Despite several West Kelowna councillors saying they support encouraging new mothers to breast feed their babies, as a group, they not willing to get behind a local push to identify West Kelowna municipal buildings as breast-feeding friendly zones.
After hearing from a delegation of UBCO nursing students asking council to approve a program that would feature stickers and posters in municipal buildings to identify them as breast-feeding friendly areas, several councillors said they feared the program would put undue pressure on mothers who either choose not to, or cannot, breast feed their babies.
“Have you ever seen a mother brought to tears because she was seen not breast feeding her child?” said Coun. Rosalind Neis, who is also a nurse. “I have.”
She said while she supports breast feeding for the health of the baby, it is not something that should be forced on all new mothers.
“Big brother is inundating the public with signs signs about how we should dress, how we should talk and what we should eat and common sense is being lost,” said Neis.
She added: “There is another side of the picture that is not being addressed,” before expressing her concerns that the effect of the program on non-breast feeding mothers.
Council’s only other female councillor, Carol Zannan, also weighed in on the issue, saying as a mother of six, a former La Leche League mentor and a spokeswoman for a Red Cross program that encouraged breast feeding, she supports it. But, she added, she too was concerned about the potential “intimidation” of mothers who bottle-feed their babies.
The UBCO students, who said there would be no cost to the municipality for the program, told West Kelowna councillors Kelowna and Lake Country have both supported their campaign.
They there was no intention of saying mothers who do not breast feed are not looking after their babies properly. The stickers would simply show the public that the municipality supports breast feeding in its public buildings.
The group said it recommends exclusive breast feeding for the first six months of life and, if possible, breast feeding for the fist two years.
Linda Kersche, the local public health nurse who is working with the students, told council, she welcomed its input and her aim was not to make bottle-feeding mothers feel bad about their decision.
“I’ve always tried to make an effort not to be a breast Nazi,” said Kersch, who works with new mothers and said she supports them no matter how they decide to feed their babies.
In B.C., under the provincial human rights code, a breast feeding mother has the right to feed her baby in a public area and it is discriminatory to ask her to cover up.
Coun. Bryden Winsby questioned the responsibility of the municipality to deal with anyone found harassing a mother who is breast feeding in a district facility. He said by endorsing the program, it would be understood the municipality supports it. So how should it deal with someone who feels a breast-feeding mother should either cover up or not be allowed to do it in a public space?
“What do we do with them? Do we have to report them?
Coun. Rusty Ensign, took a different tach. He said he supported the program and council should too, especially given that surrounding municipalities have supported it and provincial rules allow it anyway.
The stickers that would be put up display the World Health Organization sign for breast feeding, a stylized shape of a woman breast feeding a baby. There are no words on blue and while stickers.
While council declined to support the Baby Friendly initiative in the district for now, it may have left the door open in future, with Mayor Doug Findlater telling the delegation council would consider it “at a later date.”