Stand Up for Your Rights to N.I.P.

July 7th, 2010 by Dionna | 18 Comments
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Nursing in Public, Compassionate Advocacy, Feed with Love and Respect, natural parenting

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How do I know we can normalize breastfeeding just by doing it where others can see us? Let me introduce my personal success story: my sister, Shawna.1

Shawna was not anti-breastfeeding, but she was doubtful. I remember her asking “the question” on several occasions: “Are you still nursing Kieran?” And once when we were walking through the downtown area of Kansas City together and I was breastfeeding Kieran in a sling, she and my dad both made several remarks about whether I really needed to do that right now and – oh my goodness – people were looking at me!

And now? Now she is a mama too. Not only does she breastfeed her own 5 month old son, but she is also an active member of a parenting group that advocates for breastfeeding mothers. She is considering donating breastmilk to a breastmilk bank. She has successfully encouraged several of her pregnant friends to at least give breastfeeding a try.

She no longer questions the fact that I am nursing my 2.5 year old. She has read and understands the benefits of nursing past infancy, and I have no doubt that her little one will enjoy his mama’s milk well past his first year.

We Nurse in Public So That the Next Mother Can, Too

Shawna proudly breastfeeds in public, and she is educated and confident. Just last week, she and a friend were at Kelly (Rock Springs) Park in Apopka, Florida.2 A young lifeguard blew his whistle at them and hollered over the heads of several other patrons, “you guys cannot breastfeed here, you need to stop.” Shawna and her friend assured him that they were within their rights under state law to breastfeed there. The lifeguard said that no, they were in violation of the law about “public exposure” and needed to stop or leave.

Eventually, Shawna went to visit management. She has a card with the Florida state law about breastfeeding, and she calmly told the supervisor that the park employees need to be educated about the rights of breastfeeding mothers. The supervisor on duty was unaware of any specific laws, and she made a copy of the card.

Instead of apologizing to Shawna for the ignorance of the employee, the supervisor instead said, “you do realize that many of the people out there are under 20. They were all staring at you.”

I was incredibly proud of Shawna’s response. Instead of being offended or angry, she simply said “and that’s the problem with our society – it’s not normal to see a mother feeding her child in the most natural way.” She explained to the supervisor that she did not want to get the lifeguard in trouble, she just wanted to make the park safe for the next breastfeeding mother.

After several unsuccessful attempts to contact the park management, Shawna’s local parenting group decided to organize a peaceful nurse-in. Someone contacted the media, and the local Channel 13 News did a story on the incident.

I am impressed by the coverage of the story – the video shows the mothers breastfeeding and talking about the state law on nursing in public.

Stand Up for Your Breastfeeding Rights

When you are confronted by someone for nursing in public, do not be afraid to stand up for your legal rights. How can you do that? Here are a few ideas:

  • Carry a card that quotes the relevant breastfeeding laws. Be sure to visit NursingFreedom.org on Friday – we will be unveiling our own breastfeeding state law cards!
  • If you are confronted by an employee at a business or other facility (parks, government, etc.), talk to a supervisor. Calmly explain what happened, your right to nurse in public, and ask her to educate her employees about breastfeeding rights and benefits. Let her know you will follow up later.
  • If you are not satisfied with your in-person talk, call and talk to someone higher up.
  • Write a follow up letter to someone with authority. Check back Thursday for a sample letter at NursingFreedom.org and a personalized version of that letter here at Code Name: Mama (it’s the one I wrote for Shawna to send to the Orange County Attorney).
  • Follow up to make sure they have given their employees education (or done something to remedy the violation).
  • If you cannot get anyone to work with you, you might consider staging a peaceful nurse-in.

We need to educate others about the rights of breastfeeding children and mothers. The next breastfeeding mother might not know her rights, she might not be confident enough to stand up for herself, she might even be discouraged enough that she stops breastfeeding.

That is why I nurse in public. That is why I was inspired to celebrate breastfeeding mothers in a Carnival of N.I.P. and to create (with Paige of Baby Dust Diaries) NursingFreedom.org: a website that will work to educate and advocate for breastfeeding rights.

Have you ever been confronted for nursing in public? How did you handle it? What would you do differently next time?

  1. This post was written with the help of my sister. Thanks, Shawna! I’m very proud of you!
  2. It appears that Kelly Park is run by Orange County, Florida.

18 Responses to:
"Stand Up for Your Rights to N.I.P."

  1. Andrea!!!   EllaBeanAndCo

    Your sister is an inspiration (as are you!) I don’t know if I would have remained so calm and collected if faced with the same situation.

  2. the Grumbles   thegrumbles

    GO YOUR SISTER! that is so awesome. she came off very calm and and reasonable in the interview, it’s great nursing PR.

  3. Lisa

    my youngest was born 6 weeks early via c/s. while in the NICU i was basically told i either had to go in the mothers room or face the corner because i refused to be closed in with screens or wear a cover while nursing.

    Ironically i’m a lactavist and knew who to call to work on setting things straight, but i was surprised at how emotional it left … See Moreme and how vulnerable i felt, and i’m 100% sure of my rights and very outspoken. while it was a horrible experience in a time of massive chaos and intense hormones i’m so grateful that it happened to me and with some help we were able to make big changes so that it doesn’t happen to someone else who is vulnerable and less self assured and crumbles from the imposed shame.

    Its very easy to see how someone in that same position, that doesn’t have the knowledge or big mouth that i have, could easily give up on breastfeeding. Considering how important breast milk is to preemies, i was just astounded that the NICU would be so unsupportive.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Lisa that is AWFUL! I am ashamed of that NICU unit. Kieran was in the NICU for 5 days, but we were fortunate to have a private room. My LC came in to visit innumerable times due to Kieran’s bad latch and weak suck. I’m sorry you had such an awful experience.
      If you are interested in writing to the hospital, I will help you get a letter together.

  4. Dara

    It so bothers me when these things happen at places where people wear skimpy bikinis. Hello indecent exposure!

  5. Since when are state parks not governed by the same state laws that govern the rest of the state? That seems to be quite a silly response for the Park Manager to make. Glad to see the incident got positive news coverage which showed that mom nursing and how covered she still was.

  6. Jessica - This is Worthwhile   tisworthwhile

    Oh man, I LOVE this! My little sister was much the same and now she’s an advocate and an exclusive breastfeeder herself. You must be so proud of your sister! Hell, I am and I don’t even know her! Wow :) This makes me sooo happy! I can’t wait for those state law cards this Friday!

  7. Our Sentiments   oursentiments

    I was like your sister pre-DD, I think most of us are. We don’t know how important it is until we are there.

    I hope good things comes from this.

  8. giggly   giggly_kerri

    As someone who slowly became comfortable nursing in public, this story really moved me. If something like this had happened to me before I became comfortable, I don’t know how I would have reacted. Kudos to your sister, and you for helping her on her path.

  9. wow! this story is quite crazy. I write from Italy, and though in the past 40 years bottles became the norm instead of breastfeeding, yet a scene of intollerance such as this is still unheard of… I hope we will not import this trend. In the seventies a woman who NIPped was considered very old fashion and not emancipated. today you go from looks of approval to looks of disapproval, but few would dream of making a fuss because you are nursing in public…

  10. Stephanie B. Cornais   mamaandbabylove

    That is so crazy!! Hope the nurse-in goes great!

  11. Meghan

    I’ve never been to a nurse-in, but I find it strange that everyone adds the qualifier “peaceful.” Has there ever been a violent or non-peaceful nurse-in? Why is the “peaceful” qualifier necessary? I would assume that a mother would never take her child somewhere where violence, unrest, or extreme tension was expected.

    I also have an issue with referring to a nurse-in as a protest. Many protests, even those originally thought to be peaceful, turn violent. Nurse-ins seem more like a public awareness event than a protest. If someone knows more about the nurse-in nomenclature can elaborate I would appreciate it.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Meghan – I have a post on nurse-ins in the works. My gut reaction about calling them “peaceful” is that some people get the impression that an “activist demonstration” could lead to something less than peaceful – perhaps that stems from our recent (70′s) past.

      As far as “protest,” Merriam Webster defines a protest (in part) as:
      2 : the act of objecting or a gesture of disapproval ; especially : a usually organized public demonstration of disapproval
      3 : a complaint, objection, or display of unwillingness usually to an idea or a course of action

      So I can see why, technically, a nurse-in is a protest – it can be seen as an organize public demonstration of disapproval of the fact that a breastfeeding mother was harassed.

      • Alicia   LactNarration

        I’ve heard a difference used in the terms “nurse-in” vs “nurse-out”. That a “nurse-in” is in protest, but a “nurse-out” is just for public awareness. Are you familiar with this terminology/ usage?

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Interesting – I think I had heard of a nurse-out before, but I wasn’t aware of the difference in meaning.

  12. Krista

    I was confronted yesterday about NIP at the Cub Scout meetings I volunteer at. I wasn’t told to to bf, but to cover up. Yet I go to great lengths to make sure there’s no exposure whatsoever. I was told people saw “more than they wanted to”. After having proven with state law and a call made to the governing body of the Boy Scouts that I was well within my rights, it won’t stop. I also was told that it was my problem to deal with. I’m sad to say it looks like I’ll be having to take this further and my older son will be the one to suffer. :(

  13. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    Just thought I’d tell you I’ve seen a whole bunch of news stories about your sis! I voted in a poll next to one of the new stories-about 2/3 said they thought public nursing is fine, but almost a third said it should be prohibited in public! Ugh. Anyway, I hope you have a post coming up about her perspective on how the nurse-in went-I’d love to read it :)

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Was that the poll on that news station that had the original interview? If so, I saw that poll. Polls like that infuriate me b/c it’s a moot point – we have the right already!! (sigh)
      I will ask her about doing a guest post :)

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