Breastfeeding shouldn’t be controversial
This is an editorial that shouldn’t have to be written about an event that shouldn’t have made headlines in countries around the world. But it did. And we do. The event? Australian Greens party Sen. Larissa Waters – get ready for it – breastfed her baby on the floor of the country’s Senate.
The question is why in 2017 a woman breastfeeding her infant in public – something Waters rightly described as “natural” – isn’t just par for the course. But judging from the reaction in newspaper comment sections and on Twitter it’s not, by a very disturbing long shot.
How bad was it? One critic actually compared breastfeeding at work to peeing in public. “Sorry #larissawaters but urinating is perfectly natural also, but we still go somewhere private to do it.”
Happily, there was some praise amongst the derision. Feminist Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, declared online: “Go Larissa Waters – leading by example!”
Even that praise, though, wasn’t without irony. In 2012 Facebook repeatedly deleted Vancouver mother Emma Kwasnica’s breastfeeding images and revoked her account access on four occasions.
And if moms who breastfeed at work, as Waters did, hoped her example would encourage their bosses to be supportive, their hopes might have been dashed by a column her act sparked in the U.K. publication Management Today. “The trick is to breastfeed your baby before the meeting,” it advised.
Sadly it’s not just at work that breastfeeding moms are disrespected. Media reports indicate it happens at clubs, restaurants, malls and even community centres.
In 2016 Alexandra Shimo was breastfeeding her baby in a hallway at Toronto’s Lambton Golf and Country Club, for example, when staff told her she was offending other guests and escorted her to the basement.
Nor was the atmosphere more welcoming at a baby and toddler program, for heaven’s sake, at Thornhill’s Rosemont Community Centre in 2016 when Sarah Lambersky was told to breastfeed her baby in the washroom.
In both cases managers apologized when the stories went public, but the damage was done.
Sadly, breastfeeding women continue to learn they will be shamed, degraded and shunted off to basements and bathrooms to feed their babies if they dare stray from home. This despite a ruling from the Ontario Human Rights Commission that says: “No one should prevent you from breastfeeding 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.”
Congratulations to Waters, then, for de-stigmatizing an act that shouldn’t raise an eyebrow. We’re only sorry that in 2017 we have to mention it, never mind defend it.