Once again a mother has been confronted and told that feeding her baby is offending someone and that she needs to go and feed somewhere else. It never fails to amaze me that it is women who are telling other women to stop breastfeeding. We still have a long roe to hoe as my mother was wont to say in similar situations.
This time it is Ms Sophie Howes, a midwife and mother of two in her own right, is also the daughter of a rather famous independent midwife, Virginia Howes. Though I am sure that Sophie is able to advocate for herself, all the mama bear instincts of Virginia has been kicked into overdrive. I am afraid that Ashford Leisure Trust will not hear the end of this until they have acknowledged their error and given Ms Howes a full and unreserved apology as well as a commitment to update their policy and staff.
Virginia Howes' Facebook page contains the details of this incident. I have given my support with the following email. I post it here to allow anyone to steal it in whole or in part whenever they feel the urge to write someone on a similar incident in the future.
"I am saddened to read that once again in a public facility in England, a woman has been faced with discrimination regarding feeding her infant.
By now you will be well aware that the Maternity Act of 2010 protects mothers under both gender equality and maternity rights legislation, allowing them to feed (by either breast by bottle) wherever both are legally allowed to be. The law does not protect anyone from being 'offended' by breastfeeding or bottle feeding as may happen. As such, your life guard and the on duty manager have breached Ms Sophie Howes' rights. As one of the most vulnerable members of society and someone who needs to eat as often as every hour, her baby also has the right to have his need for food be responded to quickly and sensitively. That is all what Ms Howes was doing at the side of the pool. It is one of the beauties of breastfeeding that a mother can respond to his need anywhere with minimal fuss to her and her baby.
The vast majority of women in Ms Howes' demographics stop breastfeeding before two weeks if they ever initiate breastfeeding. There are many reasons for their cessation but one of the more terrifying reasons is to be confronted in public by someone who is 'offended' or by someone in authority who is advocating for this complainant. We all have social responsibility to support all mothers and especially young mothers in raising their children, no matter how small a step it seem. In this case, it is one of public health which is at stake. A cause which Ashford Leisure Trust holds close to its existence.
I do hope that this incident becomes a lesson from which everyone will learn something positive. It is a public health imperative that women are supported with feeding their babies. It is also necessary that the policies of the leisure facilities are reviewed, updated and appropriately disseminated among the management and staff. Anything less will keep the Trust open to further criticism and potential legal action and its employees vulnerable to the whim of the 'offended' public while mothers and babies will remain vulnerable to harassment and discrimination. A lose-lose situation for all involved.
As I reside outside of Kent, I will also be forwarding this email to my local MP with appropriate links as this is incident sadly demonstrates that this kind of discrimination is far from uncommon."
Edited to add a link to this marvellous document from Breastfeeding Alberta. A useful resource to public bodies as guidelines on breastfeeding in public in general and in for swimming pools specifically and for individuals who would like to inform themselves on this issue.