Women across the United States are gearing up for national nurse-ins on September 8, 2007, after a breastfeeding mother was treated poorly by Applebee’s on both local and corporate levels. When Brooke Ryan nursed her 7-month-old son Michael in a booth at a Lexington, Kentucky, Applebee’s, a waitress approached her and asked her to cover up with a blanket. Ryan did not have a blanket with her in the summer heat, but she did have a copy of Kentucky’s breastfeeding law, KRS 211.755. According to Ryan’s description of the incident, when she asked to speak to the manager and showed him the law, he said he was aware of the law, but that customers were complaining about indecent exposure. He repeated a request that she cover up with a blanket. Perhaps he didn’t study the law carefully enough, because Kentucky law specifically states that breastfeeding shall not be considered indecent exposure. The law reads:
Not withstanding any other provision of the law, a mother may breastfeed her baby or express breastmilk in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be. Breastfeeding a child or expressing breastmilk as part of breastfeeding shall not be considered an act of public indecency and shall not be considered indecent exposure, sexual conduct, lewd touching, or obscenity.
The sponsor of the original bill, Senator Tom Buford, agrees that Ryan’s rights were violated:
“She was not treated right under the new law,” he said. “There should have been no comment made to her at all; the restaurant overstepped its boundaries.”
Unfortunately, this did not remain an isolated incident of ignorance at one local Applebee’s restaurant. Ryan’s lawyers wrote two separate letters to Thomas and King, the corporate entity that runs several Applebee’s. It finally responded two months later with:
“We regret that Ms. Ryan left without being served and would like the opportunity to personally invite her to return” …. “We are also considering keeping blankets in the restaurants for use by breast-feeding mothers that may not have them readily available as a result of this incident.
Let’s all say it together: breastfeeding shall not be considered indecent exposure. A mother cannot be made to cover up with a blanket. It is not a matter of whether or not the mother was breastfeeding “discreetly” or “modestly.”
The problem did not stop with the local franchise owners Thomas and King; it went all the way up to the corporate level of Applebee’s. A concerned mother who contacted Applebee’s International Guest Relations Manager reports that she received this response:
I am calling with the corporate response you requested – and the corporate response to the breastfeeding in Lexington, Kentucky is that Applebee’s and its franchisees love having families dine together at our restaurants. We believe that this franchisee made a reasonable and lawful request of this guest in order to promote a pleasant and comfortable experience for all of its guests.
There is nothing “reasonable” or “lawful” about a request for a nursing mother to cover up with a blanket. Kentucky law is clear. What else is clear? Applebee’s learned nothing from the Delta national nurse-ins last November. When a woman follows all legal channels and gives a company every chance to right a wrong yet continues to receive inappropriate responses, there is cause to stage a nurse-in. In the hopes of getting an apology from Applebee’s and a promise to train its employees in breastfeeding rights, Brooke Ryan has organized a nurse-in locally for September 8, 2007. Activists have rallied to join her at 20 sites in 13 states so far. To see if a nurse-in is planned near you or to register your own site, join the Yahoo group set up to coordinate the events.