Breasts and bottles will make an appearance at a West Kelowna council meeting as the community responds to a recent round of commentary against the adoption of a “baby friendly initiative.”
Local breast feeding and parenting groups decided to join forces for a March 24 “feed-in” after remarks from a March 10 council meeting came to light through several news outlets.
At that session, a public health nurse alongside some UBC Okanagan nursing students asked the district for support of an initiative that would make municipal buildings breastfeeding-friendly with symbolic stickers in city-owned facilities and by educating employees and local businesses about the rights of nursing mothers—policy long since adopted in Lake Country and Kelowna.
In response, several councillors took turns explaining what they didn’t like about the initiative and the matter was ultimately cast aside with the proviso from Mayor Doug Findlater that they would think about it and see if they wanted to take any further action at a later time.
Those behind the feed in, want that time to be now.
“I was really disappointed,” said Sarah Tremblay, one of the women behind the feed-in.
“I have been living in West Kelowna for seven years and I have seen it change so much in that time. It’s become more young-family dense and I feel like the more we can support young families and growing healthy children then the healthier our community will be.”
Failure to offer support of the initiative, along with the negative commentary that it sparked, was surprising to many of the 60-plus women who have RSVP’d to the event, which was announced on Facebook.
“I would love to give council the benefit of the doubt, but I also felt that some of their arguments were not as informed as I would have liked,” Tremblay said.
Among the comments that are causing concern is one from Coun. Rosalind Neis that indicated that she didn’t like the policy because she’s seen mothers bottle feeding getting a rough ride from complete strangers,
The “mommy wars” do exist, said Tremblay, but to give them more weight than they deserve isn’t helping anyone.
“I am a nursing mother and I don’t think less of women who bottle feed,” she said. “That’s why I wanted to make the event…this is about us growing healthy babies, and not about anything else.”
And, she said, education and support at a municipal level with things like the baby-friendly campaign would help that aim.
“I work in health care, so I know the benefits of breast feeding and extended breast feeding,” Tremblay said. “So I never thought about the length of time I would breastfeed or where I would breastfeed my children.”
But not all mothers have that confidence, she said, and some public support could nudge someone in doubt toward what the medical community has endorsed.
“More than anything I hope that West Kelowna can be a community that prioritizes the health and growth of young families in this area, and that council changes its mind on this issue,” she said.
Calls to mayor Findlater were not returned by press deadline, however, the district did issue a statement of sorts.
“For clarification, no decision was made at the March 10 meeting of council regarding the Baby Friendly presentation,” it read. “Please be advised that, at the March 24 meeting of West Kelowna council, Mayor Doug Findlater will provide council with notice that he intends to bring the following motion before council at its April 14 meeting: That council direct staff to provide a report on the costs (if any) and implications of implementing a Baby Friendly Policy for District of West Kelowna.”
News that the issue would return to council this quickly was embraced by Tremblay, who, along with dozens of others, still intends to attend the meeting.
Women, mothers, fathers and friends plan to gather at West Kelowna city council chambers on Tuesday, March 24, at 5:30 p.m., to show this council that the Baby Friendly Initiative is important to West Kelowna. To learn more about the feed-in, google West Kelowna Feed In.
The more who would like to attend, the merrier, said Tremblay.
******* Note: The story has been changed to better reflect. Coun. Rosalind Neis’s comments. It originally stated that mothers of bottle fed babies get a rough time from women who breast feed. In council she actually referenced a mother who got a rough time from a complete stranger, gender was not included.