Saturday 21 September 2019

Liz Kearney: 'Every time nursing mum is told to move 'for her comfort', it reinforces idea what she's doing is shameful'


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Liz Kearney

Liz Kearney

It is a simple fact, and yet apparently it bears repeating: in Ireland, you are legally entitled to breastfeed anywhere you want.

That means on the bus, at the theatre, in a public waiting room, at a restaurant, in the library - wherever. And your right to do so is enshrined in law, specifically the Equal Status Act (2000), which protects people, including breastfeeding mums, from discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment.

Yet few people are aware of this, even in places where you might reasonably expect them to be - for instance, at the Department of Foreign Affairs, where nursing mum Victoria Page was asked to remove herself and her three-month-old baby to another room "for her comfort".

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Hmm. Did the department really have Victoria's comfort to the front of its minds when it treated her like this? Or was it trying to make itself more comfortable? Or was it thinking of other members of the public, who might be troubled by the perfectly ordinary sight of a mum feeding her hungry baby?

My heart goes out to Victoria: how humiliated she must have felt, being asked to move from a public space like that. And how her blood must have boiled, when she came to her senses and realised what had happened. How bitterly she must regret not refusing to leave.

I breastfed my own two babies in public locations on hundreds of occasions, everywhere from the pub to the playground, and bizarrely, the only place I was ever asked "to move to somewhere more comfortable" was in Crumlin Children's Hospital, when a nurse moved me from a busy public corridor and into a quieter waiting room. Even when I protested I was quite happy in the corridor, she insisted that I must relocate.

It's entirely likely that she was trying to be helpful. And it's also likely that the employee who asked Victoria Page to move simply thought he was doing the right thing, and had no idea of how upsetting the experience might be for a new mum.

But every time a breastfeeding mum is asked to move somewhere else - no matter how politely - it reinforces the notion that breastfeeding is in some way shameful, and needs to be hidden away.

If we want fewer mothers to breastfeed, this is an excellent way to go about it. But official Government policy is exactly the opposite: it wants more mums to do it, for all the obvious health benefits it brings.

So it would be nice to see it take a more decisive lead on the issue - starting by making its own offices a genuinely welcoming place for nursing mums.

Irish Independent

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