Mum wins change in leisure centre breastfeeding policy
THORNBURY Leisure Centre’s policy on breastfeeding has been changed after a nursing mum’s challenge.
Nursing mothers will now be allowed to breastfeed wherever they feel most comfortable, including at the poolside, and will also be provided with a room to give them privacy should they want it.
Alvis West took action after being told to stop breastfeeding at a pool run by Active Lifestyle Centres, which runs Thornbury Leisure Centre at Alveston Hill.
She was at the operator’s Kingswood centre in April when her baby Rory needed a feed.
Alvis sat on the step of the baby pool and started to breastfeed Rory, who was seven months old at the time. But she was shocked when a lifeguard approached her and told her to stop.
Alvis, above with Rory and her other son Leo, aged eight, said: “I was sat on the step of the pool and wasn't fully immersed in the water so I didn't think twice about feeding him.
“A young lifeguard came up to me and was so abrupt and rude. She said I couldn't breastfeed because it was against company policy and told me I needed to get out.”
Embarrassed, Alvis left the pool but was surprised not to see any signs advising of the policy, although another member of staff confirmed it.
Alvis, who lives with partner Daniel Gould and their children in Downend, said: “I was told you could breastfeed outside the pool but couldn't while you were in the water because of hygiene concerns. I'm sure there are far worse bodily fluids that pass through the pool than a bit of my breast milk, which is a sterile liquid anyway, or a bit of spit up from a baby. I didn't think it was much of an argument.
“It was also brought up about babies swallowing chlorinated water but I'm pretty sure, as a responsible adult, I'm going to make sure my new born baby isn't ingesting the water.”
After going round in circles, Alvis asked if manager Martyn Hinam could call her about the issue.
She said: “He called me the next day and said he didn't know why the policy was in place but he would look into it and get back to me.”
True to his word, Martyn spoke to his managers and discovered the issue had never come up before. He then went on to speak to Bristol Breastfeeding Mummies, a 5,700 member strong Facebook group, as well as Barnardo's and a breast feeding support charity.
Martyn came back to Alvis and told her that, based on his research, he saw no reason why she couldn't breastfeed at the pool and therefore the company were going to change the policy in all of its centres in South Gloucestershire – Longwell Green, Yate, Thornbury and Bradley Stoke.
He also told Alvis he would provide a private room for mums who want complete privacy.
Avis, a national account manager, said: “I was really pleased with the outcome. Breastfeeding rates have really dropped in this country so anything we can do to help mums stay on that journey should be welcomed. It also shows other companies what can be done and how easy it is to make that change.
“To be able to breastfeed wherever you are in the centre is brilliant – common sense has prevailed.”
Martyn, above, said: “We are delighted we have been able to work proactively with Alvis and draw on her experience to give us a better insight into a very important, and potentially sensitive, area of customer service.
“As well as speaking with Alvis, we talked to a number of other mums to help us review what we are doing at the centres and where we could make positive changes. We also consulted with the charity Barnardo's who work with South Gloucestershire Council to run breastfeeding support groups. As a result, mums can now breastfeed anywhere in our centres where they feel most comfortable, including the swimming pools.
“Breast feeding posters have also been updated across all Active Centres and each centre now has its own dedicated private breastfeeding area.
“Dealing with breastfeeding customers has now also been included in staff training and awareness sessions.”