The club of moms berated for publicly breastfeeding just gained another member. Candyce Sousa of Westmount, Quebec, is the latest mother to be told to take it elsewhere when she breastfed her 11-month-old son in a Montreal Walmart checkout line.
The mother was caught off guard when an employee who was ticketing items in the nearby men’s section started to profess loud and aggressive opinions on the subject.
According to Sousa, the employee made comments about how a child her son’s age should not be breastfeeding publicly because he can wait and how only young infants needed to be fed immediately.
“She also made mention that she herself has breastfed two babies, and she never felt the need to publicly display that,” Sousa said.
The criticism came after Sousa decided to feed her baby in a frontal child carrier after having spent an hour in the store.
Upon reporting the incident to the store manager, Sousa was met with shock.
“He didn’t really know what to say other than, ‘People breastfeed here on a regular basis, on a daily basis,’ so he doesn’t see what her problem would have been,” she said.
The sentiment was followed up by an official statement from Walmart, which reiterated Walmart Canada’s support of a breastfeeding mother’s rights “to breastfeed (including nursing directly or pumping/expressing milk) in a public area, including the public areas of our stores, or to be provided assistance in finding a private area if she prefers.
“Our policy also clearly states that under no circumstance should an associate prevent or discourage a customer from breastfeeding in a public area of the store. The situation you describe is unacceptable and we will certainly look into this,” the statement said.
However, according to Sousa, she has yet to receive a response from Walmart Canada after filing her complaint.
Public reaction has been twofold: Some members of the community have been sympathetic to Sousa’s plight, however a great many have told the mom to suck it up and move on. To some degree I see their point — whether we like it or not, breastfeeding is still a taboo subject, so mothers who choose to do it in public need to prepare for the occasional comment or eye roll. It’s rude, wrong and unnecessary, but it does and will happen.
However, in an instance like this, where an employee acted in direct defiance of the store policy, I don’t think Sousa is being dramatic in taking things further. And even if she is, she is well within her rights. If, instead of targeting a breastfeeding mother, the employee had told a customer that they were fat or ugly or said that their makeup made them look like a prostitute, the matter almost certainly would have been taken further without raising any eyebrows. It is perhaps because public breastfeeding has seen a kind of wave of popularity in the media that it also receives different treatment to other types of criticism. However, admonishing somebody’s rights on company time and against company policy is wrong, and if Sousa’s actions spare even one other mother having to go through the experience of being publicly berated, then she has done everybody a service.
Sadly, not all mothers have the ability to complain. Not all comments come from employees; some come from opinionated strangers who don’t have to answer to a company policy or higher authority. So what then? How should mothers react if they find themselves the subject of someone’s pointed condemnation?
The way I like to approach it is by trying to model the kind of behavior I’d like to see in my baby. That is, to remain calm, polite and factual. So rather than saying something heated or sarcastic, perhaps say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry this brings you discomfort. However, I believe it is in the best interest of my child. I choose to not voice my opinions of your life choices, and I’d like it if you could afford me the same courtesy.” The other option, of course, is to just ignore the comments entirely. Nothing irritates an opinionated person more, so in a way it’s a perfect response.