Manitoba

Breastfeeding Winnipeg business owner speaks out against online haters

The co-owner of a popular doughnut and coffee shop is speaking out, after she faced criticism for nursing her baby daughter at work.

'Everybody needs to eat, it's a natural thing,' Bronuts owner says

Meghan Zahari, co-owner of Bronuts in the Exchange district, faced online criticism after breastfeeding her daughter Emelyn in the cafe area. (Erin Brohman)

A Winnipeg mother is speaking up for her right to do something she never thought she'd have to defend: her ability to feed her daughter in public.

Meghan Zahari, co-owner of Bronuts in Winnipeg's Exchange District, said some food review sites became forums for criticism after a customer reported seeing her breast-feeding her daughter in the restaurant 7 months ago.

"I was angry. I was just surprised. When I was breastfeeding her I didn't think anything of it," said Zahari.

"It is such a natural thing. And I was just feeding my baby. So to see that somebody had seen me and was so angry that they went on to a food review website and wrote about it was pretty upsetting for me," said Zahari.

Zahari said the comments that followed the original post ranged from discomfort with the idea of her breast-feeding to obscenities and personal attacks. Most of the comments have now been deleted.

"You should be covering up. That's disgusting. There's a time and a place for breastfeeding and public is not a place for that," she said, listing some of the comments she recalled seeing.

Zahari said the author of the original post also reported seeing her feed her daughter behind the counter.

"Which would honestly be impressive if I could multi-task like that, but I was not behind the bar, I was just sitting in the cafe. It just blew up from there," she said.

Zahari responded individually to some of the comments, but they continued until as recently as last week.

It's something that women should just be really proud of.-  Meghan   Zahari

Eight days ago, the original poster, under the alias "Lord Igor" wrote:

"There is a time or place for everything, behind the counter at an eating establishment breast feeding a child, without a privacy cover, is not only non-professional, it is non hygienic. I wouldn't want the little tyke to puke all over the counter, and contaminate the area," the post reads.

That's when Zahari posted a response on Instagram which has since been shared hundreds of times.

"I hope those people are, at the very least, grateful for their own mothers' efforts and I hope that next time someone leaves a negative review about me as a business owner, it's actually about my work," she wrote.  

Zahari is quick to shoot down accusations of being unhygienic.

"That's definitely something to not be concerned about at all. I would only ever feed her sitting in a chair in the cafe, like any of our other customers would feed their babies," she said.

She said she believes some of the concern and discomfort people expressed is over the fact that she wasn't 'covering up' while feeding.

"Practically, it's actually very hard to cover a baby when you're feeding them because babies are social, they're busy, they move around a lot, they can't see what's going on. They get really hot. A lot of moms can't cover their baby when they're being fed," she said.

Her customers are quick to jump to her defense and that of 10-month-old Emelyn Zahari, who no longer breast-feeds and has the honourary title of "shop baby," on the Bronuts website.

"Everybody needs to eat. It's a natural thing. It's not a big deal. If you can be discreet, great. But if you feel comfortable, that's your right," said Naila Janzen.

Zahari says since her post, she's received a "ton" of support from people in the community and other mothers who have similar stories of negative public reaction to times they breast-fed in public. Overall, she says now, speaking out has brought an overwhelming positive response from people on the issue.

The Women's Health Clinic in Winnipeg said it "supports a woman's choice to feed their child how and wherever they need to."

"Women who choose to breastfeed need to be able to feed their children in public spaces free of judgement and criticism," said Trina Larsen, manager of maternal health and wellness at the clinic.

"Breastfeeding is the most natural act between mother and child and no one should deny or criticize any mother for doing this," said Jannette Festival, a nurse and executive director of NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank.

"Mothers are providing their babies with the best nourishment possible while providing role models for other young mothers and young girls."

Zahari knows it's a woman's right to breastfeed her baby in public — a right also protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — but she'd like the criticism she and other mothers have faced over it to end.

"It's just incredible what the body can do and it's something that women should just be really proud of. And I think that's why it's upsetting to me when shame is attached to it. Because we should really be feeling the opposite."

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