This morning I read about a mom who was asked not to breastfeed in the lobby of her child’s school. Though this mother knows the law and cited it to the principal, the school is still insisting that she cannot nurse in the lobby. This seems like an appropriate time to tell my own story of being told I couldn’t nurse in public.

It was June 2006. Munchkin was just 5 weeks old. We had friends in town to visit with us and see the baby, and we decided to go to dinner at a restaurant in the mall. This particular mall has an outside section and an inside section, and the restaurant we chose was in the outside section. While waiting for our table, we were walking around the stores nearby. My husband and his friend wanted to go to Sharper Image and shop there, so we went in. I was also interested in shopping there because I was looking for some kind of timer device that I thought they might have. The guys ended up wanting to check out all the gadgets and the massage chairs, etc, so we ended up in the store for some time.

Nursing in public at 5 weeks

This is how we were nursing

While we were there, Munchkin wanted to nurse, so I sat down and nursed her. She was only 5 weeks old after all, and couldn’t go very long without nursing and certainly couldn’t wait. I was wearing a nursing shirt – a shirt specifically designed to help you be discreet while nursing – and was not at all exposed. I was still pretty new at nursing, and wanted to be able to keep an eye on Munchkin’s latch while she nursed, so I did not want to cover her with a blanket, but I did put a burp cloth over the top section of my breast out of modesty.

I was approached by management and told I couldn’t “do that there”. The hospital where I gave birth had given me a little card when I was discharged telling me the state’s law about breastfeeding in public, and though I didn’t have the card with me, I was aware of the law. I told the manager that the law said that I could breastfeed anywhere I was otherwise authorized to be. He told me that he wasn’t aware of any such law. I wished that I had kept that little card in my diaper bag. He then said that I was in a private store anyway and that even if there was a law, it didn’t apply to his store. I said, yes it does, it applies to anywhere, public or private, that I am otherwise authorized to be. He repeated that he was not aware of any such law. He repeated that I could not nurse my baby in the store, and I repeated that the law said I could. I told him he could feel free to call up the police to clarify the law because I was quite sure it was a real law. Then he said that I needed to at least cover her head with a blanket. I had no intention of doing that though. Besides the fact that I preferred to be able to see my baby, it was quite hot that day and our bodies were still hot from being outside. In addition, there was NO part of my breast that was exposed anyway. I didn’t know at the time that he law does not require discretion, but his complaint was not that I was showing my breast, but just that I was breastfeeding AT ALL. He continued to harass me, and though I knew that I was in the right I was feeling quite flustered. My husband came to see what was going on (he had been shopping in another part of the store) and we decided we would leave the store without making our purchases.

NC Gen. Stat. Sec. § 14-190.9 (b) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a woman may breast feed in any public or private location where she is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breast feeding.

When we got home, I went online and printed out the law. I also called corporate and complained. They said that that they were aware of the law and he should not have done that. They promised someone would get back to me to further discuss the situation, but that never happened. I went back to the store the next day and handed this manager a copy of the law. He never apologized, just said that he wasn’t aware of this law and now he knows. It was after this that I made up little cards with the law on them to carry with me, but I’ve never had a problem like that since.

Though this experience was very upsetting at the time, I can say that it is what turned me into an activist. I have researched the issue and talked to other mothers who have had similar experiences, and I stand up for them in hopes that it will not have to happen to more women. I think that most women probably don’t even know that there is a law that protects them, and many would not stand up for themselves even if they knew about it. I think that a lot of women would feel that they were the ones who did something wrong, and I fear that the experience might lead them to not want to nurse in public again. This in turn, might lead them to decide to stop breastfeeding earlier than they otherwise would have. In fact, societal pressure is probably one of the leading reasons why moms wean early. I am glad that we have a law about nursing in public, but it’s a shame that many people aren’t aware of it, and some who are aware disregard it anyway.