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Guest column

Nursing mothers have rights, too

Published August 14, 2005

I usually don't run afoul of authority figures much these days, but recently I got myself into some hot water at North Shore Pool.

Here's how it went down: "I'm sorry, ma'am, but you can't do that here."

I was nursing my 6-month-old baby to sleep while I chatted with my friends and watched my older children swim. I thought it might help to let her know that Florida Law protects mothers' rights to nurse in public.

It didn't. She said that I could nurse, just not right there, at the pool edge. She suggested the women's locker rooms. Her supervisor suggested the sunbathing deck. He said the pool was supposed to be a "family-friendly environment."

The thing is, there is no segregation for breast-feeding moms. The right to nurse in public does not include exceptions (like pools or restaurants) or limitations (like only in restrooms or under a blanket).

Some moms carry a copy of the Florida law around with them in case they get hassled. Now I do, too. It reads:

As per Florida Law, Florida Statute 383.015: "The breastfeeding of a baby is an important and basic act of nurture which must be encouraged in the interests of maternal and child health and family values, and in furtherance of this goal:

(1) A mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother's breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding . . .

"WHEREAS, any genuine promotion of family values should encourage public acceptance of this most basic act of nurture between mother and baby, and no mother should be made to feel incriminated or socially ostracized for breast feeding her baby, NOW, THEREFORE."

I was lucky in that I had knowledge of the law, two supportive friends backing me up, and a supervising lifeguard who was ultimately receptive to what I had to say.

But in parting two of the lifeguards said interesting things to me. One said, "You have to understand, this has just never come up before."

Ironically, I had probably nursed about 30 times at that pool during my daughter's swim lessons. With my baby tucked into my cloth sling, out of view. Without intending to, I had contributed to the impression that breast-feeding was not happening by the pool.

Another lifeguard said, "You have to understand, we're just 20-year-olds. We haven't really thought about these things yet."

"These things" being breasts, or babies?

I think we need to rethink them both.

No one will ask you to cover up if you are sporting a skimpy bikini (as long as no nipple is showing), but, even with hardly any skin visible, breast-feeding moms get asked to drape their babies with blankets or go to a bathroom or locker room to nurse.

Each time a baby breast-feeds he receives emotional, nutritional and immunological benefits that are available in no other way. What most people don't realize is that the societal message - go ahead and breast-feed, just don't let anyone see you do it - is a big hurdle to scramble over.

Think about it: If you can only comfortably breast-feed at home, then either you are trapped at home (what a recipe for postpartum depression), or have a tough choice to make. Do you hide in a dank restroom, in a hot car, or under a blanket (which most babies fight)? Do you find the money to buy a pump and find the time to use it, so you have bottles of your own milk? Do you give formula every time you're away from home? With each feeding that a baby gets from another source, the mother's milk supply dwindles and can lead to early weaning.

Why should a baby miss a single feeding at his mother's breast due to social stigma?

You can help. Tell a nursing mom "Good job." Put a "breast-feeding-friendly establishment" sign up on your business door. And support me in asking for a citywide pool breast-feeding policy, making it clear that the pool is no exception.

Come on, St. Petersburg! Let's create a "family-friendly" city that includes breast-feeding babies, too.

Hilary Flower is a free-lance writer and author of Adventures in Gentle Discipline, published this summer by La Leche League International.

[Last modified August 14, 2005, 00:53:19]

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