Monday, January 13, 2014

Feeding Your Infant While Passing the Pope

by Wendy Haldeman, MN, RN, IBCLC, CO-Founder of The Pump Station & Nurtury

The Religion News Service recently reported a story of Pope Frances passing a mother holding a crying baby who needed to be fed. The pope asked the mother to please feed her baby but the mother was too shy to breastfeed in public. Many new mothers share her concerns. Although women have the legal right to breast feed in any public location where children are legally allowed to be present (38 states including California have laws with language specifically allowing a woman to breastfeed in a public place), we continue to hear stories of women being ejected from a public area because they were trying to nurse their baby.

The most recent known location where several of “our moms” were harassed was The Self Realization Center in Pacific Palisades. As those of you who have been there know, this is a lovely, tranquil, idyllic spot. Two mothers were sitting quietly on a bench at the center breastfeeding their babies. They were approached by a security guard who told them that they were to leave the premises immediately for exposing themselves. To date, the most outrageous incident occurred years ago at the Third Street Promenade. One of our clients was trying to feed her baby when a young woman stormed up and loudly demanded to know if the mom also fornicated (not the word she used) in public.

The thought of trying to breastfeed a new baby in public is stressful for many moms. In my prenatal breastfeeding class, countless pregnant women have expressed their concerns about how to meet their infant’s needs while outside the home. I have even had women say they were not going to breastfeed because they are just too embarrassed or afraid to “expose themselves in public”. For helpful tips on learning how too successfully breastfeed in public, see Breastfeeding On The Go - Breastfeeding in Public.

Women continue to be challenged, despite the fact that breastfeeding in public is legal. Most of us don’t have Gloria Allred on speed dial. In leaving the house each day it can be challenging to run down the mental check list of remembering the car seat, diaper bag, baby sling, stroller, and oh yes, my copy of the state law that insures my right to breast feed anywhere.

So what should a mother do if harassed while nursing in public? The first action a mother takes is to protect her child. Most of us simply pack up and retreat to the car. Then we sit there and fume and perhaps shed some frustrated tears. You may have had the where with all to secure your free laminated card from which states the law. You could present this to the individual who is demanding that you leave the premises.  If you have your wits about you, you could follow the advice of the breastfeeding task force of Los Angeles and state to the employee that by refusing service and being ejected from their business you will be filing a sex discrimination complaint under the Unruh Civil Rights Act. Lastly, the website Best for Babes has an excellent information page under “What to do if You’re Harassed While Nursing in Public

In a perfect world, everyone would understand that a hungry baby needs to be fed. That nursing in public is not considered indecent exposure. Bless you Pope Frances (oh wait, that’s his job), rather thank you for your compassionate common sense approach. If your baby is hungry, please feed her!
  • A mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present (California Civil Code 43.3)
  • Every employer shall provide a reasonable amount of break time and provide the use of a location other than a toilet stall to accommodate an employee desiring to express breast milk for the employee’s infant child (California Labor Code 1030-1031)
California Protects the Right to Breastfeed: