By Ann-Marie Luciano
On Monday, May 24th, at approximately 10:30am, I was nursing my 3 month old son on a bench in the Francis Scott Key mall near the children’s play area (near Value City and DSW). I had my shirt on and lifted up one side to nurse him. Just the top part of my breast was exposed as I nursed, as my son covered up my stomach and nipple (not that it would matter anyway if I was more exposed). While I was nursing a woman who worked at the mall customer service desk that was nearby came up to me and asked me if I knew that there was a nursing room in the mall. I told her that I was not aware of the nursing room and I continued to nurse. She then asked me if I’d go to the nursing room to nurse. I told her I would not, that I was okay nursing on the bench. She then asked me again to either go to the nursing room or to cover up with a blanket because she was uncomfortable “and there are kids around.” I told her that under MD law I had a right to nurse in any public or private place and that I was not going to either leave to go to the nursing room or put a blanket over my son’s head. I added that if she was uncomfortable, she could cover her head. A mom who was in the play area with her kids then came over and said, “I agree with her – can you please go somewhere else or cover up? My KIDS are here.” I told the mother that I was fully within my rights to remain on the bench and nurse my son. She then replied: “But my son asked me, “Mommy, why is that lady putting her boob in that baby’s mouth?” and I don’t know what to tell him. I told her: “Tell your son that that mom is feeding her baby the way moms have fed their babies for millions of years.” A female security guard came over to me and asked that I either go to the nursing room or cover up with a blanket. I told her that under MD law I had a right to breastfeed in any public or private place. The security guard continued to state, “but this is private property” and I continued to remind her that MD law entitled me to nurse on private property as well. All women eventually left to go complain to the head mall office. I finished nursing about 5 minutes later and then left the mall.
I returned to the mall on Tuesday, May 25th, and dropped off a copy of the MD breastfeeding law (which is linked here) to the head office. The gentleman in the office told me that a few people complained about me breastfeeding. He said, “I know your rights” but I asked him to advise his employees of the law anyway since obviously they weren’t aware of MD breastfeeding law.
As a result of this experience I am filing a complaint with the MD Attorney General office. What bothered me so much about this experience is that I couldn’t just feed my baby in peace – I had three different women come up to me and ask me to move or cover up. I stood my ground because I know my rights and because it is important to me that I feed my baby in the way that is best for me. Nursing mothers are not lepers and do not need to hide in nursing rooms in the back corner of the mall (nor do they need to run around with a crying child trying to find a nursing room). Nursing mothers also do not need to cover up in any particular way. I have a lot of latching issues with my son so I need to constantly be able to see what I’m doing so putting a blanket over his head doesn’t work for me. I’m not going to change the way I feed my son to please other people. The MD breastfeeding law clearly states that “[a] person may not restrict or limit the right of a mother to breastfeed her child.” By telling me where (the nursing room) or how (with a blanket) to nurse my son, the employees of the Francis Scott Key Mall were restricting and limiting my right to breastfeed.
I have three goals: (1) to send a message to Francis Scott Key Mall that they must abide by the law and not restrict or limit a mother’s right to nurse her child; (2) to increase awareness of a nursing mother’s right to nurse her child in any public or private place without restriction or limitation; and (3) to increase awareness of breastfeeding in the public at large, with the hope that breastfeeding will become so commonplace that more and more women will feel comfortable nursing their children wherever they may be hungry. It is incidents like this that discourage women from breastfeeding, which countless studies show is most beneficial for the child. I strongly believe that the more women who breastfeed in public the more culturally accepted this natural form of feeding will become.