Breastfeeding Rights for Canadian Mamas

Nobody puts baby in a corner
woman breastfeeding in public
© Can Stock Photo / halfpoint

One of the wonderful benefits of breastfeeding is the ease with which your baby can be fed— anywhere, anytime! Once you have both become comfortable with the initial latching process, there is really very little fuss involved. Most people won’t notice that you are breastfeeding and if they do, be reassured that your right to breastfeed is protected in Canada by the Human Rights Code of each province and federally by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Breastfeeding is your right

No one can make you stop breastfeeding in public and no one can tell you that you have to leave a restaurant, swimming pool or other public place because you are feeding your baby. In fact, “We know of no province, state or country that prohibits it, and there are many that specifically protect this natural right of mothers and babies.” (Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 8th Edition, 2010). Both Ontario and British Columbia have laws that give specific provision to the rights of the breastfeeding mother insofar as the workplace, public nursing, and accessibility are concerned. It would be a very good thing for the other provinces to be as up-to-date on the needs of breastfeeding mothers and babies. I’d suggest you visit the Infant Feeding Action Coalition (INFACT) Canada should you need specific links and information to support a situation in which you feel you have been discriminated against as a breastfeeding mother.

Breastfeeding is normal

As more and more women breastfeed openly in public places, in family gatherings, in schools and the workplace, we are participating in changing the cultural norm. It will be easier for future generations of women to breastfeed wherever they choose because we have paved the way. Remember, too, that no one is more important than your baby. Why would we worry about the attitude of a stranger, someone whom we may never see again, over the need of our baby to breastfeed? In fact, some women have told how empowering it is to look into the eyes of a leering onlooker, smile, and continue to breastfeed.

Normalizing breastfeeding

It is upsetting to hear that women have been relegated to bathrooms to feed their babies. No adult would eat in a bathroom - why on earth should a baby? Breastfeeding is not a dirty word, and breasts were meant for feeding babies. When the La Leche League began in the 1950’s, it could not use the word “breastfeeding” in its name nor in any publications, announcements or meeting notices. That’s why we’re called La Leche League—“leche” means “milk” in Spanish. Though the name could be changed but now it has become internationally synonymous with breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding in public

It always surprises me to see the media, clothing designers and movie makers portraying breasts as sexually inviting while at the same time, putting a negative slant on breasts doing what they are actually designed to do in the first place—feeding babies. Perhaps it is this more than anything else that concerns mothers about breastfeeding in public; the concern that part of their breast might be exposed? If that’s the case, then there are plenty of ways to simplify the experience such as practicing at home in front of a mirror, wearing clothes that you can comfortably nurse in (preferably two pieces as it is more discreet to lift a shirt from the bottom up), or using a shawl or large cardigan to wrap around the two of you, to name just a few.

Pregnant women and new mothers should be encouraged to find a La Leche League Canada meeting or a breastfeeding drop-in in their community as there they will find all types of mothers and babies, happily nursing, having conversations, sharing ideas and supporting one another. The more that a mother becomes confident in her ability to breastfeed and as she enjoys the breastfeeding experience, the more likely that she will breastfeed with confidence in public and wherever it is that her hungry baby needs to be fed.