The Politics of Breastfeeding in Public

By Ann-Marie Luciano

breastfeeding

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.

Comments (11)

Good for you. My wife rarely ran into that sort of nonsense in WA or CA, but no doubt they are out there. Far better nutritionally and emotionally than formula. Good luck with the attorney general.

RB

Nicely done. I’m sorry you had to go through that, but some other less in formed mom will karmicly thank you for your efforts. You stood your ground so someone else didn’t have to.

I’ve been lucky, in Los Angeles, I’ve never had a problem. But I double dog dare anyone to try.

Congratulations! The most natural thing in the world, and our culture has made it seem like a nursing mother is a pariah. These were women telling you to cover up, that is the worst part. You would think that they would appreciate the importance of you feeding your baby naturally, as well as the importance of being accepted culturally. Some doctor somewhere must have convinced them that breastfeeding wasn’t as good as formula feeding…and they believed it. Sad, really. I, for one, am very proud of you!

Way to go momma! My daughter is almost 2.5 and I am actually expecting to be told to stop nursing or something else of the like more now due to her age. I am in Portland, OR though…perhaps there is more tolerance here. Anyway, I wish you luck in your efforts to make sure the mall knows your rights, and to get this story out so other people know the rights of a breastfeeding woman.

Wow!! That is crazy that you had such a difficult experience – good for you for being well informed of your rights, and for standing your ground. It’s wonderful that your mall has an actual nursing room (so few places do!), but that tells me that the mall is savvy enough to know that nursing mothers frequent the area, so why did you nursing seem so “out of place” for everyone else?

Before I was a mother, I was supportive of mothers nursing in public but did feel a bit uncomfortable seeing them doing it – you just don’t know what to do (do you look away? Cheer them on??) – so I at least understand where people without kids are coming from. However, these women were all MOTHERS with CHILDREN OF THEIR OWN and it seems ridiculous that they would give you such a hard time. (The mom didn’t know what to tell her son?? Come on!) Hopefully, through moms like you sharing their stories, others can learn why it’s so important for us all to be able to nurse our babies wherever and whenever it’s needed, without fear of people making it difficult for us to do so.

Rock on, mama!

Ann-Marie Luciano

Thank you for all of your support. I’m so glad this issue has received so much attention because it really has made a difference in some mothers’ lives. Since the nurse-in I’ve heard from some new moms who have told me that they now feel comfortable nursing in public because they know their rights. The nurse-in was an incredible experience – it was so beautiful to see so many moms, dads, and even grandparents come together to support a human right – the right to feed our children in the way we please. I’m hopeful that the tide is turning and that someday soon “breastfeeding in pubic” will no longer be a political issue.

I have just published a book called Kids Need Care. In the book I have promoted nursing as the most important gift a mother can give her child. Bless you for giving this wonderful food and experience to your son. In a time where outright porn is readily available on national television, it really is incredible that other women would be so intolerant. Women need to support women. This is what is sadly lacking in many venues today. Again bless you and continue all things to make your child the best he can be.
Judy Gray

I just do not understand if there was a nursing room why she did not go there to nurse her baby. Nursing rooms were made for a reason. Not every one feel comfortable nursing in the public. I think she would have been more appreciated if she had gone to nursing room as a courtsey sake. Now a days no sham left in this world. Every body talks about their rights, what about other peoples right who do not feel comfortable being expose their body parts. She is doing the good deed by nursing her baby but she does not have to show to the whole world. If there was not a nursing room I could understand because baby is hungry and uncomfortable but if she had a blanket to cover up thats healthy for the baby and comfortable feeling for the others and she would have been much appreciated but she was being stubron and made the matter of her prestige.

There is no reason in the world not to toss a small blanket or “burp rag” over your shoulder when nursing. Nursing mothers in our family do that at home. Many people do not want to view or have their children view women’s breasts. It isn’t about nursing; it is a modesty issue. Sounds like you just want to prove a point and enjoy being rude and annoying other people.

I nursed all of my four children. I believe in nursing. However, I always attempted to cover up or nurse in an out of the way area when in a public place. It’s called courtesy. Now do I think you should have been hassled in the mall? No. That is also not very courteous. However, just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you OUGHT. We all have to live with all kinds of people on this ball of dirt. Most times its just better to get along rather than to intentionally create irritations between one another. Granted there are times when that is not possible, but if we all treat one another with concern and respect, then things seem to go along much better.

How frustrating to not be left in peace while nursing. Thank you for turning your experience into something beneficial for others.

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