Breastfeeding in Public in Saskatchewan – What Are My Rights?
I’m currently away on holidays, watching my three girls romp in the shallows of the lake at our family cabin. It’s idyllic here, beautiful and serene with clear blue skies. So why is there a storm cloud hanging over my head?
Well as you may have heard, in Regina this week there have been two incidents of women being asked to cover up or move while breastfeeding in public spaces. Both women took their stories to social media, and on the positive side, the public responses have been very supportive. One of the businesses already reached out to apologize to the woman who was asked not to feed her baby uncovered. The other response was fairly lacklustre, just a reply in the comments of a Facebook post to their page, outlining their breastfeeding policy. No apology was made, nor any promise to ensure staff understood the breastfeeding policy in the future.
How businesses can and should respond when these incidents happen is a whole other blog post in itself. But today, I’d like to touch on breastfeeding in public. For many women, the fear of breastfeeding in public is one of the biggest barriers to meeting their breastfeeding goals. Covers are available for women who want them in order to feel comfortable, but not every woman/child pair can cover, or wants to cover. And the Human Rights Code in Saskatchewan protects every breastfeeding woman, regardless of how she breastfeeds her baby. How a woman feeds her baby is irrelevant. She simply can feed her baby however she needs or wants to. This is where businesses and the public sometimes stumble and fail to understand what is and isn’t protected under Saskatchewan Human Rights laws.
It may come as a surprise that laws protecting publicly breastfeeding mothers in Saskatchewan aren’t new. In fact, these laws have been in place for over 40 years. In Saskatchewan, the right to breastfeed in public is covered in the Human Rights Code under the right to freedom from discrimination in public spaces on the basis of sex, age or gender. Every business should have a written breastfeeding policy outlining the legal protection of breastfeeding mothers, and this should be part of training orientation for all employees, and revisited fairly frequently to avoid instances where individual employees confront breastfeeding mothers. It is even better if the written policy can be posted in a staff room or other employee area, and if breastfeeding welcome stickers can be put on doors, walls, or windows.
The law protecting public breastfeeding and freedom from discrimination was laid down a long time ago, and while incidents are becoming fewer and farther between, it is important for everyone to know what rights a breastfeeding mother has under law in Saskatchewan.
So what are your rights as a breastfeeding mother?
You are legally protected to breastfeed, covered or uncovered, anywhere you and your baby are legally allowed to be. So you can breastfeed in any private or public space that allows members of the public and minors to be in. You cannot breastfeed in a bar that doesn’t allow minors, or say at the Casino, because your baby is not legally allowed to be there. But otherwise, if you’re both allowed to be there, breastfeed away.
What should I do if I am approached and told to cover or move?
The chances of this happening are fairly low these days, but in the event it does happen, it’s important to feel confident and prepared. We talk over and over about education and its importance for new mothers and parents. When you know your rights, you can state them clearly. “I am sorry, it is illegal under the Human Rights Code in Saskatchewan for you to ask me to move, leave, or cover.” Then you can smile and keep feeding if you feel comfortable doing so.
If the individual persists, you can continue to smile and repeat the statement. “What you are asking is illegal. I am going to continue feeding my baby. Please leave.” When you are finished breastfeeding, depending on your individual comfort level, you may ask to speak to a manager or supervisor, or you can simply leave. Then we encourage you to contact your local breastfeeding groups or advocates and ask them to help educate the business or space in question. This helps ensure it doesn’t happen again at that particular venue. With the public opinions, the viral nature of social media, and the very public fallout that comes with denying a breastfeeding person their rights under the law, most businesses are quick to correct the issue. Some just need education and understanding of the Human Rights Code. If you don’t have a local group like La Leche League, you can contact the Breastfeeding Committee of Saskatchewan and ask for help to direct the business to appropriate laws. You can also contact the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission and ask them to liaise with the business or space, to educate them on human rights laws in Saskatchewan.
Don’t let fear of confrontation deter you from breastfeeding your baby wherever, whenever. Isolation is a major issue for new mothers, and we need to be able to comfortably feed our babies wherever we are.
We are in the middle of a culture shift, where breastfeeding has become very common and people are just now beginning to see women actually out and breastfeeding their babies. These kinds of cultural shifts take time, but incidents where women are asked to move or cover are thankfully becoming fewer and farther between than even ten years ago. When you breastfeed your baby as needed, covered or uncovered, you help society as a whole to shift another step forward. The more people that see breastfeeding, the more normal it becomes. You are on the right side of the law, you are feeding your baby, and we all have your back.
If you are new to breastfeeding, here are some tools to build your confidence to breastfeed in public.
Try breastfeeding your baby in front of a mirror. You will be able to see how much is visible (often little or nothing, even with a breast fully out), and this can help your confidence when you’re out and about and baby is hungry. Try utilizing different types of clothing, scarves, or even baby hats until you feel comfortable. Or utilize nothing at all. This is the breastfeeding individual’s choice.
Examine your own thoughts on breastfeeding in public. Are you feeling excited, nervous, or passive? Think about why you feel that way, then if you are feeling worried or nervous, use tools like the mirror, clothing, or personal affirmations to help break down barriers so you can feel comfortable feeding while you’re at a restaurant, library, pool, mall or park.
Attend local groups where other mothers will be breastfeeding. Groups like La Leche League are invaluable for helping to normalize breastfeeding in your own mind, as well as others. Or hang out with other parent friends or relatives and breastfeed around them. This helps build your confidence and normalize it in your own mind.
Practice makes perfect. The first time you breastfeed out in public may be a little daunting, but it gets easier each and every time you do it.
And no matter what, remember that there is a huge community that has your back.
If you have any questions about this post, feel welcome to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am always happy to respond or to help you out if you need. Until next time, happy breastfeeding!