Moms Barred From Breastfeeding ... at Breastfeeding Conference

Beth Greenfield
·Senior Editor
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Photo by Hans Neleman/Getty Images

Despite receiving endorsements from the pope himself, mamas who breastfeed their babies in public are no strangers to being hassled — on airplanes, in cafes, at community centers, at their favorite stores, at restaurants, and even in the waiting room of their own gynecologist’s office. But the setting of the latest “no nursing here” controversy is the richest by far: a breastfeeding summit, held this week in Scotland.

“I was absolutely dumbfounded,” parenting consultant Elise Sterling told the Scottish Sun regarding the policy of the government-sponsored summit she had planned to attend. “The irony is unbelievable.”

The event was planned for health workers and those in related fields as a way to kick off a yearlong commitment to promote breastfeeding. But when Sterling and a number of other women with babies made requests to attend the event, they were told via email that the venue, a stadium in Edinburgh, was “not designed to accommodate mothers who are still breastfeeding,” the Sun reported. This led to a slew of complaints and, eventually, a change in policy by the organizers. 

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A Scottish Government spokesperson reportedly said: “When Scottish Government officials began planning the conference the number of mothers with babies planning to attend the event was underestimated. Consequently, we have already arranged for an extension to the baby changing facilities, and a quiet area for mothers and babies to ensure that all who wish to attend can.”

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Scottish Parliament member Elaine Smith also weighed in, telling the Independent, “I think it’s astonishing that in the first place, organizers of a conference on breastfeeding and breaking down the barriers on breastfeeding thought it was appropriate to bar breastfeeding moms and babies from the conference.” She added, “I’m pleased that the decision has been overturned because it made no sense at all and I trust that any breastfeeding babies who turn up will be more than welcome to be in the main auditorium.”

Public breastfeeding is clearly just as controversial on the other side of the pond: Recent Scottish dustups on the topic have included a nursing woman reduced to tears after being asked to cover up at Claridge’s hotel, and a UK Independence party leader noting that breastfeeding moms should “sit in a corner” rather than be “ostentatious” about nursing.

Critics of the breastfeeding summit irony could not contain themselves on Twitter. “#EpicFail. Someone not ‘on message,’” tweeted one critic, while another noted, “file under ‘poor planning,’” and “Next: ban on drinking at beer festival.” One woman, meanwhile, pointed out the crux of the matter, tweeting: “Not sure what a venue needs in order to be suitable for breastfeeding apart from the presence of a lactating female.” 

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