In My Opinion: Local moms helping to bust the stigma over breastfeeding in public

Moms and their babies take part in a Bust the Stigma flash mob at a recent Blue Jays game to highlight challenges faced when breastfeeding in public. Photo: Submitted.

By ERIN HORROCKS-POPE

Last summer brought a precious addition to my life, my beautiful daughter, Aedyn. She’s been such an incredible joy in my life, but I’m not writing this article to discuss my journey into parenthood. Instead, I want to shine a light on a societal issue close to my heart as a mom and friend of other moms: the challenges mothers face while simply nourishing their children.

Opting out of breastfeeding myself, I’ve not experienced discrimination or judgement firsthand, but I’ve indeed observed the stigma surrounding it, and it’s time we address this matter head-on.

As mentioned, for reasons of my own, I chose not to breastfeed my daughter. But, I know if I had decided to, I likely would have found myself in situations of public breastfeeding, feeling nervous at times due to cold stares or unkind remarks from others.

And that really bothers me – especially because no one’s judging anyone for eating an apple on the bus or giving their kid a granola bar at the playground.

Moms face so much unnecessary judgment, especially regarding public nursing, and it’s time we talk about it. Earlier this spring, I was made aware of a campaign that took place at a Toronto Blue Jays game.

Moms from across Toronto brought their littles out for a ball game, where they would openly breastfeed their children in a setting of tens of thousands of people.

The campaign, Bust the Stigma, organized by Mayana Geneviere, founder of motherhood clothing brand Mayana, was arranged to highlight a statistic from the 2015 Lansinoh global breastfeeding study showcasing that 42 per cent of Canadian moms have experienced criticism, shaming, or prejudice for nursing in public.

While I may never have been in a situation such as this due to my choice not to nurse my daughter – I’ve seen instances of it firsthand and heard countless accounts of mothers feeling unwelcome or unsafe either by passive-aggressive remarks or body language or being flat-out targeted.

I recently caught up with two East Toronto moms, Caitlin and Tanya, who participated in the Bust the Stigma ‘flash mob’ at the Blue Jays game with their babies.

Both recounted attending the event as a mixture of “empowering” and “awkward” – Caitlin highlighted that the experience was “empowering, but it definitely highlighted that there is a lot of social stigmas.”

Caitlin is a mother of three, and Tanya is a mother of two. So, both have gone through the first-time motherhood experiences of figuring out public breastfeeding.

At this stage, they’re “over the feelings of awkward shame” in public breastfeeding that is forced upon parents, particularly mothers, in our society – something I really want to stress here that should have zero shame attached.

They shared that, for the most part, the Blue Jays day went pretty well for moms and their kids. However, there was lots of unnecessary and uncomfortable staring, and unfortunately at least one mother was blatantly yelled at while feeding her child. But the moms took whatever came at them in stride – because ultimately, they were there to de-stigmatize public nursing by taking “a bold step against the unfair judgement mothers face for their choice to breastfeed in public.” The campaign also received some great media attention and was covered by CBC, Breakfast Television, and Toronto Culture.

While the Bust the Stigma campaign happened on a much larger scale – literally a Major League Baseball game – I wanted to hear the experiences of these two moms breastfeeding their babies in our communities.

While both acknowledged that overall our neighbourhood is a wonderfully supportive and inclusive place, they weren’t shy to share that they do unfortunately experience some uncomfortable situations, from strangers rolling their eyes or moving away from them, to one recent experience both Caitlin and Tanya shared while dining at a local establishment where some “women of an older generation” made their disapproval very clear through passive aggressive and demeaning comments targeted towards the two friends feeding their children.

“It’s sad that breasts are so oversexualized to the point that feeding our kids is now something moms are expected to hide,” Tanya said, emphasizing that breastfeeding is one of the most natural things that women’s bodies do and it is something that should be celebrated not punished.

Like many moms, Caitlin and Tanya both went through the awkward stage of hiding their breastfeeding with their first children, from hiding in bathrooms at events to going to the car to breastfeed; they hid this natural act – and postponed feeding their children because it “what’s expected of us.” When they had children again, they quickly forewent the “common courtesy,” putting their families’ needs above others’ judgement.

“As a first-time mom, I was definitely timid to breastfeed,” Caitlin told me at a local cafe while nursing her daughter. “When I had my second one, and now my third – I realized I have no choice and meeting their needs is my priority, so (screw) it.”

This is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with and support.

Both Caitlin and Tanya hope that through educational campaigns like Bust the Stigma, ongoing conversations within communities, and empowering other moms to not shy away from feeding their children – our communities can continue to grow in how they support moms and break this boring, outdated, and harmful stigma.

Toward the end of our chat, I asked Caitlin and Tanya if they could share a message with other moms who might be experiencing struggles within this realm.

“You do you! Parents should never be prevented from doing what they need to for the children,” Tanya said while Caitlin nodded in agreement with this message, which I think is the overarching theme of this article.

“You do you.”

However, even though moms may be superheroes, we’re ultimately just people, so if you find yourself struggling with mom-hood in this way or any of the other million-and-a-half crazy brutal ways that we experience motherhood, know that there are tons of supports out there for you, such as East End Mom Friends, a mom and baby group for local moms which Caitlin and Tanya are both members of.

You can check out East End Mom Friends on Instagram if you want to find your village – because all of us moms definitely need one.


Was this article informative? Become a Beach Metro Community News Supporter today! For 50 years, we have worked hard to be the eyes and ears in your community, inform you of upcoming events, and let you know what and who is making a difference. We cover the big stories as well as the little things that often matter the most. CLICK HERE to support your Beach Metro Community News!