I was saddened to read some recent news articles (here and here) that described a young mother in Auckland being kicked off the bus for breastfeeding her child. My heart goes out to this woman and her child.

As someone who will soon be a parent myself, I was saddened to find this is still a problem for two reasons. First, medical evidence indicates that on-demand breastfeeding of infants is beneficial. Second, people have — according to the Ministry of Health — the right to breastfeed “… your baby anywhere, any time and any place.”

The situation also underscores the merits of Emma’s recent post, which considered the benefits of designing cities for women. As this situation demonstrates, our individual experiences of cities are systematically influenced by one’s gender. The systematic nature of these issues means I do have some sympathy for the bus driver involved, who apparently was not prepared for such a situation. I suspect many of us might make the same mistake if we were put in a similar situation. And that is what this post hopes to help change.

What was heartening to see, in this particular instance, was the responses not just from breastfeeding groups, such as this one, but also the organisations involved. AT Metro’s service delivery manager Stacey Van Der Putten, for example, commented as follows:

“We strive for our services and facilities to be family-friendly … AT does not have specific policy about breastfeeding on public transport, but we will be reinforcing with all our operators that we strongly support a woman’s right to breastfeed on public transport or in any of our facilities.”

Again, the use of the phrase “right to feed”. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for NZ Bus issued the following statement, which includes an apology (source):

“We’ve reminded all our drivers that NZ Bus is supportive of mothers wishing to breastfeed on board our services and will reinforce this message through our driver training programmes. NZ Bus apologises for the distress [the] incident caused Ms Deane and her baby.”

This is a decent statement. The only thing I would change is to replace “… mothers wishing to ..” with “… mothers’ right to …”. We’re not supporting people’s wishes to breastfeed, insofar as we’re recognising their right.

So what’s the takeaway message from all this? Well, notwithstanding the unfortunate nature of the incident, I think we should acknowledge the empathetic response from both AT and NZ Bus, and support their efforts to remind drivers about people’s right to breastfeed.

The main outstanding task, then, is one that falls to all of us: If you ever witness a situation where a person is asked to stop breastfeeding in public, then please speak-up in defence of their rights. 

In the words of John Farnham:

“We’re all someone’s daughter, we’re all someone’s son … You’re the voice try and understood it, make a noise and make it clear. We’re not going to sit in silence, we’re not going to live in fear.”

Go well.

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60 comments

  1. Thanks, Stu. It is appalling that we are still having to fight for this. Thanks for the call for everyone to stand up and say something to protect the rights of women to breastfeed.

    1. It is hard to realise this is still an issue. 40 years ago working in an office in Oxford st (London) a colleague’s wife popped in an breast feed their daughter and it hardly registered with me but once they left a 3rd otherwise normal colleague said he was really shocked.
      Of course a baby has a right to be fed but after that it is a matter of etiquette and not upsetting other people unnecessarily. For example my false teeth often need adjusting – I try to do so as inconspicuously as possible because I have no idea if others are upset by it. Similarly I can imagine my breast feeding daughter doing so in Glenfield Mall car park except on a Friday lunchtime when instead of being sparsely populated it is full of well dressed Muslims leaving a religious ceremony.
      One more point: having lived in a Melanesian society where it is common to breastfeed for up to four years I think a child old enough to run around can also wait for its mother to find a suitably quiet place or in the example quoted after the bus journey.
      What is acceptable in public does vary with time and place however it is hard to think anyone wants a baby to go hungry. How do we judge what is acceptable? From family and friends and what we see on TV . There is little breast feeding on TV (presumably because of the problems with babies on a film set) but breast feeding in parliament should indicate it is acceptable so if you don’t like it just look the other way.

      1. +1, if you don’t like your breastfeeding, that is your problem not the problem of the person doing the breastfeeding.

      2. Yes, these are long-standing cultural issues that I suspect hark back (at least) to Victorian times. With regards to etiquette, I tend to agree with the suggestion that people look the other way if they are offended by the sight of breastfeeding.

        Aside from the fact that mothers’ have the right to breastfeed as they wish, evidence suggests that posture is important when breastfeeding. That is, trying to feed “discretely” can have health implications for the mother and the baby, whereby the milk ducts in the breast do not empty completely, leading to issues such as mastitis and insatiation.

        For this reason, and regardless of our own views of what is sufficiently “discreet”, I think it’s essential we respect mothers’ right to breastfeed as they choose. There are often (health and feeding) issues involved that the average person will not appreciate.

        1. Yes, and “discreetly” to some people means having the baby’s face covered! Imagine if we all had to cover our faces when we eat.

      3. I love the story from a young male doctor in a maternity ward of mainly Muslim women, who entered a corridor where several women were sitting on the floor breastfeeding. His unexpected presence caused them all to cover up…

        their faces, not their breasts.

    2. I’m a bit more lenient on people who don’t stand up in situations like that. Many of us hate conflict and have no desire to be societies referees. I’d have no confidence in my ability to come up with a coherent argument that would convince the driver to change his mind.

      Ultimately it is the driver and any passengers who complained about the breast feeding who caused this situation not the other passengers. I’d like to think I’d intervene but I’m also realistic to realise I’d probably still be sitting on the bus wishing I had done something.

      I’m not normally a fan of crying to the media but in this instance the mother deserves a lot of credit for bringing this into the public eye as it would have been easy for NZ Bus and AT to ignore otherwise.

      1. This was a young woman whose baby’s age indicated that she had been through birth or major abdominal surgery only two months prior, and had been living with [some of:] sleep deprivation, hormonal rages, sore breasts, exhausted body, conflict with family over parenting, and feelings of confusion, inadequacy or being overwhelmed.

        In other words, she and her young baby were right up there with the most vulnerable in society.

        It doesn’t matter if she was being asked to get off the bus for humming, smelling bad, or having dirty bare feet, she was a vulnerable woman with a tiny baby, and only someone out of touch with humanity would require her to get off the bus and walk.

        It would behoove us all to get up and do something in this situation or we are failing each other. To have social conscience enough to contribute to Greater Auckland by typing in the safe environs of our own office or home but not to engage properly with real people in a situation of actual need is, quite frankly, a wake-up call for some self-analysis.

      2. I don’t think the post or the subsequent comments are highly critical of the passengers? Don’t conflate a call for action as a critique of inaction; that’s overly simplistic.

        There may, for example, be situations where standing back is the best course of action. For example, if the person asking the mother to stop breastfeeding is exhibiting signs of mental distress and aggression, then it may be best to avoid confronting them directly and instead focus on supporting the mother once they are off the bus.

        Aside from the desire to avoid conflict, which you allude to, I suspect many people would not do anything in this situation because they (1) weren’t aware of the law and (2) defer to people in positions of authority (the bus driver), especially when they are unsure.

        In saying that, I tend to agree with Heidi. I think it’s socially desirable when people speak-up to defend other people’s rights, especially for the vulnerable. This is especially true where there is no physical risk to yourself. That’s not to say that such behaviour is typical, but simply to observe that it’s desirable. I think most of us have the maturity to grapple with differences between how we want to act, and how we do act.

        On this topic I’d recommend “The Lucifer Effect” by Philip Zimbardo. His main supposition is that our notions of relative levels of morality (people are mostly good with a few bad eggs) isn’t supported by the evidence. In contrast, the evidence suggests most people will do the wrong thing when confronted with certain environments, such as an authority figure. However, there are a few “angels” who almost always do the right thing.

        I want to finish how I started: A call for collective action is not necessarily a critique of inaction. It’s simply an observation that life would probably be better for all of us if people stood up for the rights of the vulnerable, such as women who are breastfeeding. And if lack of information on the relevant laws was preventing people from speaking up, then I hope this post goes some way to supporting more action, and less inaction.

  2. I know that some people are going to scream at me and call me names for saying this. But it has to be said.

    My wife has never gotten any hassle at all for breastfeeding on public transport in Auckland. The two differences between our case and Jamie’s case:

    1) we live in “liberal” isthmus Auckland.
    2) my wife and daughter are white.

    1. My wife has encountered the odd problem when dealing with bus drivers, particularly when with our beautiful boy in his stroller. My wife is beautiful, born in another country, and has darker skin than mine (less pale may be a better description). I am tall, mostly pakeha, and when we catch the bus together we have no problems. Anyone that thinks we live in a modern society that does not treat different shades of skin colour differently, is firstly, a nice person to believe such a thing, but I suspect also a little mistaken. Bus drivers clearly need a little more training in how to deal with mothers and babies. If this was a litigious society like the USA that bus company would be in expensive trouble. Thankfully this is not the USA, but I hope we can ensure that mothers’ rights are not forgotten.
      NB We recently returned from the East Cape and a cafe in Mount Maunganui has a corner for young kids to play with a sign saying “breast-feeding friendly area”, supported by the local DHB. We should get some similar stickers for our buses!

      1. Bus drivers need more training to deal with children as well.

        My sister and her friends, while they were at intermediate school, were refused entry on a child’s fare and had to walk 5km home because they didn’t have enough cash for an adult fare. They were too young to get a school issued ID and somehow the driver was convinced that all five were 18 year olds trying to get a child’s fare, instead of children trying to get home.

        While I was at uni, I saw school children regularly refused entry to public buses because ‘you lot should be catching a school bus, not inconveniencing real users’ (that quote is almost verbatim, but I don’t remember the exact phrasing, just the words).

        As a teenager I once had to argue with a bus driver to convince him that on a bus yes, a child can be supervised by an older sibling instead of a parent; and that yes, child fares do include bags; and that yes, passengers are allowed on if they have gotten damp walking to the bus.

        Generally bus drivers need to be reminded that children and teenagers are passengers with exactly the same rights as other users.

    2. Yes, that crossed my mind. In this case, I wanted to focus on the breastfeeding issue, as it is easy to isolate and address. That is, women have the right to breastfeed. Full-stop.

      I completely agree, however, that socioeconomic status (SES) and in particular ethnicity may also have been a contributing factor. More generally, I suspect that SES has an enormous influence on how people experience public transport in particular and Auckland in general.

      On that topic, you may have been following Jarrett Walker’s recent discussions with Elon Musk on the topic of “elite projection”? If not then you may be interested in this post by Jarrett: http://humantransit.org/2017/07/the-dangers-of-elite-projection.html

      I actually have a post on the issue of elite projection scheduled for later this month, and look forward to hearing people’s perspectives on this important issue too!

    3. Without doubt, you are correct. I’m a white woman on the North Shore, and I had twins, who I would breastfeed one after another when we were out (wasn’t so keen on the ‘naked from the waist up’ tandem feeding when in public). So, I’d often have a boob out for 30 minutes at a time. I never even had a sideways glance from anybody.

      Also, the woman in question is young, and I’ve heard from so many friends that being a young mother meant being subjected to all sorts of criticism that I (nearly 38 when I had my twins) never heard.

    1. Clicking anywhere on the GA Blog denotes acceptance of the EULA. Congratulations, you have signed up to receive daily emails of John Farnham’s back catalogue until the day you die. Enjoy.

      1. What, starting with ‘Sadie the Cleaning Lady’ and getting even worse from there? Daily doses of execrable Australian easy listening surely breaches section 9 of the bill of rights.
        “Everyone has the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, degrading, or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment.”
        In the words of Little Johnny Farnham himself all I can say is Oh-wo-wo-wo, oh-wo-wo-wo

        1. just like children, John Farnham only gets better with time.

          And, for the record, It’s in your interests that we take such dramatic steps. I’d suggest reading “1984” or it’s sister book “A handmaid’s tale” to get a flavour for how autocratic, despotic regimes can foster joy and happiness.

          Praise be.

          1. I saw Johnny live in the early 2000’s – Wow! I wasn’t expecting him to be so good!

            Mind you he mostly sang LRB and the popular singles.

            Mmmm – Can still remember during “playing to win” the lights flashing to full power feeling like an oven opening into my face, even though the stage was 30-50m away and the rain was pouring down…

          1. Yes, the Laughing Gnome wasn’t anything like as good as The Little Blue Man, but from the same sort of genre. 🙂

  3. I agree with Jezza that AT might have ignored this had the media not been involved.

    My 12-year-old nephew [incidentally, his appearance is rather Polynesian] had to walk home from Britomart last summer after his HOP card stopped working. He was separated from his brother who had gone through the ticket machine first.

    The staff at Britomart replaced the card and transferred his money to the new card, but then told him it would take up to 72 hours before the money was available. And didn’t check that he could get home. In fact, he didn’t know the way home, but knew the way to his church, and knew the way from there home. He arrived home a couple of hours later, burnt in the hot summer sun.

    The important thing here is that AT did nothing when I reported it – no response, no apology, no retraining of staff. Presumably because I didn’t go to the media.

    1. Hey Heidi,

      Yes I suspect the same bunch of nothing would have happened here as well.

      In this case, our media institutions (stuff.co.nz and newsroom.co.nz) performed their role somewhat admirably, provided the motivation for AT ad NZ Bus to engage with the issue, and ultimately laid the foundation for this post and increased social awareness.

      I think this is an example of why civil society, such as GA, is so important: We may not always get it right, but that is not our main contribution. Instead, our main function is to be an independent voice for better urban outcomes in Auckland. And that means calling out inadequacies that may be inconvenient and/or embarrassing for the organisations involved. That said, I believe it’s in the latter’s long-term interests to be held to account by civil society.

      With regards to your friend’s son, that sounds like an extremely unfortunate and avoidable incident. If the people involved felt comfortable writing up a short summary of the situation and sending it through to us here, then we would be happy to publish it on the Blog. You can find contact details under “Who we are” at the top of the page.

        1. Fair enough. We’re always soliciting diverse guest contributions, so if you feel like you have enough material for a follow-up then do let us know!

  4. I have just written to AT saying I was heartened by the apology, and asked if they could :

    1/ Publicise women’s right to breastfeed on public transport.
    2/ Offer Jamie Deane free travel for a year.

    If they don’t, I’ll be offering her a HOP card with enough value for a year’s travel. And publicising it. 🙂

    1. Great idea! Coincidentally I had actually written exactly the same thing (free HOP travel for a year) into the post, but deleted it to get the length down.

  5. Completely agree that women should have the right to breastfeed anywhere practical, and I just can’t understand why anyone would care. But is there a potential safety issue in this case? If the bus crashed, could the baby go flying? I assume a woman does not have the right to breastfeed in a moving car for example?

    1. ” If the bus crashed, could the baby go flying?”

      A baby on a bus is probably being carried by a parent. What difference does it make if the baby is also being breastfed?

      1. Well I’m definitely no expert. All I’m saying is that safety *could* be a possible reason to not allow it, I really can’t see any other reason…

    2. I’m also not a legal expert, but I expect that exercising one’s right to breastfeed does not obviate the need to comply with other applicable legislation, for somewhat obvious/intuitive reasons!

      In the case of registered urban passenger transport vehicles, there is no legal requirement for passengers to be restrained. In the case of private vehicles, however, one must be restrained appropriately. So I don’t really think there is much of an issue here.

      The more interesting question, which you allude to, is what would happen in the instance that a private company prohibited women from breastfeeding? Is that an issue or not?

    3. You can’t breastfeed in a moving car unless you figure out a way for both mother and child to be properly and legally restrained. Not possible, as far as my experiments went. I wonder how much research money has gone into different types of restraint.

      A baby in a bus does seem vulnerable in general, but no more so due to breastfeeding. Perhaps – in the same way that drunks are able to survive unlikely crashes because their bodies are relaxed – a breastfeeding baby is far more able to survive a knock than a distressed crying baby would? I wonder if anyone has studied the statistics around the safety of an unrestrained baby in a bus vs a restrained baby in a car.

      AT should advertise the ability to breastfeed on public transport as another benefit over car driving. So as the current crop of young people taking PT so they can use their phones become parents, they don’t need to swap to using a motorised four-wheeled pushchair…

      1. It’s the size of the bus that makes them safer. They are much less likely to be involved in a catastrophic accident, such as sudden stop, roll over or disintegration than a car.

        While the outcome of this happening in a bus wouldn’t be good, it’s probably about as likely as someone loosing control of the buggy while walking downhill.

        1. For various reasons bus crashes are especially uncommon. From the NZTA database, of the 12,784 people injured in road accidents in 2016, only 35 were passengers in a bus (most of them minor injuries). Three of those were fatalities, the remainder minor injuries. There were no serious injuries.

          That’s all the country, which makes me think the bus deaths were in an intercity coach (I think I remember something in the papers), with the 32 minor injuries being on local buses.

          1. When I first started commuting to work with kids (in fact before just after my eldest was born). I did some research into safe ways to travel with kids on a bus. I was quite worried about it given there are no restraints and I was on an express bus which (nominally if you don’t take into account rush hour traffic!) can go high speeds. I actually wrote to a number of organisations to ask for advice etc (as there is little I could find on the subject in my then searches). One I wrote to included NZTA. I was told that buses were so much safer (less accidents than cars) that I was basically being concerned over something that would not happen. My main question was are they safer restrained in a pram or being held – I don’t think I ever found a clear cut answer and one would assume it would depend on the situation.

      1. Hi Stu, Acutallly I don’t know if there was. I happen to know the person in the blog but not if there was apologies etc, I do recall nothing that was really meaningful. I know not long after the person left their job and stopped the commute but there were other factors that influenced that, though one speculates this sort of treatment simply does not help.

      2. Ahhh I found the follow-up blog with the outcome – like I said a while ago now.
        Link is here:
        http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/blogs/pg-parental-guidance-advised/3519719/Bits-and-pieces
        Relevant quoted bit here:
        “I’d given notice a few days before the train incident. A big part of that was the sheer difficulty of the commute; I hadn’t expected it to be quite so problematic. The outcome of the train incident was… well, nothing. I received a very bored-sounding phone call from Veolia. She didn’t even apologise, merely asked for my postal address so they could send a (presumably form-letter) written apology. That was three weeks ago, and I still haven’t received anything. I’m about to escalate it. “

  6. Would this have happened on a driverless train? Nope. More driverless trains please.
    Oops. Forgot about the Transport Officers.

    1. Except that with random abuse and lack of support from the public, breastfeeding mums should be able to look to any train personnel for the support they need.

      1. Which means they would be clean out of luck on an AT train as the Train Manager would likely be standing near the doors of one of the non-low floor units so would be oblivious to what is going on.

  7. Personally I couldn’t care less, but I also don’t think it should be done in public, never mind on public transport because it is just bad manners and inconsiderate. Just like men constantly scratching their privates all the time. On one hand I won’t defend it, but better that than to have a wailing infant the whole trip.

    I find it hilarious that people who are offended over this get told to shut up and look the other way, but if someone with the right to free speech says something harmless but mildly offensive everyone is up in arms on twitter and the person loses their job and their life is ruined by death threats when everyone could just shut up and look the other way.

    People really are just a bunch of hypocrites.

    1. While offence is a very individual thing (there are very few things that offend me) I think you seriously need to get over it if you find a baby breast feeding offensive, it is no different to someone eating a sandwich in a public park. I can’t fathom what you would find offensive about breast feeding.

      I agree there is a lot of hypocrisy among the terminally offended, especially on twitter, however this has nothing to do with breast feeding, and one of the reasons I avoid twitter in general.

      1. +1, no need to reduce young parents to social outcasts. What if a baby cries on the bus / in a restaurant / just about anywhere in public. It’s totally unnecessary to pile this on. Infants will get very upset (some of them quite quickly) if they’re not fed on demand.

        No shortage of perpetually offended people of course. This is the same country where the media went ballistic for weeks because ZOMG there’s an advert with a rugby player feeding his baby with a bottle.

    2. Do you think infants will wail more or less if they are not fed on-time?

      And by the way, can you not understand that we’d all benefit from growing up in a society where breastfeeding was supported?

      I don’t agree it’s bad manners, but even if it was wouldn’t it be wise to change such definitions when presented with medical evidence that they are causing harm?

    3. Eating and drinking in public is so offensive, isn’t it? Bad manners and inconsiderate.

      The hypocrisy is in people being blaze about images of breasts and cleavages being used to sell almost every product under the sun, but getting offended by a real breast being put to its original use.

      Those who are disgusted by breastfeeding probably need some shock treatment, so here goes, Ari: Ask to see why some women use cabbage leaves after birth. Try some breastmilk yoghurt. And some personal information that you wish you’d never known: I breastfed for 13.5 years, including two children who were not my own.

      You’re welcome.

      But finally, if you want to know one of the reasons there is such a variety in breastfeeding success rates between different countries, it’s because women learn how to do it by watching in public, from girlhood through to motherhood. Those in cultures where breastfeeding happens in public, have good breastfeeding rates. Those in cultures where it’s “offensive” have all sorts of problems learning how to do it. For many, the failures and difficulties involve incredible (and avoidable) pain, heartbreak and feelings of inadequacy.

      I breastfed indiscreetly, as frequently as the children needed, happily, and arrogantly. I never covered up and I gave psychological advice to every f**kwit who tried to stop me. And I urge every mother to do the same. Because you’re helping to educate tomorrow’s mothers to do what is a basic human right.

      1. We need a thumbs up button!

        RE: Offense at a breast being used per the design – That’s something that’s long grated on me. The fetishisation and sexualisation of certain parts of the human body has resulted in an unhealthy attitude being instilled in some people. For people to be offended by a breast being used for feeding is a symptom of oppression of thought, be it through moral viewpoints on modesty, or cultural viewpoints that are based upon (pardon the pun) titillation and sexualisation.

        Breast feeding shouldn’t be an issue, the ‘Glittery march for consent’ shouldn’t be needed either (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11971921) – It’s a sad indictment that this isn’t the case.

        I’m not just sitting behind my keyboard feeling self-righteous and smug. Some may recall that I’ve been in IT and am an embedded design engineer. What most won’t know is that for the last two decades I’ve also been an artist and photographer. I don’t care if the photo shows nudity or implied nudity, but I refuse to explore photographic projects that sexualise the subject, regardless of gender (cis/trans/etc). We all have a part to play in molding the world around us, to be the world that we want.

      2. +1000. My wife was indiscreet like you, but I think many other women understandably aren’t as comfortable. I think it tracks back our odd societal norm (not law) that a topless woman is nude, while a topless man is just going for a swim or trying to get a tan. Not sure how we change it though.

    4. I find adults who chew with their mouths open repulsive to look at. It’s definitely bad mannered and inconsiderate. Can they all stop as well, if eating in public is something you think should be prevented, based on what you taken offence at?

      To equate a baby being fed with a man scratching their genitalia is really an odd comparison to draw.

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