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Canada is up in arms about breast-feeding and whether it's really OK to do it in public. And with the help of blogs and Facebook, angry moms are taking it to the streets -- or to the mall, in this case.
About a hundred mothers in Montreal staged a "nurse-in" protest at a downtown shopping complex last week, breast-feeding simultaneously before a curious crowd of reporters, mall security guards and passers-by. The event was retribution, they said, for a store that had thrown out a mother for breast-feeding earlier this month. This week, they began a petition drive to protect the rights of women to breast-feed in public in the Quebec province.
It all started when Shannon Smith, a 36-year-old mother of three, stopped by a children's clothing store in the mall on Jan. 5. When her youngest started crying halfway through the trip, Smith retreated to a semi-secluded kids' corner and nursed the baby under a blanket. She said she was surprised and upset when a female employee of the store, Orchestra, came over and told her to stop. Smith left humiliated. But her embarrassment quickly turned to anger, so the next day she created a blog, breastfortheweary.com.
An official government petition has been set up to push for a clarification to the law to explicitly protect the rights of women to breastfeed in Quebec. This would bring Québec law more in line with the laws of BC, Ontario and Nova-Scotia. These provinces clearly describe a woman’s right to breastfeed in public in their provincial human rights tribunal guidelines.
With just the one post, the blog quickly started gathering hits -- almost 7,000 so far. A day later, a Facebook group had been created to organize the nurse-in for Jan. 19. Newspapers and blogs across Canada and the United States soon picked up the story, creating a national debate over whether Smith or the employee had been right. Many commentators compared breast-feeding to eating lunch and even urinating, even saying it should happen in bathrooms. Parents fought back, arguing that babies deserve to eat whenever and wherever they are hungry, and that breast-feeding is convenient and healthy.
All American states except for Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia have passed laws allowing women to breast-feed in any public or private space, as well as several that exempt breast-feeding from public indecency laws or excuse nursing mothers from jury duty. Shoppers at the mall last week looked amazed at the sea of nursing babies. But when asked if they felt uncomfortable having to walk by so many breasts on their lunch break, they said no. "I don't have a problem with that," said Ulysses Montero, 34.