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The Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton (BACE) was organized in the summer of 2001 as a response to several “breastfeeding incidents” at a municipal pool in Edmonton. It became apparent that at least as far back as 1996 women breastfeeding while sitting on the side ledge of the warm pool had been routinely asked to stop nursing or leave the pool. The experience was very embarrassing and upsetting for these mothers.
It became evident through a process of inquiry that there had been a pattern of what we would call “low level harassment” of nursing mothers at this pool and perhaps elsewhere. Pool staff admitted that mothers breastfeeding at pool-side (not in the water) had also been approached and asked to cover up if a complaint from another pool user regarding breastfeeding was received.
A written policy was put in place in May of 2001 formalizing this practice:
Item #1 - Outlined a directive to staff that any mother breastfeeding a child “in the water” would be asked to leave the water to an area adjacent the pool until the feeding was over. The reason cited was a concern that the child with its immature immune system might ingest pool water while breastfeeding.
Item #2 - Applied to breastfeeding in or out of the water and it began, “In the event a complaint about overt breast feeding occurs, the complainant is not likely having a positive recreational experience due to the actions of another.” In this situation, the policy directed pool staff to approach the nursing woman, note that someone had expressed a concern, and suggest she use a towel or feeding blanket to cover up, or other alternatives, such as moving to “a family change room or other appropriate area”.
Pool staff also indicated verbally that if in their judgment they felt a woman was nursing “overtly”, she would be approached and it would be suggested that she cover up or nurse in a more private place, even in the absence of a complaint from another patron. This was described as “a process of education”.
In August 2001, BACE submitted a formal report to the Edmonton leisure centre department outlining our concerns about this policy and about the “breastfeeding incidents”. The report also contained in-depth research into the issues raised and some suggested resolutions. Most of the information from that report is contained in this document.
In September 2001 the city responded to BACE with a three page letter essentially addressing all of our concerns. The letter stated in part:
"The current research on RWI’s (recreational water illnesses) indicates no specific reference to health problems for children who are breastfeeding while parents are partially immersed in pool water. . . . Capital Health (Community Care and Public Health, Environmental Health Section) . . . indicated there is no research to support the speculation that breast milk provides any greater risk of polluting the water than any other body fluids, (ie: sweat) and that standard levels of chlorine will provide adequate sanitation. In light of the foregoing our new standard of practice will leave it up to individuals to determine what is safe and comfortable for them and their children. . .
From this point, we will inform any patrons who complain that breast feeding is an acceptable practice in facilities and does not contravene any legislation. Our staff, as well, will inform patrons in appropriate cases, that there is no strong evidence of any health risk, to infants or to other users of the facility through people breastfeeding in the water...
The new policy provides for discussion with the person complaining, not the breastfeeding woman. We will also be directing staff to ensure this is dealt with from a customer service viewpoint, by being sensitive to the issue from both the mothers and other patron’s perspective at all times."
Naturally BACE was very pleased to see this response. The leisure centre department also invited us to place breastfeeding brochures and other literature in designated public areas of their facilities. This literature would serve to educate the public and staff about the issues we had raised as well as provide referral information.
BREASTFEEDING AT MUNICIPAL POOLS IN CANADA:
A REPORT FROM THE BREASTFEEDING ACTION COMMITTEE OF EDMONTON
AUGUST 16, 2002
Prepared on behalf of the Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton
By Barb Strange, BSc, RN, BN, LLB, IBCLC
Document hosted by: Alberta Breastfeeding Committee
Since then, BACE has conducted a country-wide survey of breastfeeding friendly policies in swimming pools and the resulting report has been used by many communities and organizations around the world to improve restrictive swimming pool policies. INFACT Canada wrote about BACE's efforts in their Summer 2004 newsletter.
Earlier this summer, a young Toronto mother was asked to leave a public swimming pool for breastfeeding her infant daughter. The request was made despite the city’s strong public health policy that promotes, “Breastfeeding Anywhere, Anytime.” Moreover, the request was in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which upholds a woman’s right to breastfeed. The problem stemmed from an overzealous interpretation of the Ontario Health Promotion and Protection Act, by a health inspector, that prohibits polluting pool water by spitting, spouting or nose blowing.
While it’s blatantly obvious that breastmilk is not a pollutant, it is also very apparent that breastfeeding women must still battle to normalize one of the most natural and nurturing of human acts. The incident was particularly disturbing because Toronto Public Health has been very proactive in promoting and supporting breastfeeding. As a result, women are increasingly making the healthy, normal choice to breastfeed. Current breastfeeding initiation rates from around Ontario are as high as 94 percent. In order to maintain this encouraging trend good public policy must be supported by public awareness and staff education. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident. Women across Canada are often made to feel uncomfortable when they choose to nurse their infants in swimming pools and other public areas.
In November, Michelle LaVoie of Abbotsford, BC had a similar experience. She was asked to refrain from breastfeeding at her local pool because the “no eating in the pool area” rule applied to breastfed babies. When Michelle returned to the pool a week later, she was surprised to ﬁnd two men drinking in the pool area. Neither was reprimanded by the lifeguards on duty. In response to these and other situations, the Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton conducted an informal survey of pool policies across Canada and compiled a report, “to express our concerns regarding the treatment of women nursing their children at municipal pools in Canada, and to call for changes to this situation.”
Among the key recommendations:
- Educate pool staff to the normalcy of breastfeeding
- Remove any suggestions or requirements that a breastfeeding mother should be “discreet”
- Ensure that breastfeeding friendly policies are communicated through signage, literature and websites.
BACE's efforts are even documented in Encyclopedia of Motherhood, Volume One by Andrea O'Reilly:
In summer 2001, the Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton (BACE) organized in response to what they called “breastfeeding incidents” at a municipal pool in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Routinely, breastfeeding mothers were asked to stop nursing or leave the pool. The City responded to BACE's concerns, shifting the debate from the breastfeeding woman to informing the public that breastfeeding is an acceptable, lawful practice....
BACE's policy on the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes
The Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton (BACE) lives up to its obligations under the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes set out by the World Health Organization (WHO) and as such will not receive funds, partner with, or enter into any arrangement with any entity addressed by the Code who is not living up to their obligations under the Code.