Linda Clement was nursing her daughter, Fiona, in a restaurant when an older couple stopped at her table. The husband looked a bit embarrassed as his wife said to Clement: “That’s disgusting. People are eating here.”
Clement looked up at her, looked down at Fiona and replied: “Yeah, her too.” As Clement recalls: “The little old ladies at the next table all cracked up.”
Clement’s encounter with disapproval over breastfeeding in public ended with laughter, but for other women the experience has been more frustrating — sometimes even humiliating. It can be daunting for a new mother who wants to be out and about with her baby. You can’t help but be a little anxious: Will you offend others? Will you be asked to leave? What should you do?
Rest assured about one thing: The law is on your side. The Ontario and British Columbia Human Rights Commissions have specifically identified women’s right to breastfeed in any places where they have a right to be.
In other provinces, every case that has been brought to a human rights commission has been decided in favour of the breastfeeding mother and baby.
Breastfeeding in public has definitely become more common in recent years, but Pat Millar, a La Leche League leader in Dartmouth, NS, says it’s still not as readily accepted as it needs to be. “Breastfeeding mothers need to be able to go about their normal lives without worrying about comments from others or whether someone will be upset that they aren’t covered up enough,” explains Millar.
It’s one thing to know that you’d probably win a case in front of a human rights commission, and another thing trying to latch on a crying baby while avoiding glares from people around you.
Some tips to make it easier:
• Practise in front of a mirror at home. You’ll realize that nobody can see much anyway. You can try a couple of different tops to see what makes nursing the easiest.
• Consider buying a special nursing top or two. They are usually designed with hidden openings or concealing vests or folds of material that make it simple to nurse without revealing a lot of skin. You can also improvise your own — cut openings in a cotton tank top and wear it under a shirt, for example. The combo will cover you while the baby nurses.
• Unbutton your shirt from the bottom rather than the top.
• Don’t wait until your baby is crying and frantic — you’ll have more time to get settled and latch the baby on quietly without attracting attention. Watch for your baby’s early “I want to nurse” signals, such as putting her hands up to her face, nuzzling against you or smacking her lips.
• If you’re going to be nursing in a restaurant, see if you can get a seat in a corner or in a booth.
• Your baby may tolerate a blanket over your shoulder and her face. Many, however, won’t — and many who do at first will later decide to pull off the blanket at inconvenient moments. The big, bib-like coverings work well for some people because they’re harder for the baby to pull off, but many people feel less comfortable with them because they advertise “Breastfeeding is happening here!” It’s often easier and less conspicuous to just wear clothes that cover most of you as you nurse.
• If you find you’re somewhat exposed while breastfeeding in public (perhaps your baby won’t nurse with fabric near her face), try not to worry about it. Meeting your baby’s needs is the first priority.
• Smile at people. Make eye contact. Look confident. Remind yourself you are doing something good for your baby and you have every right to breastfeed here.
• If you’re still feeling anxious about it, see if you can find another breastfeeding mother or a supportive friend or family member to keep you company on your first forays into public breastfeeding.
What if someone asks you to move when you are breastfeeding? Melissa Wilkinson recalls, “I was at Zellers and plopped down in a chair outside the women’s change room to breastfeed Nathaniel. The sales clerk adamantly tried to get me to move into the change room. She kept insisting I would be more ‘comfortable’ in the change room where I could have privacy.”
Wilkinson felt the key to handling the situation was being polite. “I told her I was fine right where I was and didn’t need to be in a closet. Eventually she just left me alone.”