In 1999, Congress passed a law affirming that breastfeeding in public is legal.
In addition, 44 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location where they are allowed to be. Which translates to: pretty much anywhere.
Yet, every year nursing moms are harassed and threatened with arrest by security guards and store managers.
Even though breastfeeding women tend to know their rights, they almost always end up complying with the illegal demands of their lacto-persecutors. (Being responsible for the welfare of a nursing infant may have something to do with it.)
Baby Not On Board
By now, everyone accepts that different rules apply on airplanes, but small babies hardly seem to pose a security threat.
In 2006, Emily Gillette was kicked off a flight from Burlington, VT to New York City because she was breastfeeding her baby. In Gillette’s complaint against Delta Air Lines, she said she was discreetly nursing her daughter as their flight prepared to take off. She said she was sitting by the window and her husband sat between her and the aisle.
When a flight attendant handed her a blanket and told her to cover up, Gillette declined, saying that she had a legal right to feed her baby. Soon after, a Delta ticket agent approached and escorted the family off the plane.
The incident outraged so many women that they mobilized and staged nurse-ins at airports around the country.
Three years later, Gillette sued Delta, claiming lasting psychological trauma from the event.
Fast-food chains stake their reputations on being family-friendly, but just last month, Clarissa Bradford was asked by the manager of a McDonald’s in Arizona to leave for breastfeeding her baby. She said she told him that state law allowed her to nurse, but her other children became upset when the manager threatened to call the police, so, like Gillette, Bradford complied.
Oddly, Bradford and her friend were the only customers in the restaurant at the time.
You’d think that a courtroom would be the one place where the law would be upheld. Not so in Crawford, AR.
While Nicole House waited to be sworn in at the Crawford County courthouse, she covered herself with a cloth and breastfed her daughter.
When a bailiff asked her if she was breastfeeding, House told him she was. So he told her to leave and, as with the other moms, she did.
Next Time, Try the Candy Aisle
In a change from the norm, a Detroit couple stuck up for themselves when Target employees asked them to leave because the mother was breastfeeding in the electronics aisle. Apparently, a security guard told the woman and her husband that breastfeeding in public was against the law.
But the husband, a Detroit police officer, knew that this wasn’t true and he said so.
That’s when the police were called.
Target justified its employees actions in a statement: “This specific situation escalated to a point where we were concerned for the safety of our guests, so law enforcement was called. We regret the incident in our store and will continue to provide a shopping environment that respects the needs of all guests, including nursing mothers.”
Unfortunately, some of the most high-profile breastfeeding incidents have revolved around women who were endangering their children and also happened to be breastfeeding at the time.
Such is the case of Stacey Anvarinia, a North Dakota woman was actually arrested while breastfeeding at home. While drunk.
Even though Anvarinia ended up pleading guilty to child neglect, there are conflicting opinions on how much, if any, alcohol a mother can safely consume while nursing.
Nevertheless, authorities insisted that the environment was unsafe for the baby, regardless of the breastfeeding, and police were right to make the arrest.
The cops took a similar line in the instance of Genine Compton of Kettering, OH. In 2008 police arrested her for breastfeeding — while driving and talking on a cell phone. The arresting officers were quick to point out that they stopped her for violating infant car seat laws, not breastfeeding.