A Vancouver mother plans to complain to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal after she was hustled off to a back room when she tried to nurse her baby at a major clothing retailer, she says.
Manuela Valle decided to nurse her two-month-old daughter while her husband tried on clothes at the H&M store in downtown Vancouver, she said on Tuesday.
When she attempted to start feeding her daughter, two sales clerks and a manager told her she had to go into one of the dressing rooms that they had assigned for breastfeeding, Valle told CBC News.
"They consistently said that it was the store's policy and that other customers felt offended by it," said Valle.
Valle said she was politely hustled off to a change room by staff, as they chatted with other staff on radios, making her feel like a shoplifter paraded in front of the other customers.
"It seemed as if I had been stealing or something, so I was very humiliated. Everybody in the store was looking at me as if I'm getting arrested, and I said out loud, 'I am getting arrested for breastfeeding my baby,'" Valle said.
"They were actually pushing her into it. I became upset at that point," said Francisco Valle, her husband.
Shaming of mothers unacceptable, expert says
Dr. Verity Livingstone, founding medical director of the University of B.C.'s Vancouver Breastfeeding Centre, called the treatment of Valle unacceptable.
"My heart goes out to her. It's the most humiliating thing she could have possibly been subjected to. Whenever a woman is told breastfeeding is offensive or indiscreet, it's shaming new mothers for doing what's right," said Livingstone.
"She's responding, as a mother should do, to her baby's every wish. To be walked or told to go into a cupboard or a room out of sight would make her feel as though she's done something criminally wrong," said Livingstone.
A B.C. Human Rights Commission policy expressly sets out a woman's right to breastfeed anywhere in public.
No breastfeeding ban: H&M spokeswoman
When contacted by the CBC, nobody from the Vancouver H&M store would comment on the incident.
But H&M Canada spokeswoman Laura Shankland in Toronto said they do not have a policy banning women from breastfeeding in their stores, and staff just wanted to offer Valle a more comfortable option behind closed doors.
The incident has sparked calls from breastfeeding advocates for a "nurse-in" at H&M this Thursday. Organizers hope hundreds of nursing mothers will descend on the store to publicly breastfeed.
The spokesperson for H&M said they're more than welcome.
Canadian health guidelines say infants should be fed breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life, and then partially breastfed well into the second or third year of life.