BACE's Survey of Breastfeeding Policies at Swimming Pools

updated 2003 September 03


2002 July 07, from Barb Strange of BACE.

On this, the eve of the celebration of the Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton's (BACE's) "pool victories," I thought I would compile all of the 16 replies I received last summer from various municipal swimming pools across Canada in response to my question asking them if they had any policies in regards to breastfeeding at or in their pools. The survey covers most major cities in Canada, with two notable exceptions, Vancouver and Toronto, and a number of smaller cities in Alberta. These are the results.

The representatives from no fewer than four cities (Kelowna, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and Red Deer) suggested that women should be breastfeeding discreetly at their pools, and in two cities (Kelowna and London), the representatives pointed out that women do indeed breastfeed discreetly anyway. In Red Deer, women are actively "encouraged" to use the change rooms for breastfeeding. In Calgary, patrons are "invited" to use family change rooms and quiet areas for breastfeeding, and they may also use deck-side chairs "if necessary." In Markham, they are worried about experiencing "severe customer service issues" with women breastfeeding. However, the award for Best Remark goes to Saskatoon, where they are grateful that so far they "have not had a problem with anyone abusing this privilege."

In three cities (Calgary, Kelowna and Markham), breastfeeding is not allowed in the pool, and in a fourth (Regina), it is "communicated" to the mother that it is not a good idea for her to breastfeed in the pool. Representatives in Markham and Regina cited their reasons for this rule: they were worried that the breastfed child might "foul" the pool by spitting up, and in Regina, they also thought that babies tended to have bowel movements during feedings and so might foul the pool in yet another way. In Ottawa it was recognized that breastfeeding "around City pools," whatever that might mean, poses no health risk to mother, baby, or others.

It seems that only in Edmonton do we (now) have a fairly clear statement that breastfeeding in swimming pools poses no health risk to the infant or to other swimmers, and that breastfeeding women should not be approached in the event that other patrons complain. The Markham policy also implies that breastfeeding women will be left out of any discussion arising from a patron offended by breastfeeding, but they are quite concerned that some lifeguards may become so discombobulated by the sight of a woman breastfeeding that they may be relieved from their duties until they can compose themselves.

The relevant text of the individual replies follows. Note that there may be other, informal policies and practices in existence at these pools that we don't know about, since I asked a fairly open-ended question and only got the information these representatives decided to volunteer.

[Note from TERA: a few additions in the survey come not from municipal pools but from "Y" pools (YMCA/YWCA) and are so marked. One municipality has two of its pools run by its Y.]


Edmonton AB (September 2001)

The current research on RWI's (recreational water illnesses) indicates no specific reference to health problems for children who are breastfeeding while parents are partially immersed in pool water . . . Capital Health (Community Care and Public Health, Environmental Health Section) . . . indicated there is no research to support the speculation that breast milk provides any greater risk of polluting the water than any other body fluids (e. g. sweat) and that standard levels of chlorine will provide adequate sanitation. In light of the foregoing, our new standard of practice will leave it up to individuals to determine what is safe and comfortable for them and their children . . .

From this point, we will inform any patrons who complain that breast feeding is an acceptable practice in facilities and does not contravene any legislation. Our staff, as well, will inform patrons in appropriate cases, that there is no strong evidence of any health risk, to infants or to other users of the facility, through people breastfeeding in the water . . .

The new policy provides for discussion with the person complaining, not the breastfeeding woman. We will also be directing staff to ensure this is dealt with from a customer service viewpoint, by being sensitive to the issue from both the mother's and other patron's perspective at all times.


Barrie ON (August 2002) from a Y (not municipal) pool

Breastfeeding has never been a concern within the Barrie YMCA. Moms are welcome to breastfeed.


Calgary AB (July 2001)

Our breastfeeding policy in the Aquatics Division is there is no breastfeeding around or in the immediate Pool area. Most of our facilities have family change rooms and quiet areas we would invite our patrons to use. There are also deck-side chairs that can be used around the pool deck if necessary.


Charlottetown PE (July 2002)

At the present time there are no policies in place re breastfeeding. It has honestly never been an issue as far as I am aware. We would have our lifeguards address the situation usually only if there was a complaint and either offer a more private area or ask for the individual to use a cover-up/more discreet approach.


Chilliwack BC (August 2002)

We do not have a policy specific to breastfeeding. There have been many women who have breastfed their children on the pool deck. The Chilliwack Family YMCA tries to accommodate people of all ages.

[Note from TERA: The pool answering the survey question and the one mentioned are both run by the YMCA for the municipality.]


Fort McMurray AB (August 2002)

I can tell you that there is no official policy or statement for the staff or public regarding this. I discussed your inquiry with the acting pool supervisor, and we agreed that there does not appear to be a requirement for a formal policy regarding breastfeeding.

As far as we are aware the matter has never been a concern in the pool, and as long as mothers handle the breastfeeding in a similar manner as they would elsewhere in public, by putting a towel or burping cloth over their shoulder and the baby, it should not be a concern.


Grande Prairie AB (July 2002)

We maintain a family facility and ask that discretion be used by covering up with a blanket so all patrons are comfortable while using our facility.

[Note from TERA: The above is this survey's clearest expression of the problem. Why is "family" a euphemism for "with children"? How will children will be damaged by the sight of breastfeeding? If adults are uncomfortable with a woman breastfeeding, why do they transfer that response to children? Why should their learned discomfort enable them to take away the right of a woman to breastfeed? Or to make her and her breastfeeding child's experience unpleasant, difficult, and demeaning? Why does "so all patrons are comfortable" specifically exclude the breastfeeding mother and child?]


Halifax NS (July 2001)

I'm afraid we do not. If you do receive information, I would be interested in having it.


Hamilton ON (June 2001)

Breastfeeding in Recreational Facilities

The Social and Public Health Services Department of the City of Hamilton recognizes that breast milk is the optimal food for healthy growth and development of infants. The Culture and Recreation Division supports this principle and wishes to provide a safe, healthy, and supportive environment for breastfeeding of the infants in our recreation facilities. The goal of the Division is to provide a comfortable and enjoyable environment in which all members of the community may participate in the recreational and educational programs provided in our facilities.

[Note from TERA: The above notwithstanding, Hamilton has been known to expel mothers breastfeeding by or in pools, and has been sued successfully by one mother so expelled. Although the loss in the civil suit is supposed to have changed Hamilton's official position, the vague words above mask a patronizing and unfriendly attitude towards breasfeeding mothers.]


Kelowna BC (June 2001)

In response to your question about a policy regarding breastfeeding at City pools or beaches, the only one we have is an unwritten one. For the pools, it is to be done discreetly and only on the pool deck, not in the pool. Other than that, it doesn't seem to have really been an issue in the community. Most mothers would be doing the breastfeeding as discreetly as possible anyway, so it hasn't been an issue.


Lethbridge AB (July 2001)

. . . as a corporation we don't have a policy or bylaw restricting breastfeeding at our pools. So long as the person is doing it discreetly, then we don't have any objection to such natural act.


London ON (July 2001)

I am afraid we have no etched in stone policy. However, our facilities are very much family facilities and we support children and Moms to participate. We do allow breastfeeding at our facilities. We acknowledge that some individuals are not as comfortable with this, but we find most Moms are discreet.


Markham ON (July 2001)


Women will be permitted to breastfeed children on the pool deck away from the water's edge.


To assist staff in dealing with customer complaints that may result from a woman breastfeeding on the pool deck.


If a woman is breastfeeding on the deck away from the water's edge, we are not to take any action.

If a woman is breastfeeding on the pool side or in the water, we are to ask that they move to the deck area to prevent the possibility of a fouling if the infant were to spit up.

If a staff member receives a complaint about a woman breastfeeding on the deck, staff should inform the patron complaining that it is the woman's right to breastfeed in public. If the patron remains dissatisfied, they can be given the phone number of the Pool Supervisor or Aquatic Co-ordinator.

If a staff member is uncomfortable guarding when there is a woman breastfeeding on the deck, the Shift Supervisor will accommodate them by rotating guards or replacing the original staff member with another lifeguard until they are comfortable to return to the deck.


There have been other municipalities who have experienced severe customer service issues when staff did not understand breastfeeding policies.


Medicine Hat AB (July 2001)

We have no formal policy. In terms of informal, it is not an issue. However, we would ask mother to be discreet if necessary.


Moncton NB (July 2001)

Although there does not exist a policy per se, our on-site staff at all recreation facilities are encouraged to not discriminate against anyone in terms of their personal behaviour as long as it is in keeping with the facility rules and not offensive to the rest of the public utilizing the facility. We have not to my knowledge ever had anyone complain that they were offended that a person was breastfeeding at a recreation facility. Our staff are instructed to deal with issues re patron behaviour on an individual common-sense basis. We certainly have no rules that prohibit an individual from breastfeeding. Should someone be offended by it, they would report to our staff and we would deal with the issue on an individual basis.


Montreal QC (July 2001)

There are no rules for breastfeeding at swimming pools at the city of Montréal, because we never had a problem with this. In many pools, we have a family checkroom.


Montreal QC (August 2002) from a Y (not municipal) pool

We do not have anything in writing. But our informal policy is that mothers can breastfeed anywhere in the YMCA that they themselves feel comfortable to do so.


Montreal QC (August 2002) from another Y (not municipal) pool

We don't have an official policy. We do, however, have a procedure in place whereby a mother needing some privacy can access our babysitting room if and when the [baby] would like to breastfeed. However, some parents will use an area in the centre that is discreet and allows them some privacy.


Ottawa ON (July 2001)

We do not have a policy on this issue but staff do recognize that there is no problem with breastfeeding an infant around City pools, as it poses no health risk to mother, infant, or others.


Red Deer AB (July 2001)

The City has no formal policy on this subject. However, the lifeguards are directed to request that mothers be very discreet, or preferably go to the change room; at the new Collicutt Centre, the mothers are encouraged to go to the family change rooms for that purpose.


Regina SK (June 2001)

Although we do not have a written official policy in regards to breastfeeding at the City of Regina pools . . . the general guidelines we have followed in the past are:

We have said that there is no problem breastfeeding anywhere in the building . . . we do, however, have concerns with any feeding occurring in the pool water.

We try to communicate the following concerns we have with breastfeeding or any type of feeding in the pool water:

1. A baby has a tendency to have a bowel movement during feeding. This could create a fouled pool situation requiring us to close the pool until the problem can be remedied.

2. A baby also tends to spit up during feeding. This also can create a fouled pool.

3. A baby feeding in the water may ingest the pool water, and too much pool water is simply not in the baby's best interest . . .

Participation in leisure activities is positively related to family satisfaction, interaction, and stability (Orthner & Mancini, 1990).


Saskatoon SK (July 2001)

In following up your question about whether or not the City of Saskatoon's civic facilities have a policy or statement for the staff or the public regarding breastfeeding at the swimming pools -- we do not have a formal statement or a policy statement.

We do, however, at our indoor facilities, have signs (door stickers) that are posted to say that the facility is a breastfeeding friendly facility, and it is therefore permitted in the facilities.

I believe the stickers were obtained from either the public health office or the human rights office and are just posted on the entrance doors of the facility.

To date, we have not had a problem with anyone abusing this privilege.


Sudbury ON (September 2002)

Presently the City of Greater Sudbury does not have a formal written policy concerning breastfeeding in our swimming pools. The reason is that, to my knowledge, it has not been aN issue or concern, and if it's a concern, it has not been brought to our attention. Do you have a concern?

The aquatics unit does have a bare breast policy, but that's for swimming in the pool, or walking in the facility.


Sudbury ON (August 2002) from a Y (not municipal) pool

In the past we haven't had a policy regarding breastfeeding. Mothers who want to breastfeed are welcome to in any parts of our building, including the pool. Breastfeeding is a healthy choice for babies and we wouldn't want to discourage this. If a woman breastfeeding was making someone uncomfortable, e. g. a mom came in with teen boys and the mom breastfeeding was very exposed, we would respond in one of two ways: ask the teen boys or uncomfortable person to swim in the farthest pool, or ask the mom if she wouldn't mind placing a towel over her shoulder.

It could be a very touchy situation depending on who's involved. Our goal would be to meet in the middle.

If you have any suggestions as to where we should be going with this, please don't hesitate to call me or e-mail me back. I would be glad to discuss your concerns. To be honest, I haven't seen many women in my 13 years of aquatics breastfeeding in the pool area. It's probably too hot.


Thunder Bay ON (July 2001)

We do not have a policy for breastfeeding at public pools, nor do we feel we should.


Vancouver BC (August 2002)

As discussed, breastfeeding in public areas is not an issue. We regularly have members of the public who may be here with other family members or friends breastfeed in the viewing bleachers.

My main concern is balancing the pool use such that one member of the public does not adversely impact another public member's use of the facility. Breastfeeding is discouraged in the water and in the dressing rooms, as we do not allow eating or drinking in the water or in the change rooms. The primary issue is body fluids. Should a child vomit in the pool, we are required to take proper measures to ensure compliance with the health act. As a result, we may have to shut the pool down to deal with the situation.

I will forward you a copy of the Blood & Body Fluid Exposure Procedures that was developed by our Employee Health & Safety H. R. group that our staff are expected to follow if there is an exposure. Note: you can also contact the Vancouver Health Board if you want to follow up on any additional health concerns and recommended procedures.

. . . (An ancillary response, given to an inquiry from someone else but quoted in the total response:)

Breast milk is a "body fluid." Blood and body fluids may have viruses or bacteria which may cause infection. The most common exposure is hepatitis B. Other less common exposures are: hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Through our Employee Health & Safety Program the City of Vancouver has developed Blood & Body Fluid Exposure Procedures.

In Vancouver, we do not allow eating or drinking in the pool or in the change rooms. We do allow breastfeeding as long as it is not happening in the pool. Mothers are directed to use either the perimeter chairs or benches, or, if they want more privacy, to use the family change room or the nursery room area.

We are continually trying to find a balance between patron requests and public and staff safety.


Victoria BC (June 2001)

While we don't have a written policy, it has always been our policy to allow breastfeeding anywhere in our facility. We have not had a complaint or issue with this in some years, and the last issue was more of a concern voiced by our lifeguards rather than a complaint from another patron. The lifeguards were concerned that the woman in question was not paying due attention to her child, as she was breastfeeding him while sitting on the steps of our small pools, and the water was near his face.

I expressed our concern to her while stating that she was entirely welcome to breastfeed anywhere in the facility. She adjusted her position and all was well. That's been the extent of this "issue." We don't have a designated place where women can go to breastfeed in private, nor do we have such an accommodation for our staff, but we would certainly find somewhere for them if it was requested.


Victoria BC (August 2002) from a Y (not municipal) pool

As far as I know, there isn't a policy in place; however, most women who attend our facility choose to breastfeed in the changeroom instead of the pool area. They find this more comforting instead of being in view of the public eye.




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