Breastfeeding in the Handicap Stall Creates a Ruckus

bathroom-stallTrying to go to the bathroom in a tiny public stall with your toddler in tow is never easy. Now throw in a baby who you’re breastfeeding, and it sounds like you’re well qualified to take some time in the larger “handicap” stall, right?

Maybe not. A mom who posed this question on an Australian parenting site got a lot more than she bargained for – more than two hundred seventy folks in a hot debate over “can she” or “can’t she.”

The worst offenders berated the mom for her discomfort with breastfeeding in public (so much for that old support network – hello, folks, she IS breastfeeding, give her a break), but the reasons folks at Essential Baby said she didn’t deserve the space in the larger stall came fast and furious.

And I confess I was confused. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act here in America requires private companies – restaurants and retail outlets among them – to provide a larger stall with a door that can be navigated by a wheelchair, plus grab bars, the law does not delineate that such spaces only be used by those with a handicap.

What’s more, the ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who: “Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” It may sound callous to call motherhood an impairment – and I would normally bristle at the comparison  myself.  But in the case of one woman and a toddler or one woman, a toddler and a baby, the extremely limited space in the average stall is a serious impairment on her ability to make use of the facilities and keep an eye on her children.

You can’t leave a two- or even a four-year-old outside of the stall while you urinate. Forget baby snatchers, you risk them wandering off, getting into the garbage or worse, them walking into another stall and drowning in the toilet.

And with the placement of the diaper changing stations in that large stall by many architects, it’s been made clear that those are the stalls set aside not just for the classically disabled but for families too. Add in the lack of spaces provided for nursing moms, and the still rampant hostility toward women attempting to breastfeed in public, and the ADA stall has become a godsend for many a mom.

I understand the complaints of the wheelchair bound when they enter a restroom only to find some hot young thing taking up the large stall, while three of the smaller stalls remain wide open. There’s no argument that when you are otherwise able-bodied, you should make use of the appropriate stall. It’s a matter of common courtesy.

Then again – and I know this will be unpopular – a wheelchair does not automatically make expedient use of the facilities any more necessary for you than it would say a pregnant woman with a baby kicking her bladder or that two-year-old who is now wearing big boy pants but is still learning to control his bladder. Not every condition that lands a person in a wheelchair carries with it incontinence issues. Waiting in line is something we all deal with, and the wheelchair bound sometimes have to wait too.

Until someone starts building public bathrooms with parents in mind, the large stall is just going to have to be shared.

Image: jackyjazzowl, flickr

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