Posted by: Jennifer | November 13, 2008

Sorry Ellie Karkouti, but you are in the wrong

It has been clear this entire time that Ellie Karkouti, the owner of the Newmarket Aquacentre has been in the wrong regarding telling a nursing mother to leave the pool a few weeks ago. 

The Globe and Mail has done a fantastic job reporting on this issue, where they quote a Newmarket town official, a doctor in infections from Mt. Sinai as well as other experts.

Good for Cinira, the nursing mother, for taking a stance in this issue.  I wish her well as she takes this case all the way!


Nursing your baby: Not cool in the pool?

November 13, 2008

Canadians have grown accustomed to the sight of breastfeeding moms at coffee shops, libraries and shopping malls. But what about in an indoor pool?

When a mother was asked to stop breastfeeding her 20-month-old daughter in a Newmarket, Ont., swimming pool last month, the case sparked an uproar that pitted breastfeeding advocates against those who can’t get past the ick factor in that setting.

The mother, Cinira Longuinho, is asking the Ontario Human Rights Commission to investigate whether her right to breastfeed was violated. The pool owner, Ellie Karkouti, says she was concerned for the baby’s health and the health of other swimmers.

Some jurisdictions in Canada have pool safety regulations that group breast milk and baby vomit among the body fluids that can cause a pool to be shut down for cleaning.

In Newmarket, there is no municipal policy banning mothers from breastfeeding in pools, town spokeswoman Wanda Bennett says.

Women are encouraged to breastfeed anywhere they like, she said.

Trying to keep breastfeeding women out of pools, whether backed up by policy or not, may stem from the fact that pools are wet environments and thus widely considered a breeding ground for bacteria, says Allison McGeer, director of infection control at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. But Dr. McGeer and other health experts say there is no cause for concern for the breastfed child or the swimmers.

Breastfeeding in a pool doesn’t increase children’s exposure to bacteria, since they’ve presumably already been submerged in the water, Dr. McGeer says. Healthy toddlers encounter bacteria everywhere they go and in their food, she adds. “You are counting on the chlorination of our public pools, there’s no doubt about it. That’s important.”

And the chlorine itself isn’t much of a concern, says Madeleine Harned, a lactation consultant at BC Children’s Hospital who said she would not advise mothers in her care against breastfeeding in a pool. “There’s chlorine in tap water.”

Gideon Koren, director of the Motherisk program at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, says any arguments about a baby’s welfare used to ban a woman from breastfeeding in a pool are based on “pseudoscience.” And, “when people use pseudoscience to make scientific arguments, it becomes very suspicious. It’s very aggressive nonsense.”

As for the fear that the breast milk itself may contaminate pool water, Dr. McGeer dismisses the idea. Unlike urine and excrement, breast milk is sterile. “A little bit of breast milk getting into the pool is not an issue,” she says.

And baby spit-up is no different from the saliva that routinely gets in the pool, according to Dr. McGeer. While a baby vomiting in a pool may be gross – “I can see us not wanting to see it,” she says – it’s not infectious. It has little bacterial growth in it, she says.

When it comes to blood-borne illnesses that may be carried by the mother, Dr. McGeer says HIV-positive mothers are discouraged from breastfeeding and a mom with hepatitis B would only be infectious if her breasts were cracked and bleeding into the breast milk. In that case, regulations prohibiting swimming with open sores would presumably apply.

Instead, experts say, this case highlights a lingering difficulty with public breastfeeding.

“When push comes to shove, we still have trouble with breasts in public. We know we shouldn’t, but we do,” Dr. McGeer says.



  1. I’m involved in what has become a very nasty discussion on this on a mainstream board.

    Basically what many women are saying is that Cinara is asking for rights over and above those of bottle-feeding mothers. They say that they would not be allowed to bottle-feed their children where Cinara was, so in this case they feel that if the courts side with the BF mother, they’re being discriminated against.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    For the record, I believe that Karkouti is wrong and that she’s trotted out policy to justify discrimination.

  2. Lizette, thanks for your question. This is a tough issue and I’m still sort of forming my thoughts on this.

    I think the first thing to look at is the fact that the Ontario Human Rights Code has a number of prohibited ground, sex – including pregnancy and breastfeeding, being one of them. Basically that means that a person cannot be discriminated against in the workplace, or with respects to goods and services, on those grounds. Another example is race – a person cannot be discriminated against because of their race. It doesn’t matter if the business is private or whatever, no person can be turned away because of their race.

    So it has been very clearly established that a person cannot be discriminated against for breastfeeding. That means that person can breastfeed anywhere, anytime, etc. I believe that this has become a prohibted ground because many women have been subjected to and continue to be subjected to, discrimination based on breastfeeding.

    When you compare bottlefeeding, to the best of my knowledge, there are no places that prohibit bottlefeeding. You can bottlefeed without recourse anywhere in public – there is no need for it to be protected because their is no discrimination around it (historically). In fact, breastfeeding mothers are often given the suggestion to pump their milk and put it in a bottle. I posted a while back about how are society equates babies with bottles so it is very clear to see that there is no discrimination in the area of bottles and bottle feeding.

    Now this incident does get a bit dicey, because there are a few things in play, namely the fact that the nursing mother was discriminated against by being told to go elsewhere and the fact that she was later told “no food or drink in the pool”.

    When I think of it that way, I can see how a bottle feeding mother may be put out because she would not be able to feed in the pool.

    First, there is no discrimination (that I am aware of) because bottlefeeding is not a prohibited ground. I also think that the no food and drink rule would apply to formula (although that brings up an interesting point because what if there is breastmilk in the bottle).

    Finally, breastmilk and formula are not the same. Formula is a commercially prepared product just like any other food. Formula fed babies have different vomit and different bowel movements from breastfed babies.

    I would be curious to see literature on what formula in the pool would do, but then I assume it would fall into the category of any other food. Breastmilk, as we have seen, has really no impact, and breastmilk spit up has really no impact either.

    Essentially, I’m open on this topic because I don’t like anyone being discriminated against unfairly, but I do not think that formula feeders are discriminated against in this instance.

  3. The thing that Cirina’s small group of backers don’t seem to understand is that it really has nothing to do with breastfeeding. The rule is a simple one- No Food or Drink in the pool. People can’t feed their kids in there, period. Really, is that too much to ask? It’s not discrimination because the rule applies to everyone EQUALLY.

    If one person is allowed to feed their child in the pool, then everyone would have to be allowed to. If not, it WOULD be discrimination.

    Why the need to make such a stink about it? Why not just get out of the pool and feed your child on the deck? A reasonable solution, no?

    This is clearly a case of someone wanting to prey upon the pool owner and try to make some money at her expense. This poor pregnant woman, trying to run her business while being fair to everyone, now has to deal with this silly brouhaha. I really hope that Cirina will recognize that exceptions can’t be made just for her, back off, and leave this poor lady alone.

  4. Actually realist, the issue has everything to do with breastfeeding and discrimination and nothing to do with pool rules. Many pools have rules stating “no outside clothing allowed on deck”, but you cannot discriminate against people based on religion so if a Muslim woman chooses to wear Hajib in the pool, she can. It is her fundamental right.

    Same with the breastfeeding in the pool issue. It is a fundamental right that women can breastfeed. They cannot be asked to go elsewhere or to cover up or be discreet or whatever, despite what a random pool rule may state (and the no food or drink rule is a rule of the pool, not something from the ministry of health).

    As for why make a stink about it – because Cinira was discriminated against. Sure she could have gone away and done nothing or fed in the bathroom but breastfeeding women have done that for years. We are finally protected in the human rights code so that we cannot be discriminated against and to just slink back to bathrooms is taking a step backward.

    Cinira is not after the money. I imagine that if she gets any money, it will be donated to charity.

    And this “poor pregnant woman” started this by listening to a customer who asked her to get Cinira out of the pool. This never started as a health and safety issue – it started as discrimination and it remains discrimination.

  5. Sure, but for the Muslim woman, a fair compromise would be for her to wear a different hajib in the pool than she does outdoors in the rain. Everybody’s happy, everyone is respected.

    Cirina wasn’t asked to cover up or be discreet or go in the bathroom, she was merely asked not to feed the child IN the pool. Move onto the deck and proceed, and everybody’s rights are respected. Such a simple and common-sense solution!

    Some women can’t breastfeed, right? Or don’t want to- whatever. But let’s assume that another pool patron can’t breastfeed, and must rely on bottles. Now if Cirina can feed her child IN the pool, and this woman cannot (because of the posted rules)- isn’t that discrimination? THAT woman might have a case. So does the pool owner have to start letting both breastfeeders and bottlefeeders feed their kids in the pool? Is that the goal here?

    Do we know the nature of the complaint? Has this been published anywhere? Maybe the pool owner just didn’t notice until the customer said “Hey- how come that lady can feed her child in the pool and I can’t?”

    Again, how can it be discrimination when the rule applies to everyone equally? Colour me dense, but I still don’t get that part.

    It’s just sad that this woman is about to start a family, and Cirina wants to stick her with a costly judgement over being asked to feed out of the water. Have a heart, Cirina!

  6. What are you talking about? The Muslim woman can, legally, wear any Hajib she wants to.

    Cinira was not asked to move way from the water, she was asked to leave the deck and pool area entirely.

    It is discrimination because breastfeeding is a PROTECTED RIGHT on the Ontario Human Rights Code. I have an entire blog post about this if you actually read my blog.

    Also, bottlefeeding is everywhere. That’s why breastfeeding is protected.

    You know what is sad? People who stand up for discrimination. People who blame the victim.

    This business owner charges a fouling fee for people who foul her pool. Do you know how many other private pools in the GTA charge such a fee? I got through to FIVE pools the other day and NOT ONE charges a few. In fact, one of the owners laughed at me because it was so ludacris.

    To think that this owner would charge a person who slips and falls and bleeds in the pool, or the parents of a disabled child who has an accident or a person who vomits after a medical emergency. THEN, this owner states that she will RAISE her fee if breastfeeding is allowed despite numerous reassurances that it poses ZERO risk to the pool or to the baby.

    Talk about a cash grab.

  7. Ellie’s commitment to cleanliness in her pool is probably one of her facility’s strongest selling points. A clean pool is not a bad thing!

    I’m sure that her patrons are well aware of her ‘fouling fee’, which seems to be a reasonable policy- I mean, why should it cost her money to clean her pool because I chose to bring my sick kid to swim there? Those who have issues with soiling themselves, sudden vomiting, clumsiness, etc, aren’t forced to swim there. It’s their choice. They can always choose another ‘less clean’ pool if they disagree with her policies.

    I’m sure she doesn’t enjoy enforcing her ‘fouling fee’. If she was a cash-grabber, she could have let Cirina continue and then stuck her with the fee. She could have accused Cirina of fouling the pool, if money was her goal. I gather that she didn’t want to have to do that, hence the suggestion that Cirina not feed right IN the pool, but move out of it. She suggested the viewing gallery or changeroom because there is seating there, and she was trying to be considerate. Most people would prefer a comfy chair to a slimy pool deck! Wouldn’t you? Did Cirina ask if the deck would be okay instead? No- she continued to swim and then decided to start complaining later.

  8. Ellie *did* tell Cirina and her buddies that they could breastfeed as much as they liked on the deck, six feet away from the water. They refused to accept this compromise. Sam- you seem to know Cirina- why would they refuse?

  9. You consider Ellie’s committment to cleanliness a strongpoint? How do you feel about cats wandering around the facility including the pool deck?

    Just because the other pools don’t have fouling fees doesn’t mean they aren’t clean. It means they don’t charge people for things that they as a business can absorb. And for the record, the pools that I phoned have all been in business for years and years, have stellar reputations, and I have been to two – are much cleaner than what I have heard about the Aquacentre.

    Obviously you have never been the victim of discrimination. No one knows how they will act in the moment. Where I would want to breastfeed or you would want to breastfeed or anyone would want to breastfeed is irrelevent – Cinira was discriminated against by Ellie.

    And as for Ellie telling Cinira and her “buddies” that they could breastfeed on deck, that is still discrimination. You cannot enforce rules on breastfeeding. She is in the wrong.

  10. Hey, as long as the cats aren’t eating, pooping, or feeding kittens IN the pool, it’s all good.

    Ellie has the Ministry of Health and their rules on one side, and Cirina on the other. All she’s saying is that she’ll do as the Ministry instructs. She’s followed their rules. Understandably, she’s not going to take a stand against the Ministry just because Cirina demands to be made an exception.

    If you’ve never been to the pool, you’re relying on rumors from Cirina supporters about how clean it is. They’ve changed their stories many times now, and are hardly impartial judges of the relative cleanliness of the facility.

    Last paragraph edited out by theCanadianLactivist due to insulting and attacking comments.

  11. A lot of people are allergic to cats and don’t want to swim with animals wandering around. Disgusting.

    And Ellie does not have the Ministry of Health on her side. I don’t even know why you would think that. And Cinira is not an exception. Not discriminating against breastfeeding is the law.

    And Cinira’s story has not changed.

  12. Round and round the ‘realist’ goes, where she’ll stop, nobody knows…

    I’ve got a question for you, oh realist that you are… What is more inconsiderate? To take a millisecond to turn your head or to make a mother AND her baby get out of a warm pool and hide away in a CHANGEROOM (only option offered!) for the 20 + minutes it could take to feed? And don’t you dare bring up this pigheaded argument that there is some ‘no food and drink in/around the pool’ argument. The HRC has already said, time and again, along with tons of experts, including the Centre for Disease Control and the World Health organization, that argument is based on pseudoscience and therefore does not trump a woman’s fundamental human right to breastfeed anywhere, anytime – WITHOUT BEING INTERUPTED!

    OMG you are hilarious…I’m going to share these statements with others. Do I have your permission theCanadianLactivist, since it is your blog? It will be especially funny when I find out who these two really are and perhaps their companies would like to see how discriminatory their comments are. Didn’t Joanne say she is a CEO for a big company?…I’m sure the shareholders would love to see just what kind of person they have in charge…Think they might be worried about her discriminatory practices leading to multiple lawsuits from employees and/or customers…BLAH HA HA HA…CEO my foot…tee hee….oh stop…too much…oh I think I just peed in my pants…ROFLMAO…I said that wrong……..I should have said….LOL…I think I just peed IN my pants…OMG…ok…I need a minute. Thanks for the laugh…

  13. Here is a report entitled “BREASTFEEDING AT MUNICIPAL POOLS IN CANADA”

  14. Dear Ellie,
    I just read an article in the Toronto Star re: an apology for asking a breastfeeding mom to move out of your pool area. What a world we live in when you have to apologize for doing the right thing!
    I fully support breastfeeding, and I fully support people who wish to breastfeed in public. Breastfeeding is healthy, natural and my spouse breastfed our two wonderful children in their early years, and in many public areas.
    However, swimming pools, hottubs, etc. are unique areas. I realize that none of this is news to you because you are a knowledgeable and responsible operator of a pool facility. These are areas where people go to enjoy the soothing effects of enjoying the water. They are also areas which present public health concerns because they provide a potential medium for the growth and spread of infection and disease. Common sense, good manners, and health regulations all guide our behaviour in these areas. Our behaviour in these areas should be guided by our respect for other users of the facilities, not by our “rights” to do whatever we feel we should be able to do.
    We shower before entering pools in order to be clean and not contaminate the pools. If we take infants, we put them in absorbent swim diapers to try to ensure that they do not contribute contaminating the pool. We don’t take food and drink into pools. If our mouths get congested, we don’t spit into the pool or on the deck. If our noses get congested, we don’t blow our mucous into the pool or onto the deck.
    Personally, I would prefer not to swim in a pool where someone has been breastfeeding. In what I have seen, infants are very efficient when they breastfeed, but some leakage does also occur, and breastmilk, while being very nutritious and sterile initially, can also provide a medium for bacteria to grow. So thank you for asking this individual to not breastfeed while in the pool. I do not wish to swim in areas that pose and increased risk of infection. I have seen many people develop ear, nose and throat, gastrointestinal infections as a result of swimming or kayaking in areas which have been contaminated (often in “freshwater” lakes and rivers but also ocassionally in pools).
    It is not that I am a germaphobe in terms of swimming. I have done a number of triathlons in lakes and rivers where the beaches were “closed” due to high bacteria levels. I also grew up on a farm and my dad also ran a private garbage collection business. I have no problem wading into ankle deep farm excrement and cleaning out stables in rubber boots with a shovel. In the garbage collection business, I have cleaned up a lot of rotten produce from green grocer stores and maggot-ridden meat from butcher shops with no problem.
    So thank you for doing the right thing. I am also sending this long letter to the Star. I doubt that they will be able to post it due to the length, but on this issue, I cannot be more consise.
    Again, thank you for doing the right thing,
    Rob Heffernan

  15. sorry to hear ellie has been caused so much trauble over a commonsense situtatiofrom a friend in Northern Ireland
    lv Dorothy Porter

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