Nurse-in draws crowd to support public breastfeeding

Montreal/News by
Alice Walker
Alice Walker

On January 5, Shannon Smith, mother of three, was told she was not allowed to breastfeed in Orchestra, a children’s store in the Complexe Les-Ailes on St. Catherine Street. In response, Genevieve Coulombe organized a “nurse-in” in front of the store on January 19th.

Smith was given no explanation as to why she was not allowed to breastfeed in Orchestra; she was simply told repeatedly in French that it was not allowed by a store clerk. Smith replied: “that’s incorrect. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives me the right to breastfeed where I like.”

“I left in tears. I was very upset. I think that was really humiliating and I should not have been treated that way and in front of everyone in the store, in front of my children,” Smith said. “I have three kids and I’ve breastfed them all and I’ve never had an issue like this. It’s shocking to me in this day and age that we still have this ridiculous behaviour.”

The first thing Smith did was to share her experience online through Twitter and Facebook. “But you only have 140 characters on Twitter, so you don’t really get to tell the whole story and everybody had lots of questions,” Smith said. She then decided to create a blog  called “breastfortheweary.com” to share the entire experience.

“I only really expected like 30 people, people I mostly knew, to care enough to read my blog … but it spread like wildfire,” Smith said.     In reaction to this event, Genevieve Coulombe—a complete stranger at the time to Smith—created a Facebook event entitled Allaite-In (or “Nurse-In,” in English) for January 19, to which 173 people clicked “attending.” The idea was to breastfeed to raise awareness of a mother’s right to breastfeed anywhere, at anytime.

In a speech given to introduce the event on January 19, Coulombe said that the path to awareness “starts with the education of the general public and especially with the education of the new moms who don’t know all their rights.”

Myriam Baril-Boisclair, whose son is eight and a half months old, attended the event after hearing about it on Radio-Canada. She believes it’s important to have the right to nurse her child everywhere.

“It’s not because I like to do it, it’s because I have to do it. When he’s hungry I have to do something,” Baril-Boisclair said.

Well over 50 mothers showed up to breastfeed. Not only mothers attended the nurse-in. Fathers came along as well to support their wives.

On January 10, Smith recieved an apology from Orchestra and on the Facebook event Coulombe wrote that “the water ran under the bridge. The store apologized to the mother. We are at peace with this store!” In a gesture of good will, Orchestra handed out goody-bags to the mothers attending the event, and the Complexe designated an area for strollers to be kept safely.

Smith hopes that raising awareness about this issue informs people that “breastfeeding is normal behaviour, protected by law,” she said, and that “if you break the law there are consequences.” More importantly Smith hopes that the nurse-in will show mothers and mothers-to-be, “that they don’t have to ask permission to breastfeed … that they don’t have to be ‘discrete.'”

In response to the nurse-in, the Canadian Breastfeeding Protection Petition has been created by Infant Feeding Action Coalition Canada and INFACT Quebec. This petition aims to get 100,000 signatures to deliver directly to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking “for action on improving breastfeeding support for mothers and babies across Canada.”