A young Bendigo mum was forced to leave a popular shopping centre food court on Tuesday afternoon after disgruntled patrons complained to a plaza employee.
Luci White had almost finished her own lunch in the Bendigo Marketplace food court when her seven-month-old son, Zaydd, started to grizzle.
So Ms White did what she had done many times before: she began to breastfeed her child.
The young mum could not have predicted the barrage of negativity she would soon confront, first from an elderly man and then from a mother with two small children of her own.
“The older gentleman said: ‘You can’t do it in public, it’s inappropriate’,” Ms White recalled.
“And the mum in her 30s said: 'That is so rude with children around'.
“I couldn't believe it. Why would your child find it so weird to see a baby breastfeeding?”
While Ms White initially held her ground, when a worker dressed in the Marketplace’s uniform approached and asked her to relocate to the centre’s “specialised feeding facility”, she said she felt there was no choice but to comply with the demand.
“When I took my son off my breast, he started crying and by the time we got to the room, he was screaming, and screaming, and screaming,” she said.
“It was a very traumatic experience.”
Public support for Luci and Zaydd
The unsettling incident has enraged mothers throughout Bendigo, many of who will come together this Friday for a sit-in protest at the Marketplace food court.
Almost 80 Facebook users have already said they will attend the Boobs for Babies event at Bendigo Marketplace, with many saying they plan to to breastfeed in support of the upset young mum.
The incident first came to light after a friend of the woman shared the story with the Bendigo Mums Facebook page’s 2600 followers.
“I think there needs to be a mass breastfeeding session in that food court to educate the neanderthals out there that no-one has the right to tell a mum where to feed her child,” Samantha Purden posted.
The Boobs for Babies organiser, mother-of-two Michelle Van Zyl, said she had also been on the receiving end of criticism for breastfeeding in public, and hearing Ms White’s story was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.
She is shocked at the amount of support already shown for the event and said it was a way of getting behind families like Ms White and Zaydd.
“(It’s) to show support for this one young mum, and every other mum who has ever been told what she's doing is wrong,” she told the Bendigo Advertiser.
“It's perfectly legal, we're not breaking any laws for feeding our babies and we shouldn't be made to feel like we are.”
Marketplace apologises, ‘takes steps’ to improve
Bendigo Marketplace responded to the public backlash in a statement on Wednesday afternoon, saying they were aware of the incident and they will be “taking necessary steps to ensure all our staff and contractors are aware that we support a mother’s right to breastfeed her children at our centre whether in the parents’ room or in a location of their choice”.
“Bendigo Marketplace is a family friendly and community focused shopping centre,” the statement read.
“We regret that a member of our community experienced any discomfort or embarrassment while shopping with us and we apologise to the mother concerned.”
READ MORE: Brisbane mums stage ‘nurse-in’
Protect breastfeeding, experts say
Ms White told the Bendigo Advertiser Zaydd suffered meningitis as a newborn and she breastfed as way to “give him everything I can that's good for him” after his illness.
“Normally, I cover up, but yesterday it was so hot, and my son has had a bit of a flu, so he had a temperature,” he said.
But Australian Breastfeeding Association Bendigo group co-leader Jennifer Hurrell said it was every mother and every baby’s right to breast feed, and being told to relocate or cover up made what is an already difficult for some mothers even harder.
“Mums worry about this happening. When you're vulnerable, and new to breastfeeding, that can be very confrontational,” Ms Hurrell said.
She said the unwanted attention could even deter mothers from continuing to breastfeed, or force them to stay at home out of shame.
Mothers who breastfed children older than six months, like Ms White, were more likely to attract scrutiny because the public were less familiar with seeing older toddlers being nursed, Ms Hurrell said.
But she supported World Health Organisation recommendations that mothers capable of breastfeeding their children until they are two years old.
Your legal rights
“In Australian Federal Law breastfeeding is a right, not a privilege,” the Australian Breastfeeding Association website says.
Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 it is illegal to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding.
“For example, it is discriminatory for a waiter to decline to serve a patron who is breastfeeding,” the website says.
It also says mothers should feel confident stating their legal right to anyone who scolds them for breastfeeding, and quotes former sex discrimination commissioner Susan Halliday saying “common sense dictates that hungry babies be fed”.
“It will be a particularly sad day when, in Australia, a woman is penalised for properly caring for her child in a public place,” she is reported as saying.