My son was a little more than 5 hours old when his cousins came to see him. A beaming five year old bringing his favorite matchbox car and a tiny toddler staring in wonder at the frame of an infant. My sister in law stood near them cherishing the newborn Levi David. Her husband stood alone waiting in the hall. My brother wasn’t welcomed in the room.
Because I was feeding the baby. Because it was time to.
Looking back, I wish I could change things. Looking back, I wish I’d known more, thought more, cared more for the simplest things. Looking back, I feel I owe him an apology. For the stupid in me.
See, I breastfed my baby.
That meant my gown would be down and my areola would be showing. It meant boobs in full view. Nipples I had been taught to keep private, tits that were taboo. It’s what I knew.
Four plus years later I’m smarter, stronger, more aware. Four plus years later, when my kid drinks my milk I don’t care who is there. It was a learning curve for sure. One I want you to share.
Last year, there were over fifty news stories, in the United States alone, about public breastfeeding. Over fifty articles highlighting the controversy. Restaurants, storefronts, play centers, pools, even government facilities. Over fifty families. A rate of once a week. And these are just the ones that got reported. The ones the local or national press got a hold of. The ones that garnered a click bait lede. These are just the ones that fed the itch for some sort of “story”. There were hundreds more. Maybe thousands. New mothers like I used to be, getting side eyed and told to be discreet, because god forbid a child eat.
I was in my late twenties, I think? Eating a chicken salad croissant with my co-worker in Cincinnati. “He’s hungry!” She had him latched to her breast in the middle of the restaurant. It was awkward and uncomfortable and I tried hard to pretend it wasn’t off putting. But it was still something I’d never seen. Makes me want to call her up on the phone today. Her name was Beverly. I just want to say I’m sorry. For the way I felt. For the naive in me. She was breastfeeding. Why did that bother me?
Fifteen years have passed since then. Since that little boy expressed milk in front of me. I wish I could smack the silly out of me. I wish I could retell that story differently.
I can’t travel through time and change the social norms that allowed mammary glands to be such a controversy. I can’t change history. I can’t erase the comments I made once on a social media site that a woman allowing her five year to nurse for milk probably had unresolved attachment issues she wasn’t owning. I can’t. I can’t erase the ignorance that ruled my commentary.
But I can teach my child differently.
I can give gratitude for multitudes of women and children who helped me see it all clearly. I can document the harassment. I can advocate for families. I can strive to normalize a function every other mammal in the animal kingdom takes advantage of effortlessly. I can ask you to join me.
You haven’t seen women breastfeeding. You haven’t chosen to breastfeed. You wanted the reproductive process to not fail and you relied, rightfully, on awesome advances in our technology. You see female breasts as sacred and sexual and can’t (or won’t) view them any differently. You are offended or uncomfortable or just uneasy at the notion of a nipple upon the lips of a child because that’s not the expected erotica pitched through marketing. You don’t know breastfeeding. You don't know it correctly.
I didn’t know it either.
I’ve been feeding my child my milk since the day he was born. He’s now a four year old. He asks, with his own words, to nurse. He shares with me that the milk they serve him at preschool doesn’t taste good. He will wean. Eventually. He will, someday soon, no longer desire the latch to my body.
And I’ve learned so much since that day in that hospital room. I’ve learned so much since that self proclaimed intelligent woman asked that her big brother wait because his nephew was eating food. I’ve learned so much. So late. I hope you won’t wait - like I did. I hope you won’t be the person who sees a child expressing milk and your first thought is you. I hope you will consider how odd it is that we’re offended seeing a breast just function in providing milk.
Because nothing will change. Nothing will end. These stories below will just keep happening until you try to learn what it took me having a baby to:
It’s just a child, wanting and getting milk.
And if maybe one perspective can change it’s all worth my learning curve. When we set aside the norm and normalize what we always should: just a family, just a child, receiving their food.
January. Florida. Fia’s Ristorante and Pizzeria. April Leamy thrown out of the restaurant by the owner for feeding her 4 month old daughter.
January. Louisiana. Sam’s Club. A woman told by employee to relocate or leave the store if she was going to continue breastfeeding her child.
January. Maryland. Ocean’s Down Casino. Alanna Panas removed from lobby by security for breastfeeding her 7 week old infant.
February. Virginia. Chinquapin Park Recreation Center & Aquatics Facility. Olivia Blackmon told it was unsanitary to feed her child at the rec center. *
February. Massachusetts. Play Date Place. Children’s play center implemented (and then reversed) formal policy in direct violation to legal statutes requiring that women breastfeeding children seclude themselves or cover their breast.
February. Oklahoma. Walmart. Elizabeth Moreno told by store manager to stop feeding her child unless she covered her nursing breast.
February. Oregon. Goodwill International. Emma Ingram harassed in store and online by employee and company for breastfeeding her child.
February. New York. Golden Corral. Tiffany Eichstadt told by management to feed her child in the bathroom.
February. Florida. Tilly’s. Woman told by store management to feed her child in the store bathroom.
February. Texas. Stouthaus Coffee. Amberly Worley handed a towel and told she was making customers uncomfortable. Attempted to implement a policy for nursing mothers to use covers.
March. Oklahoma. YMCA. Tiffany Hoag relocated while actively nursing by employees against company policy.
March. Houston/Vancouver. United Airlines. Kristen Hilderman had a flight attendant toss a blanket to her husband while instructing him to have her cover herself while feeding their child.
March. Texas. Early Game & Skate. Morgan Riley had police officers called to remove her for nursing her child without a cover.
April. Michigan. Ingham County Circuit Court. KyLee Dickinson was told by referee to stop breastfeeding her child. She was then forced to leave the hearing by the referee.*
April. Alabama. Aspen Dental. Taylor Chaice Buzbee had her child physically removed from her arms in the office.
April. Ohio. YMCA. Admitted to harassing a nursing mother and child for not covering an exposed nursing breast.
May. Colorado. YMCA. Stevie Hartmann-Romero told by supervisors to cover her nursing breast or relocate to a locker room to feed her child.
May. Texas. Cracker Barrel. Sarah Holmes told by waitress to cover her nursing breast because customers complained.
May. Illinois. Big Fish Grille. Kristal Tomko approached by employee and given a napkin to cover her breast while feeding her 6 month old.
May. Oklahoma. Troy Home Rentals. Missy Smith threatened with eviction if she continued to feed her child on the front porch of her rental unit.
June. Florida. Dr. Mark Simko (private practice). Nichole Moore kicked out of doctor’s office when her child woke from a nap and needed to feed. The receptionist claimed it made the doctor uncomfortable.
June. Alabama. Point Mallard Water Park. Emily Jackson harassed by employee who told her to breastfeed under cover or in private. The park defended the harassment and offered several defenses, including fear the child would fall into pool and a bodily fluids argument that counters the CDC.
June. Georgia. Albany Mall. LeeAnn Patterson approached by mall security and told she must cover herself while feeding her child.
June. Indiana. Grace Community Church. Tayna Ogle asked to feed her child in the restroom or cover her breasts. Told to leave church property when she refused.
July. Wisconsin. United States Post Office. Raven Dibble refused service unless she covered her breast while feeding her 3 week old child.*
July. Iowa. Flora City Pool. Brianna Peterson instructed to leave pool to feed her child in the parking lot. Parks and recreation officials stood by the discrimination stating children were present and may get confused.*
July. Alabama. Madison County WIC. Carissa Clarke told by employees that she must use a private storage room/closet out of view to breastfeed.*
July. Minnesota. Moorhead City Pool. Kayla Heller told she must cover her nursing breast when feeding her infant if she returned to the pool with her child.*
July. Texas. Round Rock Public Pool. Cindy Herrine. Told to stop breastfeeding her child because others had complained. Law enforcement refused her claim of harassment.*
July. Washington. Liberty Park Aquatic Center. Lydia Davis instructed to feed her 10 month old in the bathroom by employees.*
July. California. Santa Clarita Aquatic Center. Family approached and asked to move to private location or leave if breastfeeding.*
July. California. Ichiban restaurant. Gwendolyn Siercks told by employee to cover her nursing breast while feeding her 5 week old son.
July. Utah. Hobby Lobby. Brenda Morgan told by employee to feed her child in the bathroom or leave the store.
July. Washington. Noah’s Ark. Sydney Olsen told by staff to cover up while feeding her child.
July. Louisiana. Crossfire Pizzaria. Allie Raby told to cover her breast while feeding her child. The owner, Tammy Birchard, attempted to institute a formal policy that violated state law.
August. Missouri. Carthage City Pool. Kara Kay told by employee to cover her breast while feeding her child. City officials defended the employee’s actions.*
August. Nevada. Victoria’s Secret. Farah Soomro asked to leave the store and use a bathroom in the mall to feed her child.
August. New Hampshire. Canobie Lake Park. Rayne Smyth told she could not breastfeed her child in the park. A week later, Karen Galbraith was told the same thing. The park defended the employees for violating park policy, stating the women were simply asked to relocate as others were uncomfortable with them nursing.
August. Mississippi. Target. Jazzmine McKee told by an employee to use the bathroom to feed her 11 month old child.
September. Ohio. Montgomery County Jobs & Family Services. Alainna Nichols ordered by sheriff’s deputy to move to the bathroom to feed her child, was told it was illegal and fell under indecency statutes. An investigation was conducted by the sheriff’s office after a complaint was filed by Nichols.*
September. New York. Forest Hills Library. Sherry Singh told to stop nursing until she moved herself and her child to the bathroom.*
September. Oregon. Marshall’s. Karina Gomez instructed by employee to feed her child in the store bathroom.
September. Georgia. LA Fitness. Caroline Hoffman directed to use a bathroom as an option to feed her child when an employee kicked her from their locker room.
October. Texas. JC Penny. Women instructed to take their children to the bathroom for feedings.
October. Colorado. Epic Entertainment. Lindsay Dazzo instructed by the owner’s husband to cover, relocate or leave the facility because customers complained of “nudity.”
December. Washington. Piatti Restaurant. Lauren Hernandez instructed by employee to use a cover up while feeding her infant son.
December. New York. Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard. Melissa Olivera told by employee to cover up while feeding her child because other customers complained.
December. Virginia. ACAC Midlothian. Jordan Williams receives phone call from staff instructing her not to openly breastfeed in their facility in the future.
You likely started to scroll before incident fifteen. But there were more than fifty this year in the press. And when they hit the press, opinion polls went up. Comparisons to sexual assault filled comment sections. Censors actually covered the face of infants in retelling stories of children eating food. Please, look at them again.
You don’t have to care or change or even want to. You don’t have to give my words any weight because this doesn’t really impact you. And okay.
But I can’t change who I was in that maternity ward those years ago. So this is what I offer to my son to hope at least one of you will maybe help to end the cycle.
It’s children. Drinking their milk.
Many of the above businesses offered apologies, adjusted policies and worked to train staff and join the community in support of families. Many have not.
*Denotes violations of state statutes by government officials or on government property.
49 states, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia all have statutes providing a woman’s right to breastfeed. Federal Law protects a woman’s right to breastfeed on all government property.
Anthropologists estimate the age of human weaning from milk to be in the range of 2.5–7 years. This developmental requirement for human milk (or a human milk substitute) aligns with changes in anatomy: jaw structure alters, cheek fat diminishes, milk teeth drop, etc. Most humans, as other mammals, cannot tolerate or digest milk after their physiological developmental requirement for it ends.
Milk expressed directly from mammary glands is, in most cases, healthier for mother and child and more efficient for let down and continued production. Covering the breast to feed a child is a relatively new custom, not practiced in most cultures globally or throughout history.
If you have been a victim of harassment or discrimination or if you are a business interested in finding out more how to train staff and support the statutes in your state, please call the BfB Hotline: 855-NIP FREE.
This piece also published on Medium.