At lunch today (with my 17-month-old son), I read the story of the "Breastfeeding mom barred from Bard" in the Province: Vancouverite Leanne Scorah tried to bring her eight-week-old baby (then asleep in a sling on her chest) into a matinee performance of Bard on the Beach's As You Like It, only to be turned away at the door.
Bard on the Beach--Vancouver's famous summer Shakespeare theatre festival--has a clearly-stated policy disallowing all children under six years old: "In consideration of the actors and other patrons, infants and children under the age of 6 will not be admitted."
Ms. Scorah was so angry that her baby was refused admittance that she wrote letters of complaint to several media outlets, including the Georgia Straight and the Province. The Georgia Straight quotes her as saying, "We strongly feel that this is a violation of human rights and discrimination against breastfeeding mothers, and possibly others."
Does a theatre company's general "no child under six" policy discriminate against breastfeeding mothers?
This is a tricky one. On the one hand, if we, as a society, believe in promoting breastfeeding (which, given all the pressure on mothers to breastfeed, I would certainly say that we do), then we must make it as easy and convenient as possible. To that end, organizations with blanket "no small kids" policies should make exceptions for breastfeeding babies under a certain age (perhaps six months), so that mothers can both breastfeed and enjoy all the normal privileges to which they are accustomed.
On the other hand, I do believe adult-only (or, in this case, over-six-years-old-only) venues are important, too; people should have spaces to go to that do not include young children. And the problem with making an exception for breastfeeding babies is that not all young babies breastfeed. Which, should a breastfeeding exception prevail, presents another case of possible discrimination: parents of eight-week-olds who do not breastfeed would not be able to bring their baby while mothers like Ms. Scorah could.
Ultimately, I think we should err on the side of making breastfeeding easier; I think Bard on the Beach and every other organization/public space/workspace should make allowances for young breastfeeding infants that they may not otherwise make. In other words, keep the general "no kids under six" policy but make exceptions for breastfeeding infants under a certain age who are accompanying their breastfeeding mom. To do otherwise undermines any effort to promote breastfeeding as the healthiest option for moms and babies.
What do you think about the situation? Should Bard on the Beach make an exception to its policy in favour of breastfeeding mothers? And if not, why not? I'd love to hear your opinions in the comments!