Breastfeeding protests in Ontario town can teach us all a lesson

Why is there such a gap in understanding between the public and nursing moms when it comes to breastfeeding rights?

nurse-in-Pinarski Photo: iStockphoto For every step forward in bringing public awareness of breastfeeding rights for moms (like Saskatoon's Breastfeeding Protection Pledge), there always seems to be a stumble backwards. Last Friday, that stumble happened at the Irish Cottage Kitchen and Alehouse in Wiarton, Ont., when staff asked Holly Treddenick to leave because patrons were upset she was nursing her nine-month-old daughter in public. Treddenick quickly took to social media to explain her side of the incident. In a statement posted on her Facebook page, Treddenick writes that while waiting for a friend at the restaurant, her baby needed to be fed. Rather than use the breastfeeding station in the women's bathroom, she began to nurse on the patio, seeking a bit of shade while her toddler daughter played beside her. "As I settled in, I began to nurse my baby and my toddler was playing with a toy beside me," she wrote. "There were 2 other tables on the patio, each with 2 men. A few minutes into our stay, one table left. The server hadn’t come to ask for my order and I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable. I absolutely didn’t refuse to order. They never asked!" Treddenick says at that point a server confronted her, calling her "uncourteous" [sic] and telling her that the men left because she was breastfeeding in public.

Both the owner and manager of The Irish Cottage Kitchen and Alehouse claim that Treddenick and her friend were causing, in their words, "a commotion" and that's why they were asked to leave. In an interview with The Wiarton Echo, owner Robert Costelloe said he asked Treddenick to extend some "common courtesy" to diners on the patio and that the issue had nothing to do with nursing in public. Nevertheless, Costelloe said he'd reach out to the local public health unit to ensure that everyone's rights are being respected.

Over the weekend, protests were held in front of The Irish Cottage Kitchen and Alehouse and Treddenick's supporters left one-star reviews on the restaurant's Facebook page.

I've been thinking about this one a lot over the weekend (and really, any time there is a nurse-in, which seems to be at least once a week in Canada). The big questions on my mind are: why are these incidents even happening and why is there such a gap in understanding between the public and nursing moms when it comes to breastfeeding rights?

Thankfully, I was never shamed for breastfeeding in public. And, to be honest, until I joined social media, I didn't even know such a thing as breastfeeding rights even existed. I fed my babies whenever and wherever they were hungry, whether it was on a skid of lumber at the hardware store or at a table at a restaurant. Is this because, at the time, I lived in a larger city and public health awareness campaigns made it clear that women could nurse wherever they wanted? Are incidents like what happened in Wiarton due to the health unit there not being as proactive as Saskatoon's? Or is it because nursing moms are now able to rely on social media to help give them a voice when they are shamed for nursing?

To be clear, I'm not siding with either Holly Treddenick or The Irish Cottage Kitchen and Alehouse, because I wasn't there. The matter has already played out in the court of public opinion and there's not much more I can add to that conversation. But to restaurant diners everywhere, I do have some words of advice: If you see a woman breastfeeding, just enjoy your meal in peace so the baby next to you can enjoy hers.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

This article was originally published on Jul 14, 2015

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