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Nursing in Public: When Did It Become So Controversial?

Written by Robin Kaplan, M.Ed., IBCLC

When I look back at 2012 and recall the variety of breastfeeding stories that were covered by American media, I can’t help, but grimace and wonder,

“When did breastfeeding become so controversial?”

News story after news story depicts a breastfeeding mother being harassed for breastfeeding in public:

Charlotte Dirkes was asked to stop, cover up, or go somewhere else when she breastfed her 10-month old at a water park in Englewood, Colorado.

Tiffany Morgan was asked to stop breastfeeding her 6-month old, cover up, or leave Denny’s in Sedalia, Missouri.

Dawn Holland was asked to finish breastfeeding her 20-month old son in the bathroom of Applebee’s in Georgia.

Photo via Nurse-In @ Hollister Facebook Page

Photo via Nurse-In @ Hollister Facebook Page

Most recently, Brittany Warfield was screamed at and forced to leave a Hollister store in the Galleria Mall in Houston, Texas, when she breastfed her 7-month old, sparking a nurse-in across the United States and Canada of over 1,000 breastfeeding mothers, children, and friends on Jan 5th, 2013.

What ensued during this most recent nurse-in was truly shocking.

Three women participating in the Hollister nurse-in at Wilmington, Delaware’s Concord Mall were asked to remove their signs (written about normalizing nursing in public) and move to another part of the mall.  After taking down their signs, they continued to nurse in front of the Hollister store.  The mall’s security guards called the local police, who ended up not taking any action with the mothers once they showed them a copy of Delaware’s law that protects a woman breastfeeding in public.  The security officers took it upon themselves to continue to harass the mothers by threatening them with removal from the mall and then followed the mothers throughout the mall.

Photo via Nurse-In @ Hollister Facebook Page

Photo via Nurse-In @ Hollister Facebook Page

When other mothers heard about what happened at the mall, they posted on the Concord Mall’s Facebook page that they should be ashamed for calling the police when mothers were just feeding their babies.  In response, the Concord Mall responded that the breastfeeding was an ‘eyesore’ and that they ‘hope you guys don’t mind if I suck on my wife’s breasts in public.’

Since this Facebook exchange, The Concord Mall has disabled their Facebook Page (and denies that it ever had a Facebook page).  They also have apologized to the three mothers, yet the apology never admitted wrongdoing or that the women were treated improperly.

By the way, all of these harassment stories took place in states where breastfeeding women are protected by law to breastfeed in a public space.

While this type of harassment ruffles my IBCLC-feathers, it truly upsets me as an avid advocate for a breastfeeding mother’s right to meet her personal breastfeeding goals.  How can we expect mothers to breastfeed for any decent amount of time if they are relegated to their homes, cars, and public restrooms whenever their babies are hungry, just to avoid degradation and humiliation?

How can we, as mothers and IBCLCs, create the necessary change in our society where women will be able to feed their babies as nature intended?

I asked these questions to a group of mothers at my breastfeeding support group today, as well as of the followers on my business Facebook page, and their answers were honest and insightful.  Here’s what they had to say:

  • More women need to breastfeed in public so that people become desensitized to it, just like ‘we’ (Americans, in general) are desensitized to the sexualization of the breast and to violence on TV.
  • More breastfeeding on television shows and in movies, rather than always bottle feeding.
  • Public service announcements about how breastfeeding protects the health of the baby and of mom.
  • Have easier access to the laws that protect breastfeeding mothers, to use as a defense when asked to stop breastfeeding in public, cover up, or leave a public place.
  • In addition to the laws that protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, there is a need for laws that involve recourse for those who harass a woman for breastfeeding in public.

Fortunately, breastfeeding advocates are already thinking these same ideas!

Thanks to the Breastfeeding Law website, breastfeeding mothers can find all of the laws in the United States that protect their rights to breastfeed in public.

In California, on September 28, 2012, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB2386, which states that it is unlawful to engage in specified discriminatory practices in employment or housing accommodations on the basis of breastfeeding or medical conditions related to breastfeeding.  What this means for breastfeeding moms… they are now considered a ‘protected class’ of citizens and will receive a full spectrum of workplace discrimination protection.

In October, 2012, Best for Babes announced the launch of their Nursing in Public Harassment Hotline.  Now, breastfeeding mothers can report incidents of nursing in public harassment, document them, and receive guidance on how to deal with the situation and approach the offending institution.  The goal… to have enough documentation to influence policy makers to create laws that require enforcement of existing breastfeeding in public laws, the creation of laws that cover harassment and discrimination against breastfeeding in public, and educational and sensitivity trainings for employees.

Even MTV is changing their stance on breastfeeding.  While season 2 of Teen Mom removed scenes showing Kailyn Lowry breastfeeding, season 3 star, Katie Yeager, stated on Facebook and twitter that the show “will show me breastfeeding for a year.  I’m breaking the stigma and normalizing it again.”  That’s quite a commitment for a 16 year old!

For me, I plan to hand out a business card-sized copy of the California state laws that protect breastfeeding in public and prohibit discrimination in the workplace and housing to every breastfeeding mother I work with.  Hopefully having it in her wallet will provide some comfort that the law is on her side.  I also plan to submit an editorial to my local newspaper every time I hear a story about a mother being harassed for nursing in public.  I figure, it’s my job to educate my community about a mother’s right to feed her baby in public, without fear of persecution.  Lastly, I plan to promote Best for Babes Nursing in Public Harassment Hotline.  The more documentation they can collect, the better chance we have of creating a REAL change in our communities to help mothers meet their personal breastfeeding goals!

What plans do YOU have to create change in your communities for protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed in public?

RobinRobin Kaplan received training to be a Certified Lactation Educator and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant from UCSD. She holds a Masters in Education from UCLA, a multiple-subjects teacher credential from UCLA, and a BA in Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis, MO. In 2009, Robin started her own business, the San Diego Breastfeeding Center, where she offers in-home breastfeeding consultations, free weekly support groups, breastfeeding classes, and online support through her business blog.  In addition to her private practice, Robin was the founding Co-editor of theInternational Lactation Consultant Association’s (ILCA)blog, Lactation Matters, and a regular contributor to ILCA’s E-Globe newsletter.  She also is the host/producer of The Boob Group online radio show and the Director of Marketing for  Robin lives in her native San Diego, where she enjoys cooking, hiking, trying new trendy restaurants, and traveling with her family.


Why Beyonce Nursing in Public is So Significant

Written by Robin Kaplan, M.Ed., IBCLC, Owner of San Diego Breastfeeding Center and Co-Editor of Lactation Matters

Last week I came across an extremely well-written article by Kimberly Seals Allers of, called Dear White Women: Beyonce is OUR Breastfeeding Moment. Please Step Aside.  In her article, Kimberly discussed her disappointment with the media coverage of Beyonce, one of the most iconic and popular African American women at this current time, nursing in public.  While this was a wonderful moment for all breastfeeding advocates, it truly was a significant event for African American women, who have statistically had low breastfeeding initiation and duration rates.  Here is my interview with Kimberly Sears Allers.

Kimberly Seals Allers and her children

Robin: Why is Beyonce breastfeeding in public so significant for the African American community?

Kimberly: Beyonce breastfeeding in public is particularly significant for our community because we just haven’t had as many high profile African American celebrities come out and support breastfeeding. Like it or not, role models matter. Celebrities can help create a lifestyle cache and trendiness, particularly among young women, that helps broaden our ideas about who breastfeeds in the black community. When you look at the high infant mortality rate among African American infants, and we know how critical breastfeeding is to saving these babies lives and reducing their risks of respiratory infections and childhood obesity, the possibly the power of one highly-visible black celebrity breastfeeding could potentially save one more infant, and help one more baby become a healthier child is significant beyond words for me.

Robin: In your opinion, how could this media event been covered more appropriately?

Kimberly: For years I have been writing that black mothers are absent from the mainstream “mommy” conversation in this country and it seems our invisibility has carried over with this instance. The media was, for the most part, negligent by not connecting the dots between Beyonce as a black woman breastfeeding an African American child–both of whom are statistically less likely to breastfeed or be breastfed, and highlighting the particular significance for black women who have had historically low breastfeeding rates for over 40 years. This was also a rare, and unfortunately missed, opportunity for those who speak for the breastfeeding movement to connect those dots for them and millions of others. When we have the opportunity for a national microphone, I believe we have to hold our own leaders and the media accountable for thinking about all the issues and looking at these news events from all angles.

Robin: How can lactation consultants better support African American breastfeeding women in our communities?

Kimberly: The most important thing is to understand the cultural nuances of breastfeeding for an African American woman. Breastfeeding is not about simplistic messaging that breast is best; we know that and want that. But many of us are first generation breastfeeders with little or no multi-generational support. Help us with the how. Studies show that our male partners, grandmas, aunties and extended family members have a greater influence on our decision and breastfeeding duration than other women… so target the whole family. Understand the power of media stereotypes, our own internal stereotypes about who breastfeeds in our community, the residual effects of our breastfeeding experiences during slavery, and the role of aggressive infant formula marketing. Educate us so that when our mother or grandmother question if the baby is getting enough, we have an educated answer. Empower us to have more confidence in our bodies and our ability to “do this” even if, and especially if, we don’t have much social support. Having a broader understanding of what this woman is dealing with, beyond the latch issue, a lactation consultant may actually be there to assist, which can mean so much in terms of true support.

Robin: Now, please tell us all about your new project, Black Breastfeeding 360°.

Kimberly: I’m so excited about this! For years, I’ve been frustrated by the superficial news coverage of breastfeeding issues in our community. There is always reporting of the low statistics, with little or no insight into the complexities I previously mentioned or the lack of role models or the lack of social support. So I created Black Breastfeeding 360° as an online content library for media professionals to get everything they need to know on the full spectrum of the black breastfeeding experience. And I created BB360° as a place for women, mothers, and fathers to learn, share and hear the breastfeeding experiences of others. BB360° features articles and commentaries that any media outlet can use for research or download for free use in their publication.  It features audio and video clips of real mothers, fathers and grandparents talking about their true thoughts and feelings about breastfeeding, and it features practical tips and resources specifically written for any black woman nursing her child or even thinking about it. I was supported to create BB360° through my Food & Community Fellowship with the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, funded by the Kellogg Foundation, and I’m so grateful. It’s my baby and I’m breastfeeding it, so I know it will be healthy and robust.

Kimberly Seals Allers is a leading voice on African American motherhood,  author of The Mocha Manual™ series of books and founder of, a parenting and lifestyle destination and blog for African American moms and moms-to-be. An award-winning journalist, Kimberly is also a popular public speaker and consultant on the mom of color market, and fiercely committed to reducing the high infant and maternal mortality rates and increasing the low breastfeeding rates in the African American community.

In 2011, Kimberly was named an IATP Food and Community Fellow, funded by the Kellogg Foundation, with a mandate to increase awareness and reducing the barriers to access to “the first food”—breast milk, in vulnerable communities.

In addition to her popular blog on, Kimberly blogs about the African American parenting experience for Babycenter’s and is a regular commentator for and

Her first book, The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy (Amistad/HarperCollins) a hip, funny and informative pregnancy guidebook for women of color, put her on the map as a pregnancy and parenting expert with real-deal insights. The book was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and later turned into The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy DVD, available at Her book series also includes The Mocha Manual to Turning Your Passion into Profit, and The Mocha Manual to Military Life—A Savvy Guide for Girlfriends, Wives and Female Service Members.

A graduate of New York University and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Kimberly is a divorced mom of two who lives in Queens, New York.


Do Children See Breastfeeding?

By Jennie Bever Babendure, PhD, IBCLC

With the recent push to Bring Breastfeeding back to Sesame Street, and deletion of breastfeeding images by Facebook, this month’s article seems particularly timely. In countries where the act of breastfeeding is often done behind closed doors and breastfeeding imagery is controversial—what do children say about how babies are fed?

In the Dec 2011 issue of BIRTH, Angell, Alexander and Hunt explore this issue looking at infant feeding awareness in primary school children1.  In this small pilot study in southern England, 56 children ages 5/6, 7/8 and 10/11 were read a story about a hungry newborn baby, and asked to finish it with drawings and text about how the baby would be fed, then invited to talk about their work with a researcher.

36% of the children depicted breastfeeding, with 13% of 5/6 and 7/8 year-olds and 83% of the 10/11 year-olds referring to breastfeeding in their drawings or text.  The younger children tended to be confident and articulate in their descriptions of breastfeeding, while the 10/11 year olds were more hesitant. The 10/11 year-olds were more likely to illustrate mothers in awkward poses in their drawings, and to use euphemisms and gestures to describe breastfeeding.   They were also more likely to indicate they had learned about breastfeeding in school, while the younger children demonstrated detail from personal experience.

Formula was depicted by 55% of children evenly distributed across age groups, many of whom also described breastfeeding or solid foods. Although the researchers identified little difference between the responses of boys and girls, the impact of school-based teaching was evident in the responses of the 10/11 year-olds as children from urban schools seem to have more detailed working knowledge of breastfeeding gained from school curricula than did rural school children.

This study is consistent with others that demonstrate a greater awareness of bottle feeding among both children and adults.  The authors point out that while bottle feeding imagery is everywhere, most children and adults in the UK have never seen a friend or family member breastfeed.  I would venture to guess that the same is true in the US.   Despite the fact that my 5 year old son has been proudly pointing out nipples on mother animals in his picture books since he was old enough to talk, and has a good working knowledge of the mechanics of a breast pump, I was a bit surprised to learn that I am the only person he has ever seen breastfeed.

Importantly for the authors and for breastfeeding advocates, these findings demonstrate a real opportunity.   In spite of the awkwardness of the 10/11 year olds in discussing breastfeeding, the school-specific differences in breastfeeding knowledge suggests that they are receptive to learning about infant feeding.   Angell, Alexander and Hunt conclude that in the UK, an evidence-based standardized infant feeding curriculum in primary school may be a promising first step to breaking down culturally entrenched barriers and increasing the success of later breastfeeding promotion efforts.  Should the US and other countries follow suit, this type of education could have wide-reaching influence both on attitudes towards breastfeeding and on public health for generations to come.

1. Angell C, Alexander J, Hunt JA. How Are Babies Fed? A Pilot Study Exploring Primary School Children’s Perceptions of Infant Feeding. Birth 2011;38(4):346-353.

Jennie Bever Babendure, PhD, IBCLC

I am a mother of 2 active boys and an Assistant Research Professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University. As breastfeeding researcher, I am constantly scanning the literature for articles that guide my research and inform my clinical practice. One of my goals is to increase the evidence base of our profession as lactation consultants. I feel it is important for lactation professionals to be aware of and contribute to breastfeeding research, especially when so much of it is fascinating! As an ongoing contributor to Lactation Matters, it is my hope that you will find the articles I highlight as interesting and informative as I do, and that you will use them to guide you in the important work of lactation professionals and breastfeeding advocates.


Nursing is Normal – A Video from the Central District Breastfeeding Coalition

Thank you so much to Betsy Ayers, a lactation consultant at Meridian St. Luke’s hospital in Boise, Idaho, for sending this video to Lactation Matters.  What a beautiful testiment to normalizing breastfeeding, especially in public!


If you have a video or story that you would like to share with our readers, please email us at


Video Vignettes – Breastfeeding in Public

In our monthly Video Vignette series, we review the use of the internet to empower moms to meet their breastfeeding goals.  This month, let’s utilize YouTube to assist moms in getting out of the house and finding the confidence to breastfeed in public.

As we all know, today’s new mothers are excited to reconnect with the outside world.  Breastfeeding mothers can take advantage of the simplicity of breastfeeding outside of the home once they get some helpful tips.   During consultations and hospital rounds, suggestions for breastfeeding in public can be provided; a handout or follow-up email listing videos to watch at home can supplement your ‘breastfeeding in public’ message.

Breastfeeding in Public Tips:  Encourage mothers to practice breastfeeding at home until they can put their baby to the breast without fumbling.  Suggest nursing in new places around their own home and while doing new activities (talking on the phone or working at the computer).  Move on to nursing at a friend’s house or in a changing room at a shopping mall or local clothing store.  Once the private locations are mastered and breastfeeding confidence is established, recommend breastfeeding on a park bench, in the shopping mall, or at a quiet restaurant.

Clothing should provide easy access to breasts.  Loose tops with layered buttoning shirts or sweaters provide great cover and will give the mother plenty of ability to maneuver.  Unbuttoning from the bottom up will allow for discrete coverage of the mother’s sides and will keep her shoulders covered and warm.   For additional privacy, a shawl or baby blanket draped across mother’s shoulder can form a tent over baby as she nurses.

Nursing in a sling, carrier, or wrap is also a great recommendation for breastfeeding in pubic.

Lactation Consultants can also mention that nursing openly and proudly reminds people that breasts are for feeding babies.  Nursing in public helps our society become a more welcoming place for mothers and babies.  Encourage the mother to smile proudly as she nurses – she is doing the best for her baby.

As follow-up to verbal tips and advice, we have selected three videos to encourage breastfeeding in public through the use of the internet.

The Australians have it right with this short video.  Mothers will laugh and gain confidence as they see how ridiculous breastfeeding in some setting can be.


Baby Gooroo presents an empowering video including dads discussing their fears about breastfeeding in public and exposure.  Simple, short and multi-cultural.


Lastly, this simple woman-to-woman video presents the legal perspective to breastfeeding in public.  Mothers are encouraged to check out their state laws and provided with tips for confronting individuals who may challenge the woman’s right to breastfeed.


Remember, YouTube is the perfect classroom for the breastfeeding mother.  She can watch at her leisure, in the privacy of her own home, pause, review and watch some more.

These videos are only a beginning – we encourage you to search for additional video

Wendy Wright, MBA, IBCLC, Guess Blogger

Utilizing the web to reach our breastfeeding target market Co-owner Lactation Navigation – Workplace Lactation Consultants, LLC


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