When my son, Isaac, was born, it took me four months to work up the courage to breastfeed in public. Breastfeeding didn't come easily to me, but after months of pumping, mastitis and thrush, I felt like I finally got the hang of it. It gave me the confidence to nurse Isaac at the table in a restaurant one day, but I was worried about two things: that he'd kick off my strategically positioned nursing cover or that someone would complain. Even my husband, who was my biggest supporter while I was struggling with nursing, was nervous that a customer—or, worse, an employee—would ask me to use the bathroom to feed my baby. In the end, we enjoyed our dinner without incident, which gave me the confidence to continue nursing in public. I can't imagine what it would have been like if I'd been shamed.
Although public breastfeeding wasn't taboo nine years ago, when I first fed my baby in public, it didn't have nearly the support it does today. An increase in initiatives like the new Breastfeeding Protection Pledge, introduced in Saskatoon this week, is proof that society is beginning to normalize nursing in public. A joint effort between the Saskatoon Health Region's Population and Public Health and Saskatoon Breastfeeding Matters, the new program asks restaurants and businesses to guarantee that they won't ask nursing moms to cover up, move spots or leave the premises while they are breastfeeding their babies.
So far, 10 restaurants have signed the pledge, which includes a listing in a breastfeeding "passport" brochure and a sticker to display on their windows. The restaurants guarantee that they'll have trained their staff on how to handle any complaints from the public. "They can acknowledge patrons' complaints and let them know that they can move those patrons to a different area but won't approach the breastfeeding mother," says Quincy Lambe, a member of Saskatoon Breastfeeding Matters.
The group says the timing of the initiative is interesting because one of the participating restaurants, Cora at Preston Crossing, was in the news in March when an employee asked a nursing mother to cover up. "[The] allowed us the opportunity to reach out to Cora and help educate them and ask if they want to get on board, which they did," says Lambe.
Mothers participating in the program will also be given brochures to let them know their breastfeeding rights. According to the Saskatoon Health Region, only 43 percent of mothers continue to breastfeed exclusively two weeks after giving birth. With the Breastfeeding Protection Pledge, they hope more women will fulfill their personal breastfeeding goals in more welcoming environments.
I wish something like this had been in place when I first nursed in public, but I also wish public education programs weren't needed in the first place. In a perfect world, moms would be able to feed their babies wherever and whenever they needed. But until then, I hope Saskatoon's new initiative inspires other public health groups and businesses to support the needs of nursing moms.
Looking for tips on getting your baby to latch? Check out this video.