A mother is celebrating after an argument over breastfeeding led to new rules at half a dozen swimming pools.
Alvis West, 35, was shocked when she was told to stop breastfeeding in the kids’ pool at Kingswood Active Lifestyle Centre, Soundwell, two months ago.
“I’m quite a confident lady but it really embarrassed me as there were other people in the pool,” said Miss West.
But the Downend resident’s disappointment recently turned to jubilation when she discovered that her complaint prompted an overhaul of breastfeeding policies in leisure centres run by the Circadian Trust.
Miss West has singled out Kingswood Leisure Centre manager Martyn Hinam for particular praise, saying he went “above and beyond” in his attempt to understand her frustration.
Mr Hinam sought advice from a number of sources – including children’s charity Barnardo’s – before recommending that his leisure centre should drop its rule that mothers can only breastfeed out of the water.
News of the rule-change stirred great delight in Miss West, who vividly remembers the annoyance she felt upon being rebuked in April.
Miss West had just begun feeding her then-seven-month-old son Rory when she was approached by a lifeguard in “quite a rude manner”.
“I said, ‘I think I’m allowed to breastfeed wherever I want to’ – and she said, ‘No, it’s against company policy’,” said Miss West.
“When I’ve been out and about in restaurants or anywhere I’ve never come across anyone being funny about me breastfeeding so it took me by surprise,” she said.
The reason provided for the policy, according to Miss West, was that breastfeeding in the pool would be unhygienic – a theory that Miss West disputes.
After that initial exchange of views, Miss West spoke to another member of staff at the pool, before being contacted by Mr Hinam later that day.
“Martyn said the policy in place has been there for a while and said, ‘I don’t know why it is, but I’m going to find out for you’,” recalled Miss West.
During Mr Hinam’s investigation, he was willing to hear the views put forward by members of a Facebook group called ‘Bristol Breastfeeding Mummies’.
Miss West said: “I just feel really happy that he listened and really did take on board all of the comments and the company he works for should be really proud of him.”
Mr Hinam 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.
“Some mums are happy to breastfeed in public, [whereas] some would like more privacy.
“What we want to ensure is that all our customers enjoy the experience of coming to an Active Lifestyle Centre as part of a healthy active lifestyle, whatever their circumstances.”
The other facilities which have introduced the new breastfeeding policy are in Bradley Stoke, Downend, Longwell Green, Thornbury and Yate.