Posted by: Jennifer | November 12, 2008

Breastfeeding Rights

All over the news right now are stories on the breastfeeding discrimination that took place a few weeks ago at the Aquacentre in Newmarket, Ontario.  As this story gains significant media attention, I have noticed a few things.

1.  People are very hung up on the concept of “being discreet”.  Being discreet is not the issue and has never been the issue and will never be the issue.  Whether you (proverbial you) like it or not, breastfeeding is a protected right under the Ontario Human Rights Code.  If mom takes off her top, or covers her baby with a blanket, it makes zero difference.  Breastfeeding women cannot be discriminated against.

2.  People are under the impression that the mother, Cinira L., was breastfeeding in the pool (as in fully submerged with her baby under the water).  Besides being impossible, it’s ridiculous.  It has been shown several times that breastmilk will not contaminate the water in any way.  As for the people who are so concerned about Cinera’s child ingesting pool water, I sincerely hope that they do not take their children to public pools – ever – because all children ingest water, through their skin, eyes, mouth, etc, while swimming.

3.  Lactivists do not advocate for breastfeeding in cars or in the middle of a highway.  To compare breastfeeding in a pool to taking your baby out of a moving car and driving with the baby breastfeeding on your lap is not only ridiculous but insulting as well.

To sum up the laws, I have found an excellent post on  Angela White, a lawyer and breastfeeding counselor, discusses the laws in Ontario and in Canada on this issue.   She also shows people what to do if they are discriminated against.  She states:

Section 10(2) The Ontario Human Rights Code specifies:

The right to equal treatment without discrimination because of sex includes the right to equal treatment without discrimination because a woman is or may become pregnant.

R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 10 (2).

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) developed a Policy on Discrimination Because of Pregnancy and Breastfeeding (PDF document) which further explains the law and its interpretation and implementation. It clarifies that the protections for pregnancy include the post-natal period, which includes breastfeeding. The policy statement elaborates:

You have rights as a nursing mother. For example, you have the right to breastfeed a child in a public area. No one should prevent you from nursing your child simply because you are in a public area. They should not ask you to “cover up”, disturb you, or ask you to move to another area that is more “discreet”.

There are also protections on the federal level. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifies:

15(1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.

INFACT Canada explains what women can do if they have been harassed for breastfeeding:

Report the incident to the Human Rights Commission in your province. As commissions don’t handle many complaints about breastfeeding, individual officers may be unfamiliar with the issue and require some explanation of why this is discrimination, or why the provision of an alternative place to breastfeed is not enough. Be persistent. Contact a women’s rights organization, La Leche League or other group for help and support if you feel you are not being heard.

According to the OHRC website, complaints are now to be filed directly with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.


Some people ask, “why do you even care” or “what’s the big deal about being discreet”?  I think that those are good questions.  The big deal is that no two women are built the same and no two babies are built the same.  While one woman may be fully able to nurse her baby with no part of her body showing, the same may be quite difficult for another woman.  Since it is impossible to actually define “discreet” or “common sense”, it is important for everyone to know that women are fully protected and able to breastfeeding without discrimination in public. 

And for all the people who are so offended and worried about maybe seeing a small part of a woman’s breast while she is nursing, I have a great suggestion – look elsewhere!

Check out the article I wrote for Wild Parenting on the subject of nursing covers and don’t forget to enter the contest that ends today!



  1. […] People are very hung up on the concept of “being discreet”. Being discreet is not the issue and has never been the issue and will never be the issue Read more […]

  2. Yes Yes Yes… I read some of the comments that were posted in the article that wrote about what was going on. I had to stop reading, people are terrible! “women should nurse before going out” how do others have so little understanding? And who cares? BREASTS were meant for babies! I understand your passion.

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