A breastfeeding mom is harassed at IKEA by an employee, and this reveals surprising truths about where we are as a human society.
Photo credit: Judith Haeusler / Cultura / Getty Images

In a terrible story of customer service gone wrong comes some bits of info that leave a really bad taste in our mouths — an IKEA employee tells a mother that she's disgusting and not only offends her, but upsets her older son who is still a nursling himself. In 2014, can you believe that this is still an issue for anyone?

Breastfeeding at IKEA

Brea Rehder, from Ottawa, Ontario, was shopping at the Ottawa IKEA store with her young baby and toddler son. While waiting on an employee to help her with a pricing issue, her 9-month-old baby started fussing, so Rehder began nursing her. When the employee finally made her way to Rehder, she wasn't helpful at all. In fact, she was violating store policy and possibly Ontarian law because she told the mother that what she was doing was "disgusting" and she could go finish elsewhere.

You have rights as a breastfeeding mother, including the right to breastfeed a child in a public area. No one should prevent you from breastfeeding your child simply because you are in a public area. They should not ask you to 'cover up,' disturb you or ask you to move to another area that is more 'discreet.'
-Ontario Human Rights Commission

Ontario is one of two Canadian provinces that has laws specifically meant to protect a breastfeeding mother and her right to feed her baby in public. The Ontario Human Rights Commission states: "You have rights as a breastfeeding mother, including the right to breastfeed a child in a public area. No one should prevent you from breastfeeding your child simply because you are in a public area. They should not ask you to 'cover up,' disturb you or ask you to move to another area that is more 'discreet.'"

How truly modern are we?

As with any breastfeeding discrimination story, this situation strikes me personally. I have breastfed all four of my kids in public and have never been confronted, spoken to or even really noticed. But I can imagine how distressing it would be. Breastfeeding is a basic biological function, and is not equal to sexual acts — nor voiding of waste. To tend to your child's needs and have someone tell you to cover up, move or outright leave would be upsetting, and if you're caught off guard, you may not know what to say or do. It can easily destroy a nursing mom's confidence and make her unwilling to try again in the future.

Hearing this story makes me wonder how truly advanced we are as a species. We can communicate instantly across the globe via devices small enough to fit in our hand, yet we cannot handle the sight of a woman nursing her baby — while at the same time, advertisements are appreciated that reveal more breast tissue than a nursing woman shows. It's just now, in the last 60 or so years, that the idea of women breastfeeding children has been relegated to something that should be private, discreet or out of sight. How is that OK?

Full-term breastfeeding

There could be serious ramifications from this. He could hold this with him for a long time, affecting his feelings on breastfeeding as an adult and he may not be as supportive of his partner breastfeeding when he has children.

Rehder also mentioned that her 2-year-old son balked that evening when they went to nurse, saying that he didn't want to because the lady said it was bad. This is mortifying. While not everyone breastfeeds past infancy, many do. "The WHO and many other health organizations recommend breastfeeding well past infancy and this situation may cause a child to wean before he was ready," shares Rachelle, mom of two and owner of the popular Facebook page Unlatched. "There could be serious ramifications from this. He could hold this with him for a long time, affecting his feelings on breastfeeding as an adult and he may not be as supportive of his partner breastfeeding when he has children."

She nails it. People who don't have the benefit of seeing a woman breastfeeding, or have learned from other adults that it's something that should be done in private or "with class" (or worse yet, are told that breastfeeding is "disgusting") don't have the proper foundation for growing up tolerant, knowing that a woman breastfeeding is no big deal.

IKEA taking the reins

IKEA isn't taking this matter lightly. They have phoned Rehder and apologized, as well as released statements to the public that reveal their welcoming breastfeeding policy — breastfeeding mothers should be left alone, which is what all companies should embody, and all employees need to be trained on this matter as well.

They say breastfeeding mothers are welcome in their store, and they are actively seeking the employee responsible. "Although breastfeeding in public/harassment incidents are always distressing for me to hear about, I am pleased by IKEA corporate's response to their employee's unlawful actions thus far," shares Paala, who has a breastfeeding advocacy support Facebook page of her own. "It happens all too often that businesses try to sweep these potentially confidence-crushing, breastfeeding-relationship-damaging harassment incidents under the rug."

IKEA stores across the globe are undoubtedly listening in and training their own employees on how to treat their customers, which include moms who are feeding their children from the breast or a bottle. But how many more nursing in public incidents are we going to hear about? How can we help people realize that breastfeeding a baby is not only the mother's right, but the baby's too? Moms can feed their babies, and they don't need to hide or cover up. Breastfeeding isn't about "whipping out a breast" or "making a statement." Babies need to feed, and moms feed them. Period.

More on breastfeeding

Mom turned breastfeeding advocate
Breastfeeding toddlers: Why extended nursing works
Why breastfeeding a 3-year-old rocks

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