Lactivists take on H&M!

Lactivists take on H&MYesterday, Garret and I ducked out of the office during lunch hour to go downtown and join over a hundred people gathered in protest of an incident a few days ago at H&M. Essentially, Manuela Valle was harassed for breastfeeding her infant daughter in the store while her husband was in the change room. You can read more about the story here. Naturally, the incident sparked an organized ‘nurse-in’ calling for women to come publicly breastfeed their babies at H&M.

I felt I couldn’t miss the chance to show my support and attend the nurse-in and become a lactivist right here in Vancouver. I remember so well the few occasions when I took my first baby shopping with me. I never felt comfortable breastfeeding in the stores for fear of exactly what Manuela went through and resorted to nursing him in change rooms and washrooms. But, second time around, armed with more confidence and a better understanding of my rights, I breastfed Garret in public whenever he needed to be fed. My confidence and understanding is in part thanks to women like Manuela, and dozens of others who have stood up for their (and their baby’s) rights. High profile incidents involving Delta Airlines, Starbucks (who now have teaching notes for their employee training sessions!) and the video below about what Barbara Walters said on The View, have resulted in a nurse-ins at all these corporate headquarters.


It felt so good to be a part of this show of lactivism. Regardless of what people think of breastfeeding and nurse-ins, I think all the resulting media attention is good; if a would-be or new mom sees the story on the evening news or reads it in the paper and becomes more informed, it is all worthwhile. I know it helped me!

Breastfeeding in public needs to be normalized and women deserve to feel confident and rely on their instincts in caring for their babies. After the H&M nurse-in, a lively discussion on the CBC website has ensued. I feel quite sad and angry about many of the recent posts. Yes, breastfeeding can be a very intimate and private experience, but that doesn’t mean women need to be shamed or made to feel uncomfortable while taking care of their babies most important needs. There is nothing sexual about breastfeeding and we (well at least not me, anyways) are not flagrantly baring our breasts to nurse our babies!

suzanne and michelle and babesOn a personal note, nursing Garret at H&M was a bittersweet moment, as I’ve been gradually trying to wean him. (Here is me and Garret chatting with Michelle Hoar of The Tyee, with her daugher Olivia, just before the big ‘latch-on’ moment.) Weaning has been a challenging phase for both of us – on the one hand, after almost 2 years of breastfeeding him, I am ready to close this chapter with him and get more sleep at night and have the freedom to leave him for a few days, but on the other hand, I know he’d like to hang on to his ‘nie nie’ (milk in Chinese) a little longer. I’ve come to terms that weaning him will result in growth for both of us, but it is still hard to deal with emotionally.

Learning to breastfeed my babies was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but definitely one of the most rewarding experiences in my life and one that I will treasure forever. I smile everytime I see a breastfeeding mom in public and will fondly remember those precious times with my babies.

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  • Awesome post, Suzanne! During my and Gigi’s nursing career I remember a “mama bear” feeling sometimes of almost wanting someone to challenge me for nursing publicly, so that I could bravely fight for my breastfeeding rights. It seems like a bit of an unwritten rule in our society that we should hide our breasts when they are most necessary, all the while having models’ cleavage paraded on ubiquitous billboards. But for every disapproving glance (no comments, though – no H&M in those days!), for me at least, there was often a smile similar to what you describe bestowing on others you see nursing now – of understanding these timeless moments of trust, love and nourishment.

  • A few more thoughts to add to my original post…
    the vibe at the nurse-in was amazing. To me, it felt like a kind of love-in of nursing mamas, babes and supporters, amongst the craziness of the cameras, microphones and journalists. I saw a few annoyed H&M employees and customers who looked a bit put out, but the rest of us were enjoying the whole scene.
    Another important point: in British Columbia, the Human Rights Commission expressly sets out a woman’s right to breastfeed anywhere in public. So, the public debate going on about whether a woman can breastfeed in public is really MOOT!

  • Holly

    I can’t understand why anyone would be uncomfortable at the sight of breastfeeding. I tend to either not notice or actually feel relaxed if I see a woman breastfeeding because it’s completely natural and both mother and baby are happy and in a state of peace at that moment. I’m sure the majority of the population was breastfed at some point so what’s the problem? Unfortunately there are the few perverts out there who do consider breastfeeding sexual just because of the mere sight of a nipple, but I’m sure those people are few and far between.

    Great post! I liked that Jimmy Kimmel clip, too.

  • Ursulla Puppette

    I am all for breastfeeding. I have a sweet little one, 6 mos old, and two teeth so far. However- I will not now nor ever stand up for you or anyone else who believes that my son, your son, anybody’s son NEEDS to be fed in a store. While that woman was waiting for her husband to try on clothes, she was feeding her child. Great. But she really should have found a better place to do it. She has a right to bare her breast, feed her kid, whatever angle you want to shoot it at- but that store has a right to implement rules, too. No food or drink to be consumed in store. No impeding in the business of selling clothes. No taking up space having a meal when you could very well go to any number of non-store places (seat in mall, food court, mothers room, wherever). Your laziness and lack of planning for mealtime, your inability to tell hubby that you are taking junior to a more comfortable place that doesnt impede commerce is not a lactivist issue. Thats just your poor planning, judgment, and consideration of others. Call me when we have a real issue. Call me when you cant feed your kid where you do actually eat. Cause we dont eat at the H&M.

  • While you say you support breastfeeding, you also say that mothers who breastfeed in public are lazy and inconsiderate. The last thing new moms need is that kind of judgement. Would you judge a mother because her baby screamed constantly (due to say colic) to be lazy and inconsiderate? Would you tell her that she can’t go to shopping because the store/mall has a policy against loud and disturbing noises because it will impede commerce? I don’t need to tell you that babies, especially infants, often need to be fed hourly and simply have much greater needs. Stores have a policy banning food and drink because they are concerned about maintaining the cleanliness of their store and products; a nursing mom feeding her baby should not be in the same category as ‘food and drink’.

    This is a real issue because mothers need to know they have a legislated human right (in BC) to breastfeed in public, and stores like H&M need to exercise greater sensitivity, not intolerance. Businesses who put commerce in front of basic human needs and who show a lack of respect is why lactivism takes place and why so many women showed up!

    In my assessment, the event was a success. H&M has updated their policy and debriefed with staff on appropriate conduct, and I’m guessing some new nursing moms will go out with their babies with greater confidence and support.

  • As a 3-year veteran of “the business of selling clothes” (see photos here ) I am happy to pursue the breastfeeding issue from a business perspective. I’ll start by noting that women make upwards of 80% of all household purchasing decisions, and that it’s obvious that having positive feelings about a given retail environment is conducive to spending (as we will see, the opposite is also true.)

    Anyone care to field a guess of how much money in sales were lost (and will continue to be lost) by H&M for failing to create positive feelings within one of its most important customer groups? Put another way, who should be doing whom a favour in retail transactions these days, particularly given the state of the economy and diminished consumer spending? Sure, H&M, despite legislation that states otherwise, can stick to an antiquated set of rules that will basically lead to lost sales, or be more progressively business-minded and, say, create a welcoming space for families (that would include bored spouses, tired elders, and hungry babies) that would actually encourage customers to stay in the store, develop positive feelings and ultimately spend money there – wouldn’t that be a smarter, not to mention more humane, business model?

  • Nadia

    Something similar happened in NB. A woman was kicked out of the mall for breastfeeding her child. Everyone here thinks it’s weird to breastfeed so no one took a stand, but let me tell you that when my turns comes to breastfeed in public…I will do it proudly! You go girls!

  • Jennifer

    I can see I am like 5 years behind in this discussion… I’ve had many an argument about breast feeding in public and I just cannot put my finger on what exactly the person against breast feeding is really against… It’s not actually the act of feeding the baby. It’s gotta be something else: insecurity, them not being comfortable with bodily functions, ‘sexualizing’ breast feeding, baby hating. It’s hard to argue against someone so set in their ways and almost impossible to change their minds. It’s very sad. I hope our society has progressed in the 5 years since this post. Suzanne I love your response, very badass.