because a woman is pregnant. It is also illegal to discriminate because a woman was pregnant, had a baby, or may become pregnant. You have the right to keep your job, rent an apartment, or sign a lease or other contract without discrimination because of your pregnancy. Services such as restaurants, stores and malls, schools and parks should also be provided free from discrimination.

Breastfeeding mothers are specifically mentioned in the provincial Code of Human Rights. For example, no one should prevent you from nursing your child simply because you are in a public area. They should not ask you to “cover up”, disturb you, or ask you to move to another area that is more “discreet”.

Ontario and British Columbia have added a law on top of the federal Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states in section 15(1) that

      “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.”

British Columbia put the protection of breastfeeding in public in their provincial Human Rights Code following an important incident. A woman named Michelle Poirier was breastfeeding her daughter at noon hour at her workplace and her employer, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, decided to introduce a law barring children from the workplace.  Ms Poirier sued and obtained a favorable judgment on July 30, 1997. You can read more about it at the following link:

 Examples of Fighting Back

Another incident in Nanaimo, BC, brought a school board to draft a Breastfeeding Policy. Mrs Domarchuk was asked to stop breastfeeding her 9 month old son while she was attending a St-Valentine party for her older daughter at school. She was told she had to respect public interest and should stop breastfeeding on the public property. She debated the issue and asked that a policy be made.

The province of Manitoba is also considering protecting breastfeeding in their provincial Human Rights Code. See this link for more information:

There was also another incident in BC but this time, in Vancouver. This one received a lot more attention as the mother in question organized a “nursing-in” at the H&M store where she was asked to stop breastfeeding. A “nurse-in” is like a “sit-in”: in this case, all the mothers went to the store with their babies and toddlers, hanging around talking and breastfeeding their children for the whole afternoon. It is a very peaceful way of demonstrating dissatisfaction with a business. It does cause some inconvience to the owners, as customers are not likely to shop during that period of time. You can read up on it at this link:

And watch a news report on the actual nurse-in:

And another news report on a nurse-in, this time in the US, in Orange County.

What should I do if it happens to me?

Here is what Infact Canada proposes you do if confronted with a request to depart from a public place:

  • Stand your ground and refuse to leave. Calmly but confidently state your right to feed your infant without discrimination. Unfortunately, many new mothers feel intimidated in such situations, and it is often only after they have had time to think about what has happened that they wish to respond in some way
  • Lodge a formal complaint with your provincial Human Rights Commission
  • Write to your local community newspapers about the incident
  • Let your local councilor, school trustee, MP and MPP know. Choose the government official connected with the actual place where the incident occurred: for example, if you are asked to leave a school setting it would be best to go to the local school trustee with your complaint. If you are unsure, start with local councilors and MPPs
  • Contact your local public health unit. They can provide you with suggestions on how to proceed and can probably put you in touch with local breastfeeding networks or coalitions
  • Let INFACT Canada know Phone: 416-595-9819
  • Boycott the place where the incident occurred and encourage friends and family to do the same. It is a good idea to let the facility know what you are doing and why you are doing it

Here is the contact information where you can make a complaint:
Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse
360, rue Saint-Jacques, 2nd étage
Montréal, PQ  H2Y 1P5
Tel: (514) 873-5146 Toll Free: 1-800-361-6477
E-mail:  Website:

To end on a lighter note, here is a video clip by Dad Labs. You will hear two fathers debating on breastfeeding in public. They sum up all there is to say about the subject in a very humorous way.

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