14 Moms Who Stood Up for Breastfeeding in Public
Mom-of-three and Nebraska lawmaker Machaela Cavanaugh nursed her 6 month old on the state senate floor, the Omaha World Herald reports.
“I didn’t put a lot of thought into it. He’s my third, so it’s kind of on autopilot at this point,” the 40-year-old told the paper. “Normally when I’m nursing, I’m usually multitasking. I wanted to hear the floor debate that was happening so I just sat down at my desk because that was more comfortable than standing off to the side.”
But Cavanaugh's action made an impact, and reminded moms everywhere that Breastfeeding is finally legal in all 50 states.
Australian senator Larissa Waters broke the glass ceiling in Parliament when she breastfed her 3-month-old daughter while addressing her fellow lawmakers.
“First time I’ve had to move a Senate motion while breastfeeding! And my partner in crime moved her own motion just before mine, bless her,” Waters tweeted.
About a month earlier, Waters became the first to breastfeed in Parliment after returning from a 10-week-long maternity leave and was key in passing legislation last year allowing parliamentary members to breastfeed in chambers.
Still, Waters is a humble pioneer. “Well I think it’s slightly ridiculous that feeding one’s baby is international news — women have been breastfeeding for as long as time immemorial,” she said. “But in another sense, this is the first time this has happened in our Parliament in 116 years, so it’s definitely world history-making.”
Elizabeth Gooding is suing the Ocean Community YMCA after being told that she was “not allowed to breastfeed” her 1-year-old child in the facility’s Kids Corner center over concerns that “young boys” would see her nurse.
The former yoga instructor at the YMCA in Westerly, Rhode Island also stated that she left her job because she was told she could no longer bring her child to the “Mother and Child” yoga classes that she taught. She is now suing the association with the help of the ACLU for discrimination.
“The YMCA should be supporting breastfeeding moms and their babies not deterring them,” she wrote in an open letter on Facebook.
The Ocean Community YMCA said in a statement to WPRI that it “...wants to assure the community that it does not restrict where members or program participants may breastfeed within the facility” and “is confident that it is in compliance with federal and Rhode Island law in this regard."
Gooding hopes to make breastfeeding more welcome in YMCAs across the country, saying, “The YMCA should be supporting breastfeeding moms and their babies not deterring them."
While on the pool deck at the Wood River Aquatic Center, Illinois mom Brei Theisen decided to breastfeed her 14-month-old daughter, only to be told by a pool employee that she needed to cover up.
“I went to the side of the pool to breastfeed her, and I didn’t feel like it was necessary for me to cover up because it is 90 degrees outside, so I did do it as discreetly as I could,” she told St. Louis’s Fox 2.
She then spoke to the pool manager before deciding to leave.
“After the situation I did go speak to the higher boss, and I was told that just because I was comfortable changing her in a public restroom that I should be comfortable feeding her there,” she said. “I feel like you can’t compare the two because you wouldn’t eat where you go to the bathroom.”
Illinois law states mothers can breastfeed “in any location, public or private.” The Wood River Aquatic Center has since apologized and stated that it “will incorporate the law into [their] training for all employees immediately.”
Theisen is happy that she could make a difference. “This is the chance for someone to stand up for those who aren’t comfortable because of situations like this,” she said.
Annie Peguro was “in disbelief” after she was asked to leave the Summit Church in Springfield, Virginia for breastfeeding her 19-month-old daughter, Autumn.
“I took out my breast, put it right in her mouth, and RIGHT AWAY, I mean right away, a woman came over to me, and said ‘We have a really nice baby room, let’s go to the baby room.’ And I said ‘No, it’s okay, it’ll just be a minute.’ And she said ‘No, we’re going to the baby room now,’ ” Peguero, recalled in a Facebook Live video. “Then Autumn was done, and I said ‘No, I’m not going.’ ”
The online trainer and fitness coach said she walked to the back of the church, where the woman explained that the church trains the congregation to stop women from breastfeeding in the sanctuary without a cover. The policy violates Virginia law, and Peguero is hoping to get an apology from the church, reported The Washington Post.
“The fact that his church has told me that it’s their policy to not allow women to breastfeed in the sanctuary floors me, that we still have places that are thinking that way and teaching that way, and are teaching their workers to intercept women who are breastfeeding,” Peguro said in her video. “I so love going to church there, but I’ll never set foot in that church again, and it makes me really sad.”
Kelly Stanley was surprised when her own father called her out for breastfeeding at a restaurant. The mom and yogi started to nurse her 9-month-old who had started fussing at the table, until her dad threw a napkin over them.
“I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was trying to cover me,” Stanley wrote on Instagram. “I went off on him and I’m glad I did. You know why? Because the gesture was humiliating. Because no woman should ever feel like she is being inappropriate or immodest by feeding her baby, anywhere, ever. Breastfeeding is NOT indecent exposure. It’s not inviting men to gawk at my breasts. EVEN IF GOD FORBID THE BABY UNLATCHES AND THEY SEE MY BARE NIPPLE.”
Stanley — who often nurses while doing yoga — said that she wasn't "trying to put on a show," she was just trying to feed her daughter.
“I want all of those moms to know that they aren’t doing anything wrong by feeding their child freely. They’re not immodest, indecent or inconsiderate. They are simply good moms for feeding their child when their child is hungry, despite the fact that it puts themselves in a vulnerable situation. If you don’t like it, it’s quite simple to just look away.”
Wittney Hale ran into a serious case of irony when a Dillard's employee told her not to breastfeed in their Chattanooga, Tennessee, store — right by a large photograph of women's breasts in the lingerie section.
“Why is it acceptable for a giant picture of boobs to be on the wall, but I cannot feed my child?” Hale, 23, asked on Facebook.
Dillard's apologized to Hale after the post went viral, something she thinks happened because, “other breastfeeding or former breastfeeding moms are angry that it happened,” she told PEOPLE.
“I think it’s safe to say no mom will ever be asked to nurse in the restroom in Hamilton Place mall again.”
Mom-of-two Ashley Cooper is a "veteran" when it comes to breastfeeding — so she knew her rights when security at a Virginia mall tried to get her to stop breastfeeding in public, despite being fully covered. Cooper started filming the incident in a Facebook Live video.
“I am at Short Pump mall, taking my kids to see the Easter Bunny, and my baby was screaming because she’s hungry, so I’m on a bench trying to feed her quite discreetly,” Cooper says. “Security has just informed me I have to go into a nursing room, of which they have one, and it is currently occupied. I informed them that in the state of Virginia breastfeeding mothers can nurse anywhere that they are legally allowed to be.”
She received plenty of support from the over 135,000 people who tuned in to her video, and the mall has since apologized.
“I want to say thank you to so many people who have shared messages of support,” Cooper later added. “Nursing, bottle, formula, gtube — no matter how your baby is fed, moms are allowed to feed their children anywhere and in any way!”
Liza Morris signed up for the TEDWomen conference expecting that she would be able to breastfeed her 3-month-old daughter without much of an issue. But right before the event, the D.C.-based strategy and communications consultant learned that the organization has a "grownups-only" policy.
"I was unaware that there was a policy, and it didn’t occur to me to check. I would not have brought her to the full-scale TED conference, but this was TEDWomen, which seemed like a place where a baby would be well received," Morris, 43, told PEOPLE.
Morris is a fan of the organization overall, and felt bad once she became aware of the policy, but it was too late to change her flights. She resolved to go, with her daughter in tow, and stayed in a mother's lounge that TED set up throughout the talks. Morris hopes the policy will evolve.
"I think (hope!) we are in a time of change. But change is a process. TED is a place for positive disruption, pushing boundaries and accelerating the pace of change. It is the most inclusionary environment I’ve ever experienced. And TEDWomen, specifically, is a place where I hope this issue can continue to evolve and women aren’t excluded just because they are nursing mothers."
New mom Savannah Shukla stood up for her legal right to breastfeed in public — to a cop.
Shukla was nursing her 1-month-old son while shopping at a Piggly Wiggly grocery story in Columbus, Georgia, when a sheriff's deputy allegedly told her that she “needed to cover up because someone might find it ‘offensive,’ ” she wrote on Facebook.
“He also pointed out how he could ‘already see my areola’ and that if someone saw my nipple (even if I were trying to cover up) that he would have to arrest me and that he ‘really didn’t want to arrest me,’ ” Shukla writes. “For him to see my areola he would’ve had to have been staring VERY hard.”
“It was horrifying, absolutely horrifying that somebody, who like I said, is supposed to protect me, threatened to arrest me and I hadn’t even done anything wrong,” Shukla added.
Sheriff John Darr posted an apology online the next day, saying that his office "does not condone these actions."
On a joyous, but long day celebrating her sister's wedding, Emily Locke took a break from photos at the Western Reserve Historical Society museum in Cleveland to breastfeed her 9-month-old son. But a female employee quickly came up, bluntly telling Locke, "You can't do that here."
"It didn't even start as a conversation," Locke, 33, told PEOPLE. “She said, ‘I’m going to need you to move.’ And I said, ‘Actually, legally, I can breastfeed my son wherever I want. And I’m fine right here.’ I was so shocked by her reaction and tone.”
Locke informed the employee, and the manager who echoed that she couldn't breastfeed, that she had the legal right to under Ohio state law, and posted about the incident on Facebook.
The museum CEO later called up Locke to apologize, and said that they were re-training their staff so this incident would not happen again.
Locke hopes her experience helps other moms.
“I don’t want a mom out nursing her child and be made to feel that she’s not doing something right and give up on breastfeeding because she feels too isolated and like she can’t go out anywhere,” she says. “I don’t want nursing moms to feel isolated; I want them to be empowered.”
Jessie Maher got an unwelcome shock when a man started berating and cursing her for breastfeeding at a Connecticut Target.
“Because I’m feeding my baby, this man is going crazy. And I’m shaking,” Maher said in a video she took of the incident. Multiple women and three Target employees then came to her aid and escorted the man away, after he demanded a refund.
“He has no right to be doing what he’s doing, you have a baby in your hands,” one woman told Maher in the video. “You shouldn’t be ashamed of feeding your baby. He can go the other way. This is a beautiful moment right now. If he doesn’t like it he can go.”
Maher thanked everyone who came to her in support, both in person and on Facebook, where 8.5 million people watched the video.
“I choose to openly breastfeed my child when ever and where ever she happens to be hungry,” she later wrote. “I choose not to cover up because I am not ashamed of what my breasts are intended for. I stand with all mamas breastfeeding, bottle feeding, covered or not. It is hard enough being a mother, period.”
Dylan Downing was grabbing lunch at a Texas sushi restaurant when her 2-month-old son got hungry, so she paused to breastfeed — until a waitress came over and put a napkin over her and the baby.
“I ripped it off and said, ‘Why are you touching me and covering my child?’ ” Downing said she asked the waitress, who told her that she was trying to help Downing cover up after three male customers complained about her exposed breast, according to Houston’s KHOU 11 News.
Downing posted a photo of her receipt with no tip on Facebook, which led the waitress to reach out an apologize. Downing wants to make sure this doesn't happen again.
“I don’t go out of my way to shout from the rooftops, ‘Everybody free the nipple.’ [But] I definitely believe in it, and I think you should breastfeed wherever you want,” said Downing. “I don’t think you should be shamed for it for sure.”
Controversies over public breastfeeding happen outside of the U.S. as well. New mom Luci White had to nurse her 7-month-old son when he started crying during a trip to the Bendigo Marketplace mall just outside of Melbourne, much to the chagrin of an older man and a mom sitting nearby.
“The older gentleman said: ‘You can’t do it in public, it’s inappropriate’ ” White told the Bendigo Advertiser. “And the mum in her 30s said: ‘That is so rude with children around.’ I couldn’t believe it. Why would your child find it so weird to see a baby breastfeeding?"
Though nursing in public is legal in Australia, mall staff asked White to move to a "specialized feeding facility." In response, the mom posted on Facebook about the incident, and other moms organized a breastfeeding sit-in at the mall, called "Boobs for Babies."
Bendigo Marketplace apologized to White, but that didn't stop dozens of moms from nursing in the mall.
“It is obviously disappointing that some women continue to face unnecessary negative comments when they are doing something that is the most natural thing of all,” added one protester, mom Jacinta Allan.