A Northampton mum has started an awareness and anti-discrimination campaign after she was asked to leave a public swimming pool because she was breastfeeding her baby.
Holly Mayes, of Kingsland Avenue in Kingsthorpe, was swimming in The Venue family pool at Billing Aquadrome, with her four-month-old son Vincent. But when she stopped to feed her son she was approached by a lifeguard who asked her to leave the pool because what she was doing was “unhygienic” and was “making other people feel uncomfortable”.
Aware that she had every right to breastfeed in a public place, the 21-year-old spoke to a manager who apologised, but the incident left her feeling concerned that such “discrimination” could have have a damaging effect on other mothers.
Mrs Mayes said: “I was so shocked. I was at the shallow end just starting to feed when the lifeguard came over and asked me to go to a changing room or round the back of the pool because what I was doing was unhygienic and making other lifeguards and people in the pool uncomfortable.
“I explained that I had every right to feed in a public place and she said that, if that was the case, then she was very sorry and I should talk to a manager. I did that and he apologied profusely and offered my free entry to the pool for a year.”
Although Mrs Mayes said the matter at The Venue was resolved at the time, a spokesperson for Billing Aquadrome said: “As a family holiday park we keenly welcome new mothers and we fully support women breastfeeding in public places in line with current legislation.
“Mums have every right to feed their babies when they need to so do and our operating practises are to encourage breastfeeding in a safe and comfortable environment for both the mother and child.
“In this case, as there are a number of other users in the pool swimming, playing and splashing, the lady involved was invited by a female lifeguard to move to the side of the pool or to the changing rooms.
“At no stage was she asked to refrain from breastfeeding her baby in public. We will investigate the incident and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
But Mrs Mayes felt that the incident demonstrated a sense of discrimination and a general lack of awareness about the importance of breastfeeding and the challenges it can bring for mothers and their babies.
She has joined LLL Group, an international breastfeeding support group which holds weekly ‘baby cafes’ in Northampton town centre, offering various types of advice and classes.
“I am quite outspoken,” said Mrs Hayes, “but if it had happened to someone who was more shy then they could have been really upset and may have just accepted that treatment and moved elsewhere, or have been reluctant to breastfeed at all.”
“Breastfeeding is the most natural think in the world to do, but I was made to feel alienated for it. I was essentially being told that my baby boy should go hungry just because other adults didn’t like to see it.
“Just to make sure it wasn’t me just having a chip on my shoulder, I asked other first-time mums and even my own grandparents, who are quite old-fashioned, what they thought about the situation. Everyone agreed with me and I found a lot of other people have faced this sort of discrimination.
“I just think that people and businesses need to be more aware of the importance of breastfeeding. It can be an extremely hard thing to do, especially for the first time, and can take a lot of confidence and courage to do. Being told off for it can have a very harmful effect.”
The 2010 Equality Act makes it clear that to treat a woman “unfavourably” because she is breastfeeding in a public place amounts to sex discrimination. Information on the subject, provided by www.maternityaction.org states that services and organisations dealind directly with the public “must not discriminate, harass or victimise a woman because she is breastfeeding.”
For Mrs Mayes, who gave birth to Vincent in a water bath, swimming is an important part of her relationship with her son. She added: “It’s our special time together: it’s where he becomes very relaxed and it’s a good, gentle way for women to get back into exercise after having a baby. I wouldn’t want anyone in a similar situation to be made to feel pushed away from it, or as if they have to hide away from anything.”