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Michigan Law Would Make Breastfeeding In Public A Civil Right

baby breastfeeding_23

by Amy Spangler
December 15, 2009

A young mother sat at a table in the far corner of a public picnic area in a state park. She held her baby close to her breast, but it took me a minute to realize she was breastfeeding. I decided to politely approach her, because I wanted to thank her for setting an excellent example for other mothers, especially those reluctant to breastfeed in public. As I walked closer to her, the young mother appeared fearful and quickly began to gather her belongings. I was shocked and embarrassed, and only after I explained to her that I had the pleasure of working with breastfeeding families did she relax and tell me that she was afraid I was going to criticize her for breastfeeding her baby in the park.

For reasons even I don’t fully understand, a mother’s right to breastfeed in public elicits strong opinions on both sides of the issue. It has become so contentious, many U.S. states have proposed legislation to protect mothers and babies. A recent article in The Grand Rapids Press described a proposed breastfeeding bill aimed at protecting nursing mothers from discrimination under the state’s Civil Rights Act. Though much has been written about breastfeeding legislation, what was interesting about this article was the number of comments it generated (more than 100).

One commenter suggested that it’s the public that needs to be protected from “ignorant radical breastfeeding moms.”

Another stated emphatically that she “will NOT support this ridiculous law.” She then went on to describe breastfeeding mothers as “one of the most self-righteous condescending groups around. If they carried a bible and tried to convert everyone, the image would be complete.”

Some of the commenters were supportive of the proposed legislation: “People should have the common sense to leave a mother alone to attend to her child. If not, it should be legal to smack them up the side of the head once.”

Others supported breastfeeding mothers but opposed the legislation: “I breastfed my children and had no problems with society because I was discreet and I didn’t need my state legislators providing me permission to do it.”

Breastfeeding banned st Target
Are breastfeeding laws necessary? On December 6th a security guard at a Target store in Harper Woods, Michigan, reportedly told a woman who was breastfeeding her 4-week-old baby in the electronics section that what she was doing was illegal and that she would need to leave the store. When she refused, Target called the police. Eventually the woman left out of embarrassment.

Target is not alone in targeting breastfeeding women. Remember the airline that booted a breastfeeding mother off a plane? Hardly a month goes by without a report of a mother being asked to stop breastfeeding in a public place. The incident is typically followed by an apology on the part of the company and a reiteration of its support for breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding advocates argue that incidents like these justify the need for legislation akin to that being proposed in Michigan. In fact laws protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed in public currently exist in most U.S. states. However, a number of the laws stipulate that the mother be “modest” or “discreet”, which begs the question—how does one define modest and discreet? No nipple? Some nipple? No breast? Some breast?

That laws are needed to protect breastfeeding mothers and babies defies logic. However, the U.S. is not the only country embroiled in controversy over breastfeeding legislation. In September 2009, Attorney General Christian Porter speaking on behalf of Colin Barnett, Premier of Western Australia described a proposed breastfeeding bill as “unnecessary because the protection for women is already enshrined in law.” His remarks triggered a terse response from the opposition and a subsequent promise by the Premier to resume debate on the proposed bill within two weeks. Barnett was previously quoted as saying, “Look I think commonsense and common courtesy are the answer, so we will not be introducing laws on breastfeeding.”

Commonsense and common courtesy. Sound familiar?

If a baby is hungry and a mother can easily satisfy that hunger by breastfeeding, why would anyone object? Would bystanders prefer to listen to a hungry baby cry or worse yet assign the baby to a nearby toilet facility for meals? Is a baby breastfeeding so thrilling that individuals close at hand can’t redirect their eyes? Or is this issue really about more than meets the eye?

It’s time to regain our commonsense and give breastfeeding mothers and babies the courtesy and consideration they deserve and the privacy most mothers seek.

It’s a breast. It’s a baby. Get over it.

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