Breastfeeding in public tends to elicit strong reactions. Some people say a mother has a right to feed her child as necessary. Other people say, "Eww!"
Too bad for those latter prudes, federal law, and many state laws, explicitly say that a nursing mom has the right to feed her baby in most places. Some laws even specify that an exposed nipple is A-okay. But a lot of restaurants have been slow to get the word.
Throughout the country, nursing mothers have been hassled by store or restaurant management, who request that they cover up, leave, or go feed their babies in a grody bathroom. And no, these are not cases of lactators gone wild -- flippantly pulling out boobs and shaking them around. These were mothers attempting to feed their offspring with a sense of peace and modesty.
To stand up for their rights, nursing moms everywhere have
formed a mafia become organized, not only through nursing support group La Leche League but also through Facebook groups and word of mouth.
On September 15, Dawn Holland was nursing her
baby in an Applebee's in Covington, Georgia, when she was approached by a
female manager. The manager told her she needed to nurse her child in the bathroom or exit the premises. When Holland sat still and stated her right to breastfeed, the police were called.
In support of Dawn Holland, a group called Mother's Right to Choose is staging a nurse-in at Applebee's across the country. The event will take place at various Applebee's from 1 to 3 p.m. this Saturday. Nursing moms everywhere are asked to show up, grab a booth and a "sizzling skillet" and let their baby (or toddler) go to town on his/her milky lunch, too.
We had the chance to speak to one of the event's sponsors childbirth educator and organizer for Breastfeeding Peaches of Georgia Nirvana Jennette. "This is a huge problem and the general public is not seeing this; and neither are the corporations. We get phone calls all the time from people finding our information. Somewhere around 1/3 of these incidents get reported, but we're finding that it happens all the time."
Applebee's issued an official statement earlier this week, "We're in the business of welcoming guests to our restaurants and our top priority is always to provide a friendly and comfortable environment for everyone, including nursing mothers who have the right to nurse in public. This was an unfortunate misunderstanding and we hope the guest will give us another chance to demonstrate that to her personally."
This was not the first breastfeeding episode for Applebee's. The chain experienced similar public backlash in the wake of a 2007 incident in Kentucky.
"If they were really making the step forward, they would be training their employees properly. We've had enough of it. We've had enough lip-service; we want change," says Jennette.
At the moment, Georgia law allows women to breastfeed in any public or private location: Ga. Code § 31-1-9 (1999) states that the breastfeeding of a baby is an important and basic act of nurture which should be encouraged in the interests of maternal and child health and allows a mother to breastfeed her baby in any location where the mother and baby are otherwise authorized to be.
Florida law even specifies that moms can show their nipples if they so please, thus protecting her from any charges of indecent exposure or lewdness: "The breastfeeding of a baby is an important and basic act of nurture which must be encouraged in the interests of maternal and child health and family values, and in furtherance of this goal:
(1) A mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother's breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding."
Jennette says the laws aren't strong enough. "In Florida you are protected from indecent exposure, but there is no enforcement provision, which can lead to harassment. In Georgia, the law is completely subjective. If the officer has an issue you're going to have a problem. Women can be arrested. We need to change the law."
A recent poll found that 57 percent of Americans do not feel that women should have the right to breastfeed in public. If an officer called to the scene for a breastfeeding 'offense' falls into that 57 percent, mommy could seriously get arrested.
Jennette is concerned about what this says about our society. "In a time of equal rights, we are degraded as sexual objects. This is essentially saying that are breasts aren't supposed to do what they are meant to do. I'm a birth professional. I have the data behind me to support the need for breastfeeding and I've still felt shamed. I was even kicked out of my church and compared to a stripper. We're trying to get the laws changed. I'm so proud that Dawn is going public. We've has enough of this."
Fore more details about the Applebee's protest, see the Facebook page for the Nationwide Applebee's Nurse-In. To find your local Applebee's, click here.
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