Wednesday, September 27, 2006


The rights of a nursing mother

I've been following an interesting story here in Ottawa for the past couple of days. A mother to a five-month-old baby (and two older children) registered for an adults-only pottery workshop. It's not a class, but a chance to use the studio tools and resources for a set three-hour period each week. The woman is still exclusively nursing her daughter and has not yet introduced solids or formula, and although she took the baby out of the studio to nurse her, the baby stayed in the class in her infant seat throughout the class.

Three-quarters of the way through the first class, the woman was approached by an official from the program and told that since her daughter did not meet the 19-years-or-older requirement of the class, she would not be able to bring her to subsequent classes. The city offered the woman a full refund of her registration fees when she indicated that she was unwilling to leave her baby at home. In an article in the Citizen, she says, ""I'm not asking to bring a child. I wouldn't bring my year-and-a-half-old here. It's not a day care. But the baby doesn't do anything. She's an exceptionally quiet baby. I just wanted to bring her until she starts eating pablum, probably about a month from now. Then I could make other arrangements, but now I'm nursing."

She (and the Citizen article) are spinning this conflict as a 'discriminating against breastfeeding mothers' issue, but I'm not so sure I agree. I think the city was probably being a little too officious when they pulled out the "the baby is under 19 therefore does not meet the eligibility requirements of the class" argument, but I do see why they might have concerns about an infant being in the workshop.

I'm a fervent supporter of a woman's right to nurse a baby wherever the hell she chooses. I nursed both boys in public, and have no problem with any mother nursing any baby anywhere. But I also have sympathy for the other people in the class - maybe mothers who signed up specificially to be able to get away from the babies for a little while, or maybe an infertile woman who finds the presence of a baby a painful reminder, or maybe someone who simply isn't ga-ga over babies.

I personally don't think the mother was being discriminated against because she was nursing, I just think that there are places that maybe babies aren't welcome. There's a huge difference between a mewling newborn and a curious five-month-old, too. I'm trying to remember my boys at five months, and I can't quite imagine them being content to sit in the baby bucket for hours at a stretch. (Matter of fact, I think Simon had outgrown the baby bucket by about four months, but that's another story.)

What do you think? Does the mother's right to nurse her baby trump someone else's right to be in a baby-free space?