MONTREAL - With her contented-looking four-month-old daughter sitting on her lap, Cindy Leclair had trouble believing that breastfeeding in public could still upset people.

The 32-year-old woman was among about 60 mothers who staged a group " nurse-in'' at a busy downtown mall Wednesday in support of public breastfeeding.

"It is shocking to be in 2011 and not be able to breastfeed in public, especially since all of our doctors, and hospitals and everywhere, they encourage us to breastfeed,'' Leclair said.

Leclair and the others spent about an hour nursing their infants in front of a store where a Montreal mother was recently asked to stop breastfeeding her five-month-old girl.

Shannon Smith was shopping at a children's store called Orchestra in Complexe Les Ailes two weeks ago when she began nursing her hungry infant in a semi-secluded seating area for kids.

A clerk then instructed her and another breastfeeding mother to stop, so she left the store.

The shop later apologized and blamed a new employee who was not properly trained.

Smith blogged about the incident and her story triggered a torrent of outrage.

The mother of three says the response has been mostly positive and she's been getting "tons of overwhelming support'' from mothers, grandmothers and fathers.

But Smith, who received some negative emails that attacked her personally, complained that Quebec is falling behind Ontario, B.C., and Nova Scotia.

"All three of those have clearly identified breastfeeding as an area where a woman can be discriminated against in their code of humans rights,'' she said at Wednesday's protest.

"And Quebec doesn't have that same protection.''

Several Canadian provinces have policies spelling out rights for breastfeeding mothers, while the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Quebec's human-rights charter protect women from discrimination.

Claire Tessier, a 31-year-old mother, says she's had some bad experiences trying to breastfeed her nine-month-old baby girl.

"I've already been asked to go to the bathroom but I've said 'No thanks' and people were staring at me when I was breastfeeding in a commercial mall,' she said.

"I've been asked once or twice if I wanted a more private place.''

Tessier says she was offered the back of one store, but "in a nice way.''

Marie-Josee Campbell, who runs Nourri-Source, a Montreal breastfeeding support group, believes Quebecers look at breasts differently from other Canadians.

"I think in Quebec, the image of the breast has different connotations,'' she said in an interview.

"This is all due to our culture, religious upbringing and everything that made the breast more of a sexual object than a means of feeding.''

The "nurse-in'' was coincided with the 15th anniversary of a similar demonstration which took place in another mall in Westmount on Jan. 19, 1996.

On that date, 20 mothers gathered in support of a mother who was shown the door after breastfeeding her three-month-old baby girl in public.