Breastfeeding mother alleges WestJet harassment
Complaint follows similar allegations about Vancouver H&M store
Another Vancouver woman has come forward to say she was harassed while breastfeeding in public.
Vancouver teacher Erin Tarbuck told CBC News she was nursing her 11-month-old son on a recent WestJet flight as the plane was preparing for takeoff, when a flight attendant asked her to cover up.
Takeoff and descent can cause painful pressure in the tiny Eustachian tubes of children's ears, so it's common for mothers to nurse their babies, Tarbuck said, as swallowing helps ease the pain.
"[She] came up and said quietly, 'You know, some men find the sight of a bare breast quite offensive. Can I offer you a blanket to cover up with?" Tarbuck said on Wednesday.
Tarbuck declined the offer of a blanket, but one was brought to her anyway.
"I was pretty shocked," said Tarbuck.
She later complained to WestJet's head office and received a written response.
"The rep defended what the flight attendant had done. She said we have to make our customers feel comfortable," said Tarbuck.
WestJet couldn't be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Breastfeeding a human right
Nursing mothers on Tuesday were planning a protest at a Vancouver H&M store, after Manuela Valle said staff told her she had to nurse her baby in a change room because she could offend customers.
Tarbuck said on the WestJet flight, she was nursing discreetly, and the only other people in her row were her husband and daughter.
While the WestJet response was polite, she said, it was ultimately unapologetic, and the representative could not guarantee attendants would not ask Tarbuck to cover up if she breastfeeds on a flight again.
The high school teacher wants WestJet to develop a policy on breastfeeding, and said she plans to file a complaint with the federal Human Rights Tribunal if she doesn't hear back from the airline soon.
Eleven years ago, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled women should not be restricted from nursing children in public.
"I would like them to recognize it is a human right, and to have a policy that protects, respects and honours the human rights of all their passengers, adults and children alike. Adults eat on planes. Babies should be able to as well," said Tarbuck.
Breastfeeding advocates say making women cover up while breastfeeding wrongly promotes the notion that it is illegal, immoral or in some way shameful. Some mothers also find it difficult to breastfeed while keeping their children covered or say their children won't nurse under a blanket.