Mother speaks out after garden centre breastfeeding dispute 'mishandled at every stage'

Vanstone Park Garden Centre, Codicote

Vanstone Park Garden Centre, Codicote - Credit: Google Street View

A Hitchin mum has been left feeling unwelcome, after a "misunderstanding" concerning her breastfeeding while sitting on display furniture at a Codicote garden centre.

The mum, who has asked to remain anonymous, visited Vanstone Park Garden Centre - just outside Codicote - on May 23.

She was visiting the centre with her partner, three-and-half-year-old son and six-week-old daughter.

After stopping at the garden centre's café, the mother reported that the family was making their way around the shop, when their newborn began to cry - wanting to be fed. 

The mother described how she looked around and found a display chair to sit in, in an area she said did not look busy, and proceeded to discreetly breastfeed.

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She claimed she was then approached by a male member of staff, who told her she couldn't breastfeed in the showroom as it would put customers off looking at the furniture.

Vanstone Park Garden Centre, Codicote

Vanstone Park Garden Centre, Codicote - Credit: Google Street View

He allegedly then told the mother that there was no designated place for her to feed her baby.

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Explaining that she understood that there wasn't necessarily a specific area, she added that it took three attempts to establish where she could move on to - a bench outside with a cover sheltering those perched there from the pouring rain.

"At that point, it sounded very much like you need to leave or you need to stop, and both of those things are illegal."

She then spoke to a duty manager, who she also added came across "instantly defensive".

Stating that she felt the incident was "mishandled at every stage", she added: "There was a part of me that just wanted to leave it, and then another part of me that thought that this was a bigger issue than me, it's a bigger cause.

"What they were saying, I don't have an issue with. There are some who would say that I'm allowed to breastfeed anywhere... but it's about how it's done and handled."

The mother added that ideally she didn't want to find herself feeding in a showroom and would happily have moved elsewhere, but had to cater to the needs of her newborn.

"If he was to politely approach me and even been a little apologetic, I don't think it would've been too much to ask," she said, citing that the tone and delivery of his request was where the issue lay.

"But, he just said 'you can't do that here. I don't have a problem with what you're doing but you can't do it here, it could put off other customers.'"

Her objection was not solely the way in which she was approached, it was that she was not immediately offered an alternative. 

A "stressful" situation that left her feeling "very shaken", she added that the natural anxieties of venturing out in public with a new-born were amplified by the various lockdowns of the last year.

Recounting the events after the incident arose, she said: "We just wanted to get out of there at that point!

"I just wanted to feed the baby, our son wanted to leave, and my partner just wanted to pay for the things! We spent over £120, so it's not like we weren't customers - we weren't just there for a jolly and a picnic.

"We're just a family, doing our best, not trying to cause any trouble."

Vanstone Park Garden Centre, Codicote

Vanstone Park Garden Centre, Codicote - Credit: Google Street View

She added that she felt her feedback hadn't been taken forward, and that the centre had not issued a appropriate apology.

"It's just really upsetting. I genuinely want to go back there, but I just need to know that I'll be welcome.

"It's not an overstatement to say that something like this happening in public when you're already in a vulnerable state - you know, you've got hormones raging, you've got this body that's doing all these unfamiliar things and you're caring for a newborn baby that absolutely relies on you for food and is crying - you're already in a vulnerable position and already feeling quite stressed.

"To be approached by somebody in that state, and to have the whole situation mishandled in that way, it is enough to really drive somebody into a terrible state, it really is.

"Luckily, I'm less vulnerable than that; this is my second baby, and I'm quite confident and have done quite a lot of breastfeeding in public. But it really rattled me.

"It made me feel really unwelcome, because when it's something you're doing so many times a day becomes part of your identity they're saying you can't do what you do here - you can't be who you are here and you aren't welcome as that type of person."

She added that her intentions when approaching this paper to share her experience were not to ward people off visiting the garden centre, but to highlight the importance of making new mothers and their families welcome, regardless of the establishment. 

Vanstone Park Garden Centre's director, Giles Groom, responded by saying: "Customers of the garden centre are welcome to feed their babies in the public seating areas we have available within the Orchard Café, veranda seating, covered seating area and public benches."

He added the event that ensued had been a "misunderstanding".

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