by Mary Jessica Hammes
May 19, 2011
On May 16, Forest Park, Georgia passed a citywide “public indecency” ordinance that bans public breastfeeding of children over the age of 2. The purpose, city manager John Parker told local news station WSBTV, is “to control nudity throughout the entire city.”
Breastfeeding is nudity?
Shocking news to anyone who has actually seen a woman breastfeed—even if a woman completely removed her shirt, the child’s head would still cover up far more than most bikini tops.
Georgia mothers are organizing a public “nurse-in” on May 23, 10 a.m.–noon, at Forest Park’s City Hall to protest the ordinance. (Check back with us next week to find out what happened.)
Why is this city ordinance a problem?
For one thing, it violates Georgia’s state law giving mothers the right to breastfeed their children—no limitation of age given—anywhere they are otherwise authorized to be.
But there is a host of other reasons why this ordinance is a terrible, pointless, and completely ignorant idea:
What on earth prompted this ordinance, anyway? A rash of complaints about breastfeeding toddlers? Given our country’s breastfeeding statistics and the fact that only 17.9 percent of women in Georgia are still breastfeeding at 12 months, it is highly unlikely that Forest Park is flooded with moms making it a habit to breastfeed their 2-and-olds at all, let alone in public. Those moms who do breastfeed their children into toddlerhood—as I, a former breastfeeding mother from Athens, Ga., did—know that breastfeeding at this age is most likely occurring at home, usually during those prime times for bonding and comfort: in the morning and/or at bedtime. But that doesn’t mean it has to happen at home.
Public breastfeeding is not reviled everywhere in Georgia. Just two hours away from Forest Park, Athens takes a fairly progressive stance on public breastfeeding—thanks, in part, to a laidback atmosphere emanating from the local arts community, but no doubt encouraged by a thriving community of midwives, doulas, and childbirth educators like Alexa Clay. Inspired by the Forest Park ordinance, she had a candid chat her two young sons; here is an excerpt:
Alexa: Abram, what do you think breasts are for?
Abram (age 3, still nursing): Nursing, nurses, and nurse machines.
Alexa: What would you think about if you saw me walking down the street with no shirt on?
Alexa: How old do you think kids should be when they stop?
Alexa: When’s your favorite time to nurse?
Abram: This day.
Alexa: What time of this day? At morning? At night?
Alexa: Elie, when do you think kids should stop nursing?
Elie (age 7, who weaned at age 4): Three, no, 4, no, 6. Yeah, 6.
Alexa: Elie, what would you think if you saw me or another woman walking down the street with no shirt on?
Elie: That would be a little weird, but if I saw a woman with her shirt pulled up the way you pull up your shirt to nurse [he demonstrates nursing, exposing a bit of skin but no nipple], then I wouldn’t think anything about it.
Parker didn’t respond to my request for an interview. If he had, I would have asked him, among other things, what he thinks breasts are for. Why does he feel such a breastfeeding-specific ordinance is necessary? I would have asked whether it was true that he responded to one parent’s complaints with dismissive laughter and the statement, “We don’t want children that can walk around to be breastfeeding in public”—and, if so, to identify this “we” (as if the threat of mass breastfeeding terrorizes every Georgian).
I would have asked him that if the ability to walk negates a child’s right to breastfeed, then why not lower the age limit of the ordinance to 9 or 10 months, because heaven forbid early walkers be permitted to breastfeed in public.
Actually, Mr. Parker, please don’t lower the age limit. The city ordinance is idiotic enough as is.
Editor’s Note—May 23, 2011
More than 100 women gathered at Forest Park City Hall Monday morning, children in tow, to protest the ordinance.
She notes that at least some news media were there looking for a sensational story, but didn’t find one.
“A photographer asked to take a picture of my friend with her sign and asked if she would wave it frantically,” says Natasha Cummings, who traveled from Athens with her 2-year-old son, Emmett, who is still breastfeeding. “There was also a reporter…who wanted to take a picture of a 5-year-old boy sitting in a stroller. The reporter was disappointed to find that the stroller belonged to the boy’s little sister. I think both the photographer and the reporter were looking for extreme clichés.”
What they found instead was just another day at the park—albeit with signs and images reminding us all that breastfeeding (yes, even in public) is every woman and child’s fundamental right. “The mood was calm,” says Cummings. “It could have been an outing at the park—moms with kids, snacks, sippy cups, toys, sitting on blankets.”
City Manager John Parker has reportedly said that the ordinance will be revisited at the next council meeting, which is scheduled for June 6.
Editor’s Note—June 7, 2011
After a “nurse in” at City Hall in Forest Park sparked widespread media attention, the Forest Park City Council voted to amend its ordinance banning public breastfeeding of children over the age of 2. In accordance with Georgia state law, the new ordinance allows breastfeeding in public at any age.
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