Nfld. & Labrador

YMCA changes breastfeeding policy following complaint

A St. John's mother told she couldn't breastfeed her 7-month-old baby in a private change room at a local gym filed a complaint at the facility.
Elise Thorburn had filed a formal complaint with the YMCA of Northeast Avalon when she was told to leave the adults-only change room area at the facility, as she was breastfeeding her 7-month-old daughter. (CBC)

A St. John's mother told she couldn't breastfeed her 7-month-old baby in a private change room at the YMCA filed a complaint, leading to the facility changing its policy on breastfeeding.

Elise Thorburn had finished her exercise routine on Tuesday, and was nursing her daughter Olive in the adults-only change room at the YMCA of Northeast Avalon when a worker told her she'd have to leave.

The worker said the Y's policy stated that no children under 12  including babies — were allowed in the room.  

"I was told I could go to the family change room and I could feed her in one of the stalls if I wanted some privacy," Thorburn told St. John's Morning Show host Anthony Germain on Friday.

"I took her to the adult-only change room to feed her, I pay an extra $10 a month to have access to feed her there. They have soft, comfortable chairs and a quiet little lounge area there. But she [the worker] was telling me I couldn't be breastfeeding in the room — and was interrupting me in the middle of feeding my baby."

It's pretty ridiculous that you can't have an infant in there- Elise Thorburn

Thorburn said her right to breastfeed is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"I am allowed to breastfeed anywhere I'm allowed to be, and also I am protected, I believe, by the Human Rights Code of Newfoundland and Labrador, which doesn't specifically include breastfeeding —- but says I can't be discriminated against or asked to leave a space because I'm pregnant or because I am in a parent-child relationship."

Thorburn said in certain provinces, such as Ontario and British Columbia, breastfeeding is specifically protected by the Human Rights Code. Newfoundland and Labrador is not included.

"That being said, in many provinces, the definition of pregnancy is expanded to include a postpartum period including breastfeeding. No one should be judged in any way they are feeding their baby, whether they are bottle feeding of breastfeeding. It's pretty ridiculous that you can't have an infant in there."

Policy now changed

YMCA CEO Jason Brown then told the Morning Show the policy had changed.

"First of all we'd 'd like to apologize for what was clearly a negative experience at the YMCA, that's never our intention .. and certainly it appears we were slow to respond directly to those concerns," Brown said.

"We wanted women to feel comfortable, and to be able to, and in fact they breastfeed, anytime, anywhere, with few restrictions everyday without any interference. This situation has caused us to reflect and review, and certainly we see no reason why there should be a restriction to women breastfeed their babies in the adult-only change room."

Brown said the policy had changed on Thursday night at a board of directors meeting.

"We discussed it at length ... it seems like the right thing to do. And something as important as breastfeeding ... and being a family-oriented organization, our thousands of members join us largely as families ... we want this to be a place where everyone feels absolutely comfortable," he said.

Thorburn praised Brown's response.

"I am really impressed with the speed with which you changed the policy, and it's really excellent. I'm a huge fan of the Y, primarily because of its egalitarian policies, and so one of the things I'd love to see is a small space set up in the general change room, so that people who don't have the funds to pay the additional $10 a month, will also have a nice quiet, private space to breastfeed, with comfortable seating," she said.

Brown indicated that it was something that the Y could look at.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.