When Sandy Sedgwick’s one-month-old baby was hungry, she sat down in a corner at her older son’s preschool, opened her shirt and fed him.
“I had a receiving blanket, and wasn’t showing anything,” she said, recalling the morning nearly nine months earlier.
“Nursing mothers know not much shows when you’re feeding, anyway.”
Breastfeeding is quite frankly old-hat to Sedgwick.
The 39-year-old mother of four has had plenty of practice, and knows how to strike the right balance between necessity and discretion.
Never in all her years as a mother had she heard a complaint or comment indicating that she was making anyone uncomfortable.
So, she was shocked when an instructor at the Rutland Parent Participation preschool voiced discontent with the situation that morning.
“She grabbed the receiving blanket and handed it to me and said, ‘Can you please cover yourself up’,” Sedgwick said.
“She wasn’t rude, but it was all very shocking to me. I got up and left the preschool in tears…she made me feel like what I was doing was wrong.”
According to a representative of the school, the policy is to allow breastfeeding, with limitations.
“We just ask that it’s done away from the children because we don’t know where the children are educationally regarding this aspect of parenting,” said the parent/spokesperson.
“We just want to make sure all our parents are OK with it.”
Those behind the school believe they’re erring on the safe side, but Sedgwick says their viewpoint makes no sense.
“They keep talking about it as though it’s something to do with sex education,” she said. “But it’s not.”
In fact, the human rights commission says that it’s a violation to not allow a woman to breastfeed wherever and whenever she wants to.
Sedgwick, however, started to doubt herself, and chose to start feeding her baby in another room or even in her car for the rest of the school year.
Eventually, she just decided to not return to the school and carry on as she had before the incident.
“It still upsets me,” she said. “Women have come so far, all the work has been done for me by other women, before me.”
In addition to the human rights commission’s efforts, medical experts have long-since acknowledged breastfeeding as the best thing a mother can do for her infant.
But discomfort with the act still persists in some pockets of the community, says a UBC Okanagan student who’s been working to get businesses to be more accepting of nursing mothers.
“There needs to be an attitude change in some parts of the community,” said Rachel Bryce, a fourth-year nursing student. “There needs to be a breast feeding friendly atmosphere…where nobody will ask a mom to cover up or go away.”
Unfortunately, she said, Sedgwick’s story “isn’t rare.”
“Some people can be really abrupt and request that the mother leaves and cover up, but it’s her right as a breastfeeding mom that her baby nurse wherever and whenever they can,” she said. “It’s not a social norm, but we’re aiming to have it be more socially acceptable now.”
In coming days, she and fellow students Monika Bobak, Marlise Baranow and Anna Chipera will be canvassing businesses in the Kelowna area to raise awareness and help create a breastfeeding-friendly atmosphere for young families.
Businesses are invited to participate in a brief 15-minute information session and will be provided with a toolkit describing how to welcome breastfeeding families.
“Breastfeeding is natural and nurturing, as well as nourishing,” said Bryce. “More importantly, breastfeeding helps growing infants develop strong immune systems.”
If you wish to get involved or have questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.