A judge's decision to banish a breastfeeding mum from a Victorian court on Thursday has been slammed by breastfeeding advocates who say it's "upsetting and hurtful" that society still condemns nursing mothers.
Janelle Maree, a director at Breastfeeding Advocacy Australia, told Yahoo News Australia the situation was a clear breach of Australian laws that protect women and babies, and said it's "insulting" to many women.
The breastfeeding woman, who wished not to be named told the Herald Sun she was "shocked" when Judge Mark Gamble interrupted the high-profile trial at the Victorian County Court to say she wasn't allowed to feed her baby in court.
"Madam, you will not be permitted to breastfeed a baby in court," he told her during Thursday's trial, claiming it would be a "distraction" for the jury.
The mother, who is reportedly the wife of a prominent Melbourne rabbi, claimed she was "fully covered up" as she sat in the corner of the courtroom with a blanket over her child. She asked a court security guard if she could bring her baby into the courtroom and she had also checked for any signs warning against breastfeeding.
The woman told the Herald Sun she was "made to walk past everyone" after being told to leave. "As soon as I was out of the courtroom I started crying. I was shocked. I felt degraded," she added. There are now calls for the judge to apologise amid the backlash.
Society 'doesn't understand breastfeeding'
Ms Maree said the situation is frustrating because we're still "living in a society that is not understanding of breastfeeding". She said we've been "battling for decades for women and their biological roles to be incorporated into society".
"Here we have a person in a position of authority who appears to be unaware of the Sexual Discrimination Act of 1984 which allows an infant to be breastfed in public anywhere that a child or infant is allowed to be so that’s been ignored," she told Yahoo News. "The rights of the child are very rarely heard in our society, and we must respect the best interests of that child for its survival, health and maximum development."
The situation received mixed responses on social media with some suggesting the mother could have expressed her milk and bottle fed instead — or simply left the court to feed. But Ms Maree said that shows "a lack of understanding of the relationship that is between a mother and a breastfeeding infant". "Why should they have to be accommodative of expectations when the expectations are unreasonable?" she said.
Others condemned the judge for his "dreadful" remarks, with one saying breastfeeding is "natural and beautiful".
What is the mother thinking? Its court a serious matter and you don't go breastfeeding a baby in court. I've never heard of something so silly. How hard is it to excuse yourself into the next room?
— luke penny (@lukepenny19) March 9, 2023
Never seen a mum flash a millimeter of skin latching on a kid, this is natural and beautiful and needs to be encouraged. Dreadful!!
— MechPat (@mechpat62) March 9, 2023
Breastfeeding will ‘distract’ the jury?
Seriously, judge, crawl back under the rock you came from
— Callum #Whatever (@Bombers83) March 9, 2023
Melbourne obstetrician Nisha Khot agreed the incident was appalling.
"We’ve tried so hard to get past so many barriers for women who want to breastfeed and to have this happen in a court of law is just not acceptable at all," she told AAP. "Babies have been breastfed in the parliament of this country and in other parliaments."
Australian law change to permit breastfeeding in parliament
Twenty years ago, in 2003, Victorian MP Kirstie Marshall was asked to leave the parliament floor when she began breastfeeding her 11-day-old baby. At the time Ms Marshall said because her baby daughter had not been elected into parliament she was considered a "stranger" and a law stated, "you can't have a stranger in the house".
In 2016, the rule prohibiting children in the federal parliament changed and breastfeeding mothers were able to bring their children into the chamber as part of new rules for a "family-friendly" parliament, the ABC reported. Greens Senator Larissa Waters subsequently made international headlines when she became the first mother to breastfeed on the floor of Australia's federal parliament in 2017.
But in light of Thursday's incident, Ms Marshall said it would seem "we haven’t moved an inch" since 2003 and has called Judge Gamble’s decision "both extraordinary and very disappointing", according to the Herald Sun.
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