City council heard a policy proposal surrounding breastfeeding on city property at the Feb. 4 standing committees meeting, which stemmed from a complaint that arose after an “aquatics” staff member at the Canada Games Centre “asked a mother not to breastfeed while in the pool waters” in Feb. 2018. (lolostock/123rf.com)

City of Whitehorse to formalize its breastfeeding policy after a complaint

The policy in support of the right to breastfeed on city property is before council

Whitehorse City Council heard a policy proposal surrounding breastfeeding on city property at the Feb. 4 standing committees meeting.

The policy as presented to council “recognizes the importance of creating a family-friendly environment for citizens, employees and visitors” and states that the city “wishes to support breastfeeding individuals and the right to breastfeed undisturbed in public places within the city, and specifically within city premises.”

The policy is being recommended after a complaint last year from a woman who was asked by a city staff member not to breastfeed in the pool at the Canada Games Centre.

The woman complained she was being discriminated against on the “basis of sex, including pregnancy and pregnancy related conditions and the duty to accommodate … in offering… services or facilities to the public,” said Catherine Constable, manager of legislative services for the city.

The staff member was acting “in accordance with written direction provided by the Yukon government (branch of) Environmental Health” which “prohibited eating and drinking in the pool, including breastfeeding” due to the risk of breast milk as a “contaminant,” Constable said.

Environmental Health has since “rescinded” this policy after it “reviewed best practices,” said Constable and found that breast milk was not a contaminant but rather a bodily fluid “like sweat.”

The complaint was an opportunity to “formalize” the city’s support for the right to breastfeed in policy, Constable said.

Public breastfeeding is not presently and would in no way be prohibited by the policy, she said. The policy would focus on allowing breastfeeding women to access safe, private spaces to nurse if that was what they wanted.

The city recognizes “the importance of breastfeeding to the health and well-being of moms, babies and communities” as being “well supported” by research, Constable said in her presentation to council.

Employers also benefit from “supporting families to continue to breastfeed… upon women returning to work” as it “decreases employee turnover, absenteeism… and health care costs… increases employee morale and loyalty, productivity and the overall health of babies and the community,” she said.

The resolution also mandates that city employees will “respect and support an individual’s right to breastfeed in public,” ensure anyone who might object to public breastfeeding on city property is made aware of that right, provide a “supportive environment” for breastfeeding employees returning to work and “make reasonable efforts” to give breastfeeding women a “private space… if requested.”

The city is in the process of creating a training package for city employees to help mitigate any confusion around the policy and the right to breastfeed, said Krista Mroz, manager of recreation and facility services.

The policy will go before council for adoption at the regular council meeting Feb. 11.

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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