Toronto should guarantee a mother's right to breast-feed "anytime, anywhere," according to the Medical Officer of Health.
The board of health will next week consider a report from Dr. David McKeown that calls upon Toronto to "develop a policy that affirms the right of breast-feeding mothers to breast-feed in all public places controlled by the municipality." Joanne Gilmore, a manager with the healthy families division of Toronto Public Health, said establishing an official position would eliminate some of the stigma associated with breast-feeding. "We don't want mothers who decide to breast-feed their babies to feel they have to stay in their homes all the time," Ms. Gilmore said.
"We're not saying to every mother that you have to bare yourself in public. Some women choose to do it more discreetly, in a private place, and that's their right. But it's also their right if they choose to sit on a bench and do it."
A controversy erupted in 2005 when a volunteer asked a woman to stop nursing her baby in the rink house at Dufferin Grove Park. The volunteer said she objected to the degree to which the mother had disrobed and not the breast-feeding itself. City staff eventually apologized to the mother.
Toronto already has rules that allow municipal employees to breast-feed on city premises. Indeed, a policy enacted in 2001 guarantees both flexible hours for mothers to give them time to nurse as well as access to a "designated private space" if they want it.
However, the policy does not currently extend to the general public. Despite the Ontario Human Rights Commission protecting a mother's right to nurse, some women are still challenged if they decide to do it in public, according to Ms. Gilmore.
"It's considered a staff policy and does not extend to the general public," she said.