A tired hungry baby

Yesterday I was asked to stop breastfeeding my baby.  And I’m pissed.

I was shopping at Orchestra, a kids’ clothing store at the Complexe Les Ailes shopping centre in downtown Montreal. They have a small semi-secluded seating area for kids with movies playing. My older kids were sitting in their stroller watching the movie when my youngest got hungry. So I fed her. She’s 5 months old and she eats breastmilk. From my actual breast. Shocking, I know!

I wasn’t even the only mother breastfeeding. I was being discrete, as if it matters, which it doesn’t (but that’s for another blog post). And I hadn’t finished shopping.

And that’s when the store clerk showed up and asked us both to stop.

Actually, she asked the other mother first.

“Why? I’m buying things…”

“Vous ne pouvez pas. [You can’t]”

Then she looked at me.

“Vous ne pouvez pas allaiter dans le magasin. [You can’t breastfeed in the store]”

Well. That’s not true. And I said as much. The Québec charter of rights and freedoms protects women against discrimination on the basis of sex. And preventing someone from breastfeeding in public constitiutes discrimination on the basis of sex. It’s even been tested in case law.

When it was tested in court, both the individual who asked a breastfeeding mother to stop and the business where that person was employed were required to jointly pay damages of $1000. It’s not a lot. But mentioning it was enough to get the sales clerk to pay attention and she hurried off for reinforcements.

The Canadian charter of rights and freedoms also prevents discrimination based on sex. However, no legal case has specifically evaluated the charter’s application to public breastfeeding. In BC and in Ontario [Added January 12: as well as Nova Scotia] there are laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in all public places.

I knew the law. I knew my rights. But I was still upset. And not the angry, self-important, righteous  kind of upset. The teary, scared, “they’re going to kick me out of the store”, “I’m here with my kids” type of  upset. It was clear I was about to be thrown out, and I was pretty sure that if I was going to be forced to justify feeding my baby, I was going to cry. And I felt truly alone.

I don’t just think women have the right to feed their kids (breastfed or not) how and when and where they want to – and dad’s too. I think they should be invited to do so, really welcomed. Being a parent is hard work, and really it’s just one of those civilized things that nice people do for one another.

So I got up and stopped feeding my hungry baby. And then I went to the front desk. And I paid for the clothes I had planned to buy. That is the only part I regret. I think I was in shock. I think it hadn’t all sunk in.

The manager was up at the front talking to two clerks, including the one who had asked me to leave. And of course they didn’t realize I was the one who had brought up those nasty legal impediments to their request. So I had the pleasure of listening to them badmouth me, hear how I was ridiculous and how I should go to the mall breastfeeding room, and I was able to confirm that the store manager was fully aware of what was going on. I just made it out the door before the tears.

Now I should mention that Complexe Les Ailes does have a fabulous breastfeeding room, which I use often and truly appreciate. It is spacious and inviting and clean. And there are even tables and chairs for older siblings. But just because I like it does not mean I should be confined to it just because my baby is hungry (another blog post to come on that, but read this in the meantime).

So, what next? Well, there’s this blog now. Feel free to add some comments, if you support me. And I’ll be contacting the store, the store’s head office and the mall where the store is located. All I really want is an apology and an enforced, store policy that respects Canadian law and ensures that no other mothers will get the same shoddy treatment. Feel free to send your own letter, as well. [Added January 8: I’ll be filing a human rights violation complaint.] I’ve just been invited to a nurse-in on January 19. There is a Canadian petition to sign and a Québec petition to sign too. And after that, well, we’ll see.

À mes lecteurs francophones… Il est difficile face à un tel événement, émue et fâchée, de choisir les mots pour bien s’exprimer, encore plus dans une deuxième langue. Mes excuses de ne vous offrir qu’une version en anglais. Toutefois vous êtes bienvenues de laisser vos commentaires dans les deux langues.

For your letter writing pleasure:

(There is also a longer list here.)

Orchestra – Montréal
Vêtements Orchestra Canada Inc.
1010 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, suite 2402
Montréal QC H3A 2R7

Tel: 1.514.842.5225

Orchestra-Kazibao – Head Office
400 avenue Marcel Dassault
34170 Castelnau Le Lez

Tel: 0499130800

Complexe Les Ailes
650, de Maisonneuve Boulevard West,
Suite 630
Montreal QC H3A 3T2

Tél : (514) 288-3759

Although Orchestra is a French company with only 4 locations in Canada, the Canadian company Panda also distributes their clothes, so feel free to contact them too.

Panda Headquarters
259. Labelle Blvd. #201
Rosemère (Québec) J7A 2H3

Tel.: (450) 818-9741

173 thoughts on “A tired hungry baby

  1. Just read about this issue and the sit-in regarding breastfeeding. Way to go!!!!!!! As a physician assistant and mother I love to read stories like this. You knew and stood up for your rights and excited social activism! A wonderful story to share with your children as they grow.
    I nursed both my sons for 2 yrs. each (they are now 7 and 3) and will continue to support breastfeeding in public or private!!!!
    You have support from the USA and Southern Illinois!!
    God Bless!


  2. I send my support from the U.S. and I wish I had been there. Breastfeeding is the way that we are meant to feed our little ones, and it is not a shameful process to be hidden away. If a nursing pair needs privacy to avoid distraction, that is one thing, otherwise we should all be free to feed our youngsters as we (and they) wish whenever and wherever we are. I celebrate your doing what is normal and what I believe to be an absolute right for moms and babies/young children.


  3. Well I must just be getting too old at the age of 72 years. When I was a teen age boy this was common in Church and even on the court house square in the town of Lawrenceville, Georgia.

    I think that in the 50s people began to use formula and that seemed have changed everything for the worse. I remember one of young cousins drinking mik from a glass and when I commented to his mother (my aunt) that I thought he was too young she told me that breast fed babies start drinking from a glass much earlier than bottle babies.

    How are we ever going to change this? I think maybe we are fighting the formula makers. What could be more normal than this? And people are offended! I don’t understand.


  4. I am from the UK and me and my girlfriend are expecting out first child together, due in 6weeks! I am shocked that breastfeeding is not looked upon as the most natural thing in the world.

    It is every womans god given right to breastfeed their child whenever and wherever they wish!

    I personally think that no one on this planet has the right to disallow or stop a woman breastfeeding! No judge, presdent, prime minister or anyone for that matter has the right to pass any law or rule that stops women breastfeeding ANYWHERE. If there is a place on this planet where breastfeeding shouldn’t happen it would in an extreme case and I feel that 99.9% of women wouldn’t breastfeed in that situation anyway.

    What is this world coming to!


  5. Quelle situation abasourdissante ! Je salue votre respect de vous-même et de nous toutes, femmes allaitantes, pour avoir osé dénoncer telle étroitesse d’esprit !

    Bravo à vous toutes, femmes ralliées par la force des médias sociaux, pour faire entendre leurs droits !

    Jennifer, maman X 7 ayant 146 mois d’allaitement à son actif et n’ayant jamais vécu pareille absurdité


  6. You know, before I had my daughter I was all in favour of other women breast feeding in public but I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to have my bits on display. Then I realised the reality of it. When you have a screaming baby you’ll a lot of things to fix the problem including whipping out your breast in desperation wherever you happen to be. This situation is plenty stressful enough without ignorant people, who likely don’t have kids, making disparaging remarks. I also used to think that I would use a nursing cover. I bought two in anticipation of my baby being born. I then discovered that she hates them and spends so much time trying to get the cover out of her face that she won’t eat.
    I’m totally in support of women feeding their children whenever and wherever they want to. Anyone whomakes a big deal about it obviously has so little in their own life that they have sensationalize a little bit of boob.


  7. Thank you for standing up for the rights of all breastfeeding moms! I think it is sad that we even need to have laws that allow nursing in public. This is the one problem I have with the nursing areas at many public places. Don’t get me wrong, I have used many of them and it has made life much easier at times. However, it seems that these rooms have caused others to think that nursing moms MUST go there to feed their children. I am sorry you had to go through this, especially with your other children watching. The world is a mess.


  8. You gave all my sympathy. As the mother of a voracious 3 1/2 month old I fully understand the need to feed a screaming child ASAP. I would have cried too! I love in the US but would be happy to support in any way that might be helpful.

    I must also vent that I find it horrendous that we must put laws in place to be allowed to do something in public that is more natural than most things we do – including tying our shoes!


  9. I am currently breastfeeding my six month old and understand how difficult it can be to breastfeed in public. I do the best I can but there is a stigma that needs to be changed regarding BF’ing. It is natural and the best thing I can do for my baby. People should be applauding breastfeeding mothers, not shaming them!!!!


  10. The only thing that I can think, when I read about all of this is that it just reveals how much women are still thought of as sexual objects. What is the problem with breast feeding? Why does it make people feel uncomfortable? Because it seems people can no longer disassociate breasts from sexuality and no one wants to think of babies and sex at the same time.

    This really saddens me, as it seems that what fundamentally needs to change is women being thought of as sexual objects, and I don’t know how to change that.

    I agree that we need to have the law on our side, but some of the comments here show that even having a law will not change public opinion and keep these incidents from happening.


  11. I am so sorry this happened to you. It is so unfair.

    I nursed my son years ago when he was an infant, and you’re so right… when a baby’s hungry, it’s inhumane to let a child starve because our society sees a normal part of the human body as something to be viewed as a sex object. (And were those guys who stare at boobs ever breastfed by their mothers?)

    How about if someone said, “I’m offended by young women getting plastic surgery so they look like nursing mothers?”

    Our society needs to learn that mammals feed their young… whether we’re talking about a cat, a dog, or….gasp!…. a human whose baby needs nutrition. Can someone tell me why no one gets upset if some young actress with implants bares her breasts in public? It’s because we’ve unfortunately twisted things in some people’s minds. Breasts are for nursing, not for exhibitionism.

    Good for you for getting all those women to nurse their children at the mall. Hopefully, this will raise awareness of what mothers who care for their children are entitled to do.


  12. I’m only just catching your story through the Daily Mail here in Ireland…but I’m appalled. I was also harassed in public from some ignoramous in a cafe. I refused to be harangued out of there. I hope you get some resolution from the shop at the least. Thank you for doing the best for your hungry baby!

    I’ll certainly be writing to the shop. The French are some of the most supportive of breastfeeding in the whole EU!

    Just another breastfeeding mom who won’t be moved!



  13. I am all for mom who want to breast feed in public. I mean they usually don’t just pop out a bare breast for all to see, but use modesty and a light blanket to cover up. I did when I breast fed. I never had anyone ask me to stop. I live in Indiana in the USA. I didn’t get to breast feed long cause my premie baby would take to it. But I sure wouldn’t let someone tell me to stop. Lots of stores here have a lounge outside the women’s restroom which is great to sit comfortably and nurse. I mean it’s natural and most women do it so what’s the fuss all about.


  14. Disgusted at the ignorance of these shop assistants and shop manager. Wish I were a fly on the wall when it comes time for them to have babies and need to feed them right then and there. I bet their attitude to the most natural thing in the world changes then.

    The sad thing about it too is that in time they will forget what they have said and done, but it has left its mark on you forever. Take comfort in the knowledge that the majority of women AROUND THE WORLD are appalled at what you went through.


  15. That is absolutely outrageous behaviour on their part. Hopefully the bad publicity they are now getting will make them see some sense. I hope you got that apology from not only the store but the mall itself.
    I’m actually glad that I live in a country where it is illegal to ask a woman to stop breastfeeding in public. The business can get a pretty nasty fine if it is reported.
    It’s terrible that some people see womens breasts as purely sexual. They are clearly not! When will people learn


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