When Johanna Hume of Toronto breastfeeds her seven-month-old daughter in public, she doesn’t feel concerned that anyone will complain.
“I will breastfeed anywhere and I’ve actually never encountered any problems,” she said. “I’ve never had anybody . . . request that I go somewhere else or anything of that nature.”
Hume believes all Toronto mothers should breastfeed wherever they need to, because they do it to keep their babies healthy.
She’s not alone. In Toronto, breastfeeding in public has become more common.
“That’s what babies need and this is not a matter of exposing oneself for the sake of exposing oneself,” she said.
She feels comfortable breastfeeding her daughter, Natalie, in stores and restaurants without covering herself.
Garth Whyte, president and CEO of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, has seen breastfeeding in Toronto restaurants become more common and more accepted over time.
“It was more of an issue 20 years ago than today,” he said. “For previous generations, you were supposed to stay home and I think that’s changed.”
Like Hume, Whyte hasn’t seen significant resistance towards mothers who choose to breastfeed their children in public.
“We really haven’t had any major complaints about this issue,” he said.
As a La Leche League Canada leader, Teresa Pitman has also seen an increase in mothers who breastfeed in public.
“There are more mothers breastfeeding (now) than there were 20 years ago, so you’re certainly going to see more breastfeeding in public,” she said.
La Leche League Canada is a national organization that encourages mothers to breastfeed and provides them with support and information on breastfeeding. Mothers who have been confronted by people for breastfeeding in public usually call this organization to report the incident. However, these types of reports are uncommon, Pitman said.
“The majority of people, for their whole breastfeeding time, will never have a negative comment or a negative reaction,” she said.
Signe Sohrbeck believes mothers who are worried about breastfeeding in public have to, most of all, overcome feelings of discomfort about exposing themselves.
Sohrbeck breastfeeds her seven-month-old son, Lucas, in public without covering herself with a blanket.
“I am from Denmark and that’s just the way we do it over there and it’s accepted all over,” she said. “You don’t have to cover up and people won’t question you. People don’t feel uncomfortable about it either.”
When Sohrbeck breastfed in a Toronto restaurant, some people made jokes that she’s not Canadian because of her comfort with breastfeeding in public.
“They’re just surprised,” she said. “They’re supporting me and they think it’s a great thing.”
Sohrbeck believes when mothers breastfeed in public, it helps to keep their life normal.
“You can’t go and hide all the time; you need to continue your life,” she said.
“In Scandinavian countries, people don’t even notice a lot of the breastfeeding in public; it’s just taken for granted. And in the United States, there’s a lot of discomfort with people breastfeeding in public in different places,” Pitman said. “I think Toronto’s probably in the middle.”
Nevertheless, the lactation consultant at Toronto East General Hospital, Karen Smith, knows there will always be certain mothers who prefer to breastfeed in private.
She works at the hospital’s Breastfeeding Resource Centre and sees many different mothers. They make their choice on whether to breastfeed in public based on cultural and family influences, as well as personal feelings on the issue.
“I think it’s a very personal choice; I think it depends on how comfortable you are with (exposing) your body,” Smith said.
Ivanka Gotcheva of Mississauga breastfed her daughter Victoria, now six, for almost two years. However, whenever she breastfed in public and she saw people around her, she always looked for a secluded or private area. She also used a blanket to cover the baby and herself.
Gotcheva didn’t worry that others would make negative comments about breastfeeding in public, but she sensed that some people would feel uncomfortable if she breastfed in front of them.
“Maybe some people don’t feel comfortable seeing someone exposing her breasts,” she said, “even if it’s breastfeeding.”