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Breastfeeding supporters say society slow to change
Several months ago, a verbal firestorm erupted on multiple social media and news platforms after a Calgary woman was asked to leave a Walmart store in southwest Calgary because she was breastfeeding her baby. Calgary Journal Healthy Living editor Shannon Galley recently explored the issue of public breastfeeding with several Calgary women.
Kayla Doucet is a Calgary mother of three who nursed all her children in public.
Her conclusion — breastfeeding in public is no easy task.
"I've been asked to leave a mall before. I've been asked to leave by security at public parks in Calgary, I've been told to go into a washroom and breastfeed," Doucet says.
"I think it's disgraceful when they ask a mother to leave while she's breastfeeding."
Doucet wants people to realize that it is necessary for women to feed their babies in public and it isn't easy to plan ahead to feed your child with pumped milk in bottles.
"A lot of the time you are very tired right after having baby," Doucet says. "Pumping to go out — I never found the time to do it.
Rachael Johnson's experience has been different from that of Doucet. Johnson sits quietly in the corner of a bustling Okotoks coffee shop while nursing her three-month-old daughter Emily.
In the 10 minutes she spends breastfeeding her child, no one glances over nor seems to take any notice, even though she does not use a cover-up.
"I haven't experienced many problems, but think I try to be pretty discreet about it," Johnson says.
According to the World Health Organization, less than 40 per cent of infants are exclusively breastfed, globally. The WHO promotes breast milk as the "best source of nourishment for young children."
And, according to the International Breastfeeding Journal, 70 per cent of new mothers initiate breastfeeding once before leaving the hospital and by the time the infant is six weeks old 53 per cent of mothers have introduced some infant formula. That number jumps to 90 per cent by the time the baby is six months.
But, like Doucet, Johnson says it's hard to plan ahead.
"Even if I expressed milk to take a bottle along to plan-ahead, she won't take it," she says. "Babies are different from day to day, there is no such thing as a schedule with a little baby. They're hungry when they're hungry."
Johnson speculates that the problem is that society is "over-sexualized" particularly in its view toward women's bodies.
A women's studies professor weighs in
Kimberly Williams is a women's studies professor at Mount Royal University. Williams says the fact that a breast is being shown makes breastfeeding in public a taboo in our society because breasts are seen as sexual objects.
"Breasts are erogenous zones. If a woman is going to enjoy sex, the erogenous zones are going to be the breast and nipples so there's an association in popular culture. If we get into pornography, titillation and breasts are sort of everywhere.
"Since most pornography, not all, is meant for a male audience, that inherently sexualizes breasts."
Williams says this association of breasts with sexuality instead of function can lead to negativity, especially for men.
Amanda Dortch is a 24-year-old dental assistant who says while she wouldn't tell a nursing mother to leave a public space, she dislikes seeing women breastfeeding in public. The sight, she says, makes her uncomfortable, which is why she would like to see breastfeeding done in private.
Some of these vital proteins, fats and nutrients are found in breastmilk
Breast milk contains 60 per cent whey
40 per cent casein proteins
According to the American Pregnancy Association this ratio makes breastmilk easier to digest than formula.
Proteins can defend against infection
Human milk also contains fats that are essential for the health of baby.
Lysozyme - enzyme that protects against e.coli and salmonella
Information courtsey of the American Pregnancy Association
"Women should plan ahead so they don't make other people uncomfortable," Dortch says.
Others on the Internet feel the same way as Dortch, but are not as friendly in their delivery. These samplings of comments have all appeared after local news stories dealing with breastfeeding in public.
One person who commented on a Metro news story said:
"...when women are just exposing themselves and the baby it is disgusting and un-lady like." The commenter goes onto say, "no businessman taking the train on his way to work wants to see some disgruntled woman expose herself then have her look at him like he's the asshole for judging her."
Another commenter on a CBC story said:
"I think that you should stare at a breastfeeding woman until she feels uncomfortable and leaves. If she wants to whip out the "mammaries" in public, then we curious types should be able to ogle a bit of free boobies."
Despite the criticism, breastfeeding mothers contacted by the Calgary Journal said nothing would stop them from feeding their babies in public.
Johnson, who is currently breastfeeding her daughter Emily, used to use a cover-up but has stopped recently. She said at first she was self-conscious but now she is proud to feed her daughter whenever she needs to.
"I just think that people need to grow up," Johnson says. "If someone is nursing in public I think that they should be commended not reprimanded...it should be celebrated."
What are your thoughts? Should women have to cover up when breastfeeding in public?