|Virginia and Sophie Howes|
And that might have been the end of it - another day, another breastfeeding mother discriminated against and belittled for responding to the needs of her baby, while going about her normal daily business - but Sophie is the daughter of Virginia Howes, independent midwife and star of ITV's Home Delivery, campaigner and author, who, as an outspoken advocate of the rights of women and their babies has both encouraged Sophie to complain about her treatment and taken up the cause: as she sees it, not only was the way that this individual case was handled indefensible, but it is also evidence of a widespread lack of awareness of the law that applies to breastfeeding mothers in our society. The law, as I said in my previous post, is there to protect women and their babies from being harrassed or victimised. As I wrote then:
"Regardless of how other individuals might have acted, or chosen to feed, or cover, or not, the law protects us all, whatever we decide to do. A mum who fed out of the pool, or in the changing room, or in the lobby, or under a towel, or at home before bringing the baby in, has just the same right to be respected by staff as the mum who, for whatever reason, fed in the pool itself."And in this case, respect was the last thing Sophie got. When Virginia Howes called the centre manager to discuss the incident, the manager claimed that if a lifeguard, or a member of the public, was offended by seeing a woman breastfeed, in the pool or in the cafe, then it was the manager's duty to speak to the mother and ask her to move, because it is a public place! This is totally backwards, since the breastfeeding mother is the party protected by the law. If nothing else it highlights a serious lack of training at the Stour Centre, and I suggest that it's unacceptable for the manager of a public leisure facility to have such a lack of understanding of her responsibilities in this area. (I refer her to my previous post about what should have happened!) And as for customer service...
You might expect, in the face of the high-profile coverage of the other swimming pool stories, and given the widespread response to this latest discrimination, that the pool, the council and everyone concerned might swiftly issue an apology and attempt to make amends. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. You can read the correspondence on Virginia Howes' Facebook page here: the pool's representative has attempted to justify the position taken by the manager. Many of her 'health and safety' points were robustly debunked by the Analytical Armadillo, IBCLC here the last time the issue was debated; and indeed, many of those commenting on the campaign have pointed out that baby swimming instructors often recommend that babies are fed in the water to stop them getting cold! It also seems telling that the promised 'centre breastfeeding policy' has not materialised, despite repeated requests.
When I first heard Sophie's story I was saddened - as I always am when breastfeeding mothers and their babies are targeted - and I've been appalled at the response to the many complaints that have been lodged. But this time I think the issue will not be swept under the carpet - Sophie and Virginia have so many supporters that the campaign that ensues might succeed where others haven't. If they can raise awareness, and break down some of the barriers to breastfeeding that currently exist in our society, then that will be a great thing. And I can't help feeling just a little bit excited about that.