Ottawa advocacy group BOOB working to empower women

Young Mother Breastfeeding A Baby In Nature

If you or your partner has breastfed in public, it’s likely you have encountered everything from supportive to disgusted comments.

Despite implicit protection from the Canadian Charter of Human Rights, breastfeeding in public makes some people uncomfortable.

Breasts Out for Ontario Babies, an Ottawa-based advocacy group, wants to see that attitude change. Their mission is to “bring normalcy back to breastfeeding while making mothers aware that is their right to breastfeed anytime, anywhere.”

BOOB’s founder, Shawna Rioux, was inspired to start the group by a Facebook conversation.

One day she and several other mothers started talking about breastfeeding in public. Rioux, who was breastfeeding her second child at the time, was surprised to learn several women were uncomfortable breastfeeding in public. They told her they were hiding in their cars or avoiding going out altogether, rather than risk being looked down on for breastfeeding in public.

It was obvious to Rioux that something needed to be done, and she and the other women spearheaded a plan to get together for a picnic at Major’s Hill Park, babies in tow, and publicly breastfeed. Rioux figured, “if you breastfeed in public once, it won’t seem so hard the next time.”

So the Public Breastfeeding Celebration, now in its fourth year, was born, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

The event has grown in popularity from 50 moms to 270. The City of Ottawa even lent support last year: when rain threatened the event’s cancellation, they donated a room in City Hall to house the group.

And this year’s event, which takes place July 9, promises to bring even more participants.

BOOB has organized a vendor’s market, showcasing local companies selling baby wraps, teething necklaces, and other products. A “diaper crawl” will take place, with babies competing for a prize.

Dads will get a chance to get in on the fun too, by seeing who can change a diaper first. Rioux stressed the importance of encouraging the whole family to support breastfeeding. “It’s really important for them to come and see there’s lots of moms [breastfeeding].”

And of course, there will be plenty of mothers feeding their babies.

BOOB has nearly 1,000 members on Facebook, and has attracted several sponsorships from businesses interested in offering financial support and merchandise for the swag bags given out at events. This year, BOOB is expanding to include a Toronto event.

“We’re expecting modest success, like Ottawa in the first year,” says Rioux, “but we expect it to grow.

And BOOB won’t stop there. In response to all the positive feedback, Rioux is looking for more opportunities to grow.

“I would like to see it go across Canada. Next year we might try Montreal.”

She also has plans to expand BOOB’s website and create a marketing campaign to educate the public about breastfeeding rights.

And the first annual Roger Nixon Wrap and Roll, a walkathon with strollers and baby wraps, will take place Sept. 17.

“We’re having so much success — let’s give back,” says Rioux.

The event will support the Ontario Milk Bank, located at Mount Sinai Hospital, which provides pasteurized donated breast milk by prescription to babies in neonatal intensive care units across Ontario.

BOOB is steadily building public support for women who breastfeed in public. They even print cards that read “Thank you for breastfeeding in public,” which are handed from one mom to another.

She also talked about a future plan to provide education about breastfeeding rights to local businesses and provide a sticker and endorsement to businesses willing to be known as breastfeeding-friendly. “We would like to see a baby-friendly restaurant app.”

These are small ripples, but the resulting wave could see a greater acceptance of breastfeeding across Canada. Empowering women, says Rioux, is the real success.

To keep abreast of BOOB’s activities, or to sign up for an event, find them on Facebook or visit their website at