Friday, 28 March 2014

Breastmilk and the Pool, again.

Once more a swimming pool is infringing on a woman's right to mother as she thinks is appropriate. 
photo shared with permission
To whom it may concern:

I have with interest been following the incident which Mrs ******** ******** and her partner have raised with the sign in the attached photograph.  I was very pleased to hear that the Louisa Centre has removed the sign after reviewing the appropriate guidance from Maternity Action.

However, I am less than pleased with the lack of support the Centre's management has shown for the spirit and the letter of the guidance and the legislation (Equality Act of 2010) where breastfeeding is specifically protected.  It is quite worrying that you are misusing the element of health and safety under the Equality Act to bar women from breastfeeding poolside or in the water.  This argument is only valid if there is actually a risk present, which I will outline below is a very questionable position to hold.

Your response to Mrs ******** cited enforcement of your position based on health and safety grounds, that a.  a child may vomit in the pool and b. vomit on the poolside creates a risk to slipping.

Point a.  You will be aware that toddlers and babies will urinate quite frequently in the pool and that swim nappies only hold the solid content of excrement.  Using your logic, I fail to understand how a small amount of breastmilk which may be regurgitated is of any risk in comparison to what toddlers and babies already do in the pool.   

A lactating woman in the pool may leak and in addition to the urine and faecal matter already mentioned, there is also the possibility of phlegm from congested sinuses, sweat, dead skin cells, and menses, to name a few excretions which may also already be in the pool.  If your pool cleaning system is efficient then there is no problem with it removing breastmilk from the water.  You may be unaware so far that while all the other bodily secretions mentioned above have potential health and safety risks, breastmilk is the only one which kills bacteria and viruses including norovirus.

Point b.  While vomit on the poolside may be a risk for slippage, the average spit up of a breastfed baby is between a teaspoon and table spoon's worth or 5 - 15ml.  This is in no way comparable to the vomit which an adult or medium sized child may do on the side of a pool. Using your logic once more that a breastfed baby's vomit is a danger, all pools must be shut forthwith as there is typically wet foot prints from the end of the first swimming lesson till the pool closes in the evening.

In addition, babies sometimes suck on life vests, ducklings swimming lessons encourage putting babies' faces in the water so that they can blow bubbles and get water in their faces.  In addition, a calculation made by the Canadian Red Cross (1) suggests that babies in some baby swimming programmes where babies are dunked underwater show that babies may drink up to 50 ml or 2 oz of pool water in a session.  On the other hand, when a baby breastfeeds, the baby's mouth forms a vacuum seal over the breast preventing air or water, in this case, from entering the baby's mouth.  

Breastfeeding has significant benefits to a small baby or child. It is not just food to the child.  It is security in an environment which can be noisy and intimidating.  Breastfeeding allows a frightened, tired, or cold child to feel warm and secure without a mother potentially slipping while leaving the water to feed a child in a cubicle, a journey which will allow the child to grow colder and more distressed.  If there are any accompanying siblings, it may also mean dragging two or more children to a cubicle and removing the pleasure of the experience for all.  

Co. Durham including Stanley is an area of high social and economic deprivation and besides being economical, breastfeeding is one activity which improves the health outcomes for poorer children throughout their lives and also it is shown to increase their confidence and academic performance in childhood and beyond.  By supporting mothers with mothering, the council facilities help mothers to breastfeed for longer and she becomes a model for other women who see breastfeeding as a normal and feasible option for her children.

I ask the facility to reconsider its position once more and I await your response on this matter.

the Rabbit in the Moon

This comprehensive report by the Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton deals with just about any question or eventuality in discussions with leisure facilities management when this issue arises.  It is evidence based and provides a multitude of references for further information.

1 In an unpublished study done for the Canadian Red Cross, in which babies were intentionally submerged during a water experience program, 31 of 80 test weights done afterwards showed an average gain of about 50 ml, or 1/4 of a cup of water, with no ill effects.  Not only do swimming pools not exclude young children from the water, they actively encourage them to participate. Thus a double standard seems to exist at some pools regarding breastfeeding babies who might ingest pool water and other babies enjoying the  water who might do the same. 
 Breastfeeding at Municipal Pools in Canada:
A Report from the Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton
August 16, 2002

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