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Tuesday 21 May 2019

Breastfeeding mother asked to move from passport office

Moved: Victoria Page with her son Alexander at her home in Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Moved: Victoria Page with her son Alexander at her home in Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

A mother was left "very upset" after a member of staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs told her to move to another room when she was breastfeeding.

Victoria Page (37) was feeding her three-month-old baby Alexander in the waiting room of the passport office.

"My son woke up and I was feeding him, and a man comes over and says 'you can't do...' But he didn't finish his sentence and then he said 'I'm going to show you somewhere that you'd be more comfortable'." she said.

"I said, 'I really don't mind feeding him here'. My baby was happy, he was comfortable, and you don't stop feeding a three-month-old baby without them losing their minds."

Ms Page said that before the staff member approached her, she had sought out the seating in the passport office because the waiting area of the consular services office was closed. It was here, to this empty waiting area, that the staff member ushered her.

"I thought he was going to show me to a mum-and-baby room, but no. The manner I felt wasn't just that he was uncomfortable. He just didn't want me feeding there."

The Equal Status Act (2000) protects mothers from being discriminated against or harassed because they are breastfeeding. Mothers are entitled to breastfeed in public places and don't have to ask anyone for permission because of this act, the HSE says.

"I was very upset but if anything it'll make me breastfeed basically everywhere," Ms Page said.

"I've never had an issue anywhere. You always get funny looks, but I wasn't expecting this from someone in a public office. This is the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is full of diplomats.

"You can't have someone like that without training, if he can't deal with that situation.

"If he wanted to help, he could have brought me a glass of water, that's how you help a breastfeeding mother."

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said that it apologised and the situation has been resolved.

"The department contacted the individual concerned and the issue has been resolved.

"The department's approach to breastfeeding is to support and welcome members of the public and staff in this regard," the spokesperson said.

But Ms Page, who works in multilingual tech support, described the apology as "tepid".

"I didn't receive anything from the department saying 'we'll speak to this person' or 'he'll receive training', and that's what would have made the apology believable.

"They said he didn't mean anything by it, and we want everyone to feel welcome at the department," she added.

Jan Cormie, a leader and counsellor with breastfeeding group La Leche League, described the encounter as "very unfortunate".

"It's one thing to offer a woman who is breastfeeding another room but she's entitled to be where she wants to be," she said.

"Far from asking her to move, he should have been asking her is there anything she needed."

Meanwhile, Irish Aid, which is the Government's official aid programme and a division of the Department of Foreign Affairs, states that it is committed to the goal of promoting breastfeeding in partner countries such as Vietnam, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Irish Independent

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