Manager sprayed air freshener at me after I started breast-feeding in his charity shop
When her hungry baby daughter began to cry in the changing room of a charity shop, Anisa Baker thought it a perfectly secluded spot to breast-feed.
So she was astonished when the manager peered through the curtains – and then sprayed air freshener while loudly declaring: ‘Your breast milk stinks.’
Mrs Baker, 32, complained but was even more surprised when a more senior manager confirmed that breast-feeding was not allowed in the shop.
On Wednesday night, angry mothers were threatening a mass feed on the premises in protest at the ban.
The incident happened at a branch of the mental health charity Mind in East Dulwich, South-East London, where NHS worker Mrs Baker was shopping with ten-month-old Elsie and her other daughter, Rosa, three. She chose a selection of clothes and went into the changing room.
‘I closed the curtain as far as possible, and my baby immediately cried, so I sat down to feed her,’ she said. ‘This never takes more than a couple of minutes, there was another changing room available, and there was only one other customer in the shop.’
However, Mrs Baker realised that ‘a man with multiple facial piercings’ – whom she later learned was manager Steve Symonds – was watching her through the side of the curtain.
The man said loudly: ‘Changing rooms aren’t for breast-feeding.’
Despite this, she finished feeding Elsie and was browsing for shoes in the shop when Mr Symonds began spraying air freshener.
‘My baby started to cry,’ she said. ‘When another customer suggested it was from the strong smell of the spray, the manager said very loudly, “I have to spray because your breast milk stinks”.
‘Shocked and indignant, I complained, including asking why he felt it was appropriate to look into changing rooms.
‘He was insistent that he needed to look because he was the manager, and that I should not feed my baby in his store.’
Mind’s area manager, Lindsay McBryne, who was also in the shop, supported Mr Symonds and said changing rooms were ‘for trying on clothes, not for other purposes’.
Mrs Baker, of nearby Forest Hill, said: ‘I was amazingly insulted to be told my milk stinks. At this point I feel I will never buy nor donate clothing to Mind stores again. I want Mind to announce a clear policy allowing breast-feeding in changing rooms, and guaranteeing privacy behind curtains.’
She said her experience showed the importance of a campaign by the National Childbirth Trust to make it illegal to bar women from breast-feeding in shops and restaurants.
Mrs Baker wrote of her experience on internet forums for mothers, which soon caused a storm. Other mothers responded online by calling for a boycott or asking how the manager would feel about ‘20 breast-feeding mums whipping them out in his shop’.
One commented: ‘I know who I think stinks – and it certainly isn’t that poor mum!’
Other correspondents observed that charity shops themselves were renowned for having a ‘not too pleasant smell about them’.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said he had ordered an investigation into the incident and both he and Mr McBryne had written to Mrs Baker to apologise. Mr Symonds did not respond to requests for a comment.
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