West Coast

Why We Continue to Support Breastfeeding Rights

When you’re a new mom, getting out of the house for a cup of coffee or a lunch date with a friend can be the highlight of your day. Heck, your week even. But what if you walked into your local cafe and saw this sign up on the wall?

Photo courtesy of Eva McNulty

It’s kind of blurry, so if you can’t quite make it out, the sign says:

If there is the need feed
your child,
please be Respectful of
yourself and that
of other people and use a
Cloth or some
form to cover yourself or
you will be
refused service or asked
to leave.
Straight to the point and
is without discussion.

As reported in a thread on the Smithers Customer Service Review group Facebook page, this particular sign is posted on the bulletin board at the Telkwa Baeckerei Kaffeehaus, a coffee house in Telkwa, BC. Telkwa is a village in northwest British Columbia near the town of Smithers and about 350 kilometers west of Prince George.

Imagine that you’ve been up half the night with a fussy baby, and all you want to do is sit down with a cup of coffee and a croissant. You know, feel like a human being again. You walk into this cafe and you see this sign. Would you feel welcome? Or would you feel judged and shamed for how you feed your child before you even sit down. And hey, did you know that feeding your baby without a cloth over his or her face is disrespectful to yourself and everyone around you? Well, this cafe wants you to know.

Breastfeeding moms know that nursing can be difficult, especially in the first few weeks and months of establishing a breastfeeding relationship. Now imagine trying to help your baby latch on properly when you can’t see what you’re doing. You’re fumbling around with a blanket, your shirt, and your baby, trying not to drop any of them. Not to mention, flailing around with a blanket or cloth is basically shouting, “Look at me! I’m doing something bad over here!” Discreet? Not so much.

And then when babies grow out of the newborn stage, they STILL don’t like to be covered. Try it for yourself. Eat your lunch with a blanket over your head for 20 minutes. Unpleasant, and downright suffocating, right? That’s why most babies will protest having anything draped over their faces. They’ll yank the blanket off, struggle, even bite to show their displeasure.

If you aren’t aware of your rights as a breastfeeding mom, you’re probably feeling unwelcome and afraid to bring your baby into this restaurant. Even if you do know your rights, you probably feel that way. Knowing that you have the legally protected right to breastfeed whenever and however you choose, wherever you are otherwise permitted to be, is small comfort when someone is in your face demanding you cover up or leave. I bet you’re thinking twice about attempting to breastfeed here or anywhere else in public. Situations like these unnecessarily add to the burden on a breastfeeding woman and may even increase the likelihood that she will give up.

That’s why hundreds of women (and men) are calling out this place on their breastfeeding policy. They’re standing up for the next unsuspecting mom who walks into this cafe to be told she has to cover up her “shameful” behaviour or leave.

Let me assure you that despite this policy being phrased as some sort of strange free verse poem, it’s illegal. In Canada, we do not yet have federal laws specifically protecting a woman’s right to breastfeed, but our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees gender equity. Having said this, British Columbia is one of two provinces (Ontario is the other one) that do have specific legal protections for breastfeeding. In British Columbia, the BC Human Rights Code specifically protects breastfeeding mothers against this kind of discrimination. Without discussion.

As per the BC Human Rights Code Sex Discrimination Fact Sheet, “It is illegal to discriminate against a woman because she may become pregnant, is pregnant, or has a baby. Nursing mothers have the right to breastfeed their children in a public area, and it is discriminatory to ask them to cover up or breastfeed somewhere else.” Public areas include shopping malls, museums, hospitals, public parks, restaurants, stores, ferries, and buses.

Babies and breastfeeding mothers have rights protected under the law, and we won’t be quiet about it.

I urge the owners of the Telkwa Baeckerei Kaffeehaus to familiarize themselves with BC law and take this insulting and illegal sign down. You can work towards becoming a welcoming place for moms and their babies by publicly apologizing and explicitly welcoming mothers to feed their babies in your establishment however they feel comfortable. Ensure that all your staff are trained to be respectful and supportive as well. A “Naturally, You Can Breastfeed Here” decal is a simple way of communicating your new stance. You can request a free Growing for Gold decal from Northern Health.

I will update this post with any response from the coffee house.

More on this story: Update on Breastfeeding Discrimination at the Telkwa Baeckerei Kaffeehaus

Update — July 3 at 1:00 pm

The Telkwa Baeckerei Kaffeehaus finally responded earlier this morning on their Facebook page. They’re doubling down by blaming one woman who “flashed her breast” and Canadian attitudes. (We have no way of knowing who they’re referring to, but one woman who was in the cafe just before they put up the sign reports that she was having a hard time latching on her baby, resulting in more exposure than she intended. Regardless, again this is protected under the law and not obscene.)

Puzzlingly, they are also apparently upset that only one person approached them directly to discuss their “[s]traight to the point and this is without discussion” policy.

An hour after publishing this non-apology, the bakery updated their post with the information that they have decided to close their bakery. Basically, they are so adamant about not backing down from their ridiculous and illegal breastfeeding stance, they are threatening to shut down their business.

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  • Oh, this is so wrong!

    People don’t understand – or care! – that babies can’t be asked to wait to eat, and they don’t like be covered with a cloth. I live in Texas, and covering my baby with a cloth when we go out is downright dangerous in our heat. Even in the AC, after a blistering walk in 100+ degree heat (37.7 C), we are sweating so profusely that babies can still overheat under a cover. Not to mention – many babies WON’T eat under a cover. Mine fusses and cries and pushes away from me, and then he gets tangled in the cover even worse. Covering him actually makes him a NUISANCE in public because he becomes a cranky, hungry, crying baby. I’m waiting for my day to put someone in their place about breastfeeding in public. It’s shameful telling a mom to cover up because feeding her child is “indecent.”

  • I was flabbergasted when I saw your posting! I myself prefer to wear a cover in public because my son nursed more efficiently (I.e. Not pulling or accidentally biting!). But if my son refused it, I just didn’t fight it. And even with using a cover people stare at you or make stupid comments! But to blatantly post you can’t feed your baby even though it’s a human right and major part of public health policy (at least in Quebec) is a bit crazy!

  • um if I walked into any place and saw this on the wall and I was breastfeeding I would walk right out. I cannot believe this is still an issue to this day. I for one, was uncomfortable with breastfeeding in public and did it in my car or somewhere else with a blanket BUT does not mean I have a problem with other people doing it in public with or without a blanket! mommy has to do what mommy has to do for their child! my sis in law was actually asked to move at a funeral home a few months ago. she was sitting on a bench inside the funeral home feeding her son WITH a blanket over when an older woman was causing a fuss because she wanted to sit on the bench but not beside a woman feeding her child cause she could see his feet sticking out from under the blanket. so she had to move into a separate room

  • It is crazy to think this is still an issue in 2017. I was shocked about this sort of attitude when I first became a mom in 2000. I can’t believe all the progress that has been made about other issues since then while breastfeeding is still looked at as something that should be shameful and hidden from society. It really makes me sad.