A family walks into a restaurant, is seated, and after a few minutes the woman’s order of pasta primavera arrives. Before she starts her meal, she takes out a bottle of baby formula and starts to feed her baby. The baby is happy, the woman is happy. Nothing unusual about that scene.
You and your family walk into that same restaurant, are seated, and you also order pasta primavera. Just as your plate arrives, you discreetly raise your T-shirt and put your baby to your breast. Your baby is happy, you’re happy. Until the manager approaches you and asks you to take your baby and nurse your child in the restroom.
Sound outrageous? You wouldn’t eat your meal in the restroom — why should your child have to eat in the restroom?
Along with the outrage you might feel, your civil rights have just been violated. This is what the law in New York State looks like:
NY CLS Civ R § 79-e (Article 7 Miscellaneous Provisions).
1994 N.Y. ALS 98; 1994 N.Y. LAWS 98; 1994 N.Y. S.N. 3999
§ 79-E. Right To Breast Feed.
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast feed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother's breast is covered during or incidental to the breast feeding.
A violation of this law could result in a fine and possible jail time! You have the law on your side. But you might not know it.
World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, will highlight events that call attention to the importance of breastfeeding and the help available from La Leche League International (LLLI). The theme of this year’s events will be Breastfeeding and Family Foods. LLLI also wants to bring to the forefront the recommendations of the World Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. These health associations stress the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for six months, with gradual introduction of nutritious solid foods after this time, while continuing to breastfeed.
UNICEF estimates that the lack of exclusive breastfeeding for six months is responsible for 3,500 deaths of infants each day. By this one simple intervention, it is estimated that 3.1 million lives would be saved each year.
Upper West Sider, Marian (who prefers not to use her last name) was, until recently, a leader in La Leche League. She remembers how hard it can be to breastfeed in public without protest from other people. A mother of three grown children and grandmother of four, Marian remembers her days of trying to nurse her children without comment.
“I was the original letter writer,” she recalls. “Thirty years ago I was getting kicked out of restaurants for nursing my children in public. I wrote to every local politican, the store manager, the mayor. It makes me so mad that women still have to put up with this. They are feeding their children! They are doing what they feel is best for their babies. I would like to hear the same protests with all the ‘exposure’ that’s on our television screens 24/7.”
During World Breastfeeding Week, Marian plans to join a nursing caravan, which will travel from Manhattan to Bedford Stuyvesant. Moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas are all welcome to travel the subway in support of this event.
Marian adds emphatically, “We want to raise awareness of a woman’s rights to breastfeed in public. This caravan will be one way to let people know that nursing in public is OK, natural, and within our legal rights!”
While many women have acknowledged that “breast is best,” breastfeeding in public continues to be a challenge for some. They often don’t quite know how to do that discreetly. Well-practiced moms advise that dressing in pieces works best — a top and pants, shorts, or a skirt. It is easy enough to lift a T-shirt and let your baby latch on without exposing too much. And once the baby is set, your little one will obscure any exposed skin. Helpful moms say that dresses, clothing that zips up the back, and heavy sweaters should be avoided since they are often cumbersome.
So go ahead, take care of your babies, feed your children. And carry a copy of the law around with you. Tell that restaurant manager or noisy neighbor in the playground that your child has every right to eat wherever you have the right to be.
Helpful websites and phone numbers:
• La Leche League: 1-800-LALECHE; www.lalecheleague.org
• LaLeche League, Manhattan: For a referral to the leader-on-call, call (212) 794-4687.
• World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action: www.waba.org.my
• American Academy of Pediatrics: www.aap.org. Please note the disclaimer on this website: The AAP Web site contains general information for parents of children from birth through age 21. The Academy is unable to respond to requests from parents regarding the personal medical concerns of their children. Your pediatrician is the best source for child and adolescent health information.