If you're local to Ottawa, you may be aware that a breastfeeding mother was recently asked to cover-up as she nursed her infant pool-side at the St. Laurent Recreation Complex. The city of Ottawa was quick to offer an apology to the mother, the lifeguard who asked the mother to be discrete did so without consulting any of her superiors or co-workers first. The media has picked up on this incident, and some of the resulting comments have been unsettling, to say the least. Granted, the majority of commenters agree that women have the right to breastfeed in public, however, it's astonishing to see even a few individuals suggesting babies should be fed in bathrooms, some even comparing breastfeeding in public to defecating in public. It's hard to believe that people can be so ignorant, however, an incident like this, and the ensuing coverage, provides a good opportunity to educate the general public about breastfeeding rights.
Women in Canada are allowed to breastfeed anytime, anywhere. This basic right is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms under section 15(1) which guarantees equality. In Ontario, the Human Rights Commission covers a woman's right to breastfeed in public:
You have rights as a nursing mother. For example, you have the right to breastfeed a child in a public area. 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”.
I have always considered myself fortunate to be a breastfeeding mother in the city of Ottawa. We have access to a number of free breastfeeding drop-ins througout the city, a great resource for moms who need assistance. Going one step further, Ottawa's Breastfeeding Buddies program pairs a new breastfeeding mother with a volunteer who has breastfed for at least six months.
I have breastfed our babies all over the city without encountering a single negative comment, much less a sideways glance. Perhaps the silver lining behind this particular incident is that it provides an opportunity to educate people about their rights. Breastmilk is best, breastfeeding is not offensive. If you don't agree with me, you can suck it.