Worst Breastfeeding Incidents of 2009

Sadly, breastfeeding discrimination continues, as evidenced by the following stories of 2009:

Image courtesy of David Siqueira

Image courtesy of David Siqueira

1. Denny’s Restaurant harasses nursing mother. After Crystal Everitt was asked to cover up while breastfeeding at an Asheville, North Carolina, Denny’s restaurant, the regional management issued an unsatisfactory response. Local breastfeeding supporters went ahead with a nurse-in at the restaurant.

2. Dear Abby on pumping at work. Back in March, advice columnist Abigail Van Buren rightfully advised a woman not to be ashamed of pumping at work, but she failed to point out that a bathroom is not a pumping room and that California law protects pumping mothers in the workplace. The following June, the Dear Abby column published several follow-up letters with helpful information.

3. Parents Magazine advises being “discreet.” In April, I wrote to the Parents Magazine etiquette columnist about her belief that nursing in public is only okay as long as the breastfeeding mother is being “discreet” by utilizing shawls, scarves, dark booths and quiet corners.

4. Acosta Tacos fires woman for breastfeeding at work. The owner of Acosta Tacos in Los Angeles, California was ordered to pay Marina Chavez $21,645.00 in lost wages plus $20,000.00 for emotional damages after the owner fired Chavez for breastfeeding her baby on her breaks. In this groundbreaking case, the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission found that breastfeeding is intrinsic to the female sex and thus breastfeeding discrimination is sex discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The owner was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine, establish a written policy on sex discrimination, and post a notice regarding the company’s FEHA violation.

5. Olive Garden requires modesty. In Michigan City, Indiana, Maggie Naas was asked to move to the restroom to breastfeed her baby because, according to that Olive Garden restaurant’s manager, she was not being modest enough.

6. Chick-Fil-A offers a towel to cover up. Thirty breastfeeding women staged a nurse-in at a Florida Chick-Fil-A after a mother was asked to cover her nursing baby with a towel. The mother attempted to contact the local and corporate management and apparently received no response. (One of my favorite pictures from the nurse-in shows the Chick-Fil-A mascot, a cow, looking on as a woman nurses. There’s a joke in there somewhere!)

7. Settlement negotiations between Emily Gillette and Delta Airlines end in lawsuit being filed. It’s hard to believe that it was three years ago that Emily Gillette and her family were asked to de-board an airplane when Ms. Gillette refused a flight attendant’s request to cover her 22-month-old nursling with a blanket. In October 2009 the Burlington Free Press reported that negotiations to settle the discrimination case collapsed and Ms. Gillette has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vermont.

Finally, an incident that I had to add after this post was already scheduled to publish:

8. Target store calls cops on breastfeeding mother. Earlier this week the mother of a four-week-old baby felt forced to leave the Target store in Harper Woods, Michigan after she disputed the security guards’ claim that breastfeeding in the store was illegal. Guess which store will not benefit from my holiday shopping this year? [Edited to add the good news that HB 5515, the pending breastfeeding discrimination bill in Michigan, passed out of committee on a vote of 11 to 2 after the hearing on December 2nd!]

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    • http://www.strocel.com Amber

      This incidents are all truly horrifying, and provide ample reminders of why we need to work to create stronger legislation and a supportive culture.

      On the other hand, I think it’s important to remember that incidents like these are the worst of the worst and do not happen to most nursing mothers, and certainly not every day. I have spoken with some mothers who hear stories like these and believe that they are likely to be harassed for breastfeeding. While there is still much work to be done, in my experience most mothers are able to nurse in public without anyone batting an eye. Or, at least, that’s true in the area where I live.

    • Alison

      Sadly, I too faced the same discrimination at a pool while feeding my then 1-year old in February. Here are the links to the articles about it.




    • Jill

      I breastfed in public for the first time a few weeks ago, in the food court at the mall and then again while walking around shopping in Old Navy. I felt comfortable doing it and didn’t feel like anyone gave me even a second look, except to congratulate me on my sweet baby. :)

    • Rhonda Wiggins

      No one wants to see this in public. a blanket is fine, you are making it hard for breastfeeding mothers generically with this public jerkery;

    • http://nurturingresults.com Marilyn Lund

      I was in a restaurant and my baby started to cry. I started to breastfeed and she stopped immediately of course. An older couple next to me made a comment about how disgusting it was to see breastfeeding at dinner. I turned around and asked them if they would have a screaming, crying baby at dinner and they became embarassed and stopped talking about it immediately. Sometimes you just need to hold your ground and do the right and loving thing for your baby.

      It’s also important to know your rights. Most states have gotten rid of the “public nudity” clauses used to give the uninformed something to hide behind. There’s no reason to make a “point”, but you also need to consider the needs of the baby over the needs of the ignorant and repressed.

    • Jacelyn

      My little guy is 13 months now and still nursing :) But if I didn’t have the support from my hubby like I do it would be hard. My mother in law will always without fail put a blanket over me and wrap it so tight I can’t move , I have been asked to go to a mothers lounge on several a cations and I have always been covered up. The really sad thing to me is it’s always other moms . I have had men talk to me and never know what was happening they usually talk quieter and one thought he was sleeping so whats the problem. To me it’s quit hard because I’m really shy. So for the first 9 months it mad me not want to leave my home now I go out but I still cover up even when my little guy hates it.

    • Courtney L.

      I still nurse my 3 year old and although I never need to nurse him in public anymore (he only nurses to drift off to sleep at night and naptime, and occasionally to mend a boo boo or to snuggle with mom and reconnect) I have endured nasty comments and cool stares. I’ve been offered a separate area to nurse my son in (and the offer was clearly as much to make me comfortable and provide me with privacy as it was to avoid making others squeamish). I’ve been told my doctors that beyond a year my milk has no value, and that I was nursing him for my own selfish reasons (to keep him a baby longer). In some of these situations I’ve been very vocal and let people know where I stand and why they should feel the same but there were also times I just went about my business and did what was best for my son – at the end of the day what is important is that you nurse. If people don’t like it, too bad. Your job is to be a great mom to your child, not go around trying to please everyone else. All that said, I’ve also had many positive reactions; older women smiling wistfully and telling me how beautiful it is to see another mom nursing her child, men saying “my wife nursed our kids – I know how hard it can be,” and kids asking innocently what I was doing, and when I tell them, they think a moment and seem to totally get it (like it’s the most normal thing in the world – like it makes sense).

    • http://Www.little-willa-lamb.blogspot.com Amy

      I was just in the largest and most popular mall in the city, walking around w my hubby, and YES breastfeeding my 22 month old. We need to continue to educate mothers and the next generation that breastfeeding is not something that needs to be hidden. Yes, it is an intimate and motherly act, but it is an act of love that is a birthright for babies, and one that should be celebrated instead of hidden and disdained. The public needs to be educated on breastfeeding in order that our children and our Children’s children will grow up with the goodness of mommy’s milk & the improved development, emotional well being, and social skills that comes as a result of a nursing relationship! What better way to do this than to support moms doing what is natural and best fir their babies. . . Wherever they may be!

    • Aimee

      I have a two year old and a three month old. My toddler nursed until shortly after his second birthday and I am also breastfeeding my infant. Although I was ( and still am) nervous about nursing in public, it honestly never occurred to me that someone would publicly ridicule my actions. I’ve nursed in many restaurants, parks, etc. with no comments whatsoever. I am disappointed that our society does not recognize the fact that our bodies are designed to feed our babies.

    • http://www.blisstree.com/breastfeeding123/ Angela

      That’s an excellent point Amber. In my 7.5+ years of breastfeeding I’ve never had anyone harass me for nursing in public. One of my favorite stories — I’ve repeated it often so forgive me :) — is how the manager of a restaurant came up to me one time while I was nursing and asked me … what I wanted to order because they were out of the shrimp! I don’t think he even knew I was nursing.

    • joan

      according to this article you were breast feeding IN the pool… is that correct? that’s kind of unsanitary… i mean you’re not allowed to have any food in general in the pool….

    • Sarah

      Ok the problem with blankets is that I live in Texas and you know what? It gets to freaking 100 degrees in the summer. AND THEN people would want me to put a blanket over my son’s head too? What is up with that? Some babies also will create a scene if a blanket is over them where if nothing had been done in the first place, all you “public” would have seen is a head at a breast. I wear appropriate clothing but will not cover like that in most instances. Nothing shows. It’s the idea of it that piss people off. Would you have us breastfeeding mothers be shun from society, only to dark corners and bathrooms like we should be ashamed? NOW (national organization for women) supports the right to breastfeed in public. If you don’t like it, you can turn your head.

    • Jessica D Everett

      I whole-heartedly agree with you! Sadly, it is people like Ms. Wiggins that seem to set breast-feeding mothers back 50 years.