Thursday, March 24, 2011

Who should I send this to?

I saw this report today and became so outraged I think I was actually having heart palpitations.

The report prompted me to write this response, but I don't know who I should send it to.  The superintendent?  The members of the school board?  How do I even find their addresses?

Well, I figured I'd start by posting it here.  Recently, when my friend was told she couldn't nurse her baby in a hospital cafeteria, I wrote about it and people found it.  Quickly.  Maybe the same will happen this time?

Here goes.


To whom it may concern:


I am deeply disturbed by a recent report in the media (“DCSS looks at breast feeding at schools”), which discusses a proposal to ban both teachers and students from breastfeeding their children while on school property. The superintendent of the Dougherty County School District in Georgia suggests that this policy meets the legal requirements of accommodating the needs of nursing mothers.  However, I fail to see how this policy is anything other than blatantly discriminatory and detrimental to both mothers and their children.  According to state breastfeeding laws, in Georgia, a mother is permitted to breastfeed her child in any location that the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be.  Therefore, as long as women and their children are authorized to be on campus, the school district’s policy appears to violate this law directly.

The recently published article alleges that school officials say that allowing students or teachers to breastfeed their children on campus will disrupt to the educational process.  Further, the article states that school officials believe they are providing adequate support to mothers by allowing them to express breastmilk in the nurses station while on designated breaks.  While I commend the school for providing breast pumps for both teen mothers and teachers in the district, this measure alone is insufficient to support the best interests of either mothers or their babies.  It is unclear to me, based on the superintendent’s quote, whether he is against permitting infants in the school or whether he specifically wishes to prevent them from being breastfed while on the premises.  He voices concern that infants will cry and disrupt classes.  If infants are permitted on campus, certainly nursing them would stop them from crying much more quickly than if a mother were required to go to the nurses station, express breastmilk, and then feed it to her infant in a bottle.

The new policies are discriminatory for nursing mothers who work in the school district, but perhaps even more disturbing is the impact that this proposal would have on the 271 teenage mothers who attend classes in the district.  Breastfeeding rates have been notoriously low for teenage mothers, and numerous studies have cited lack of social support and fear of stigmatization as primary factors that inhibit breastfeeding in teenage mothers.  The policies proposed by the DCSS directly reify the social and physical barriers to breastfeeding that teenage mothers face.  While the school district seems to feel it is covering its bases by permitting the expression of breastmilk via a breastpump, the policy itself sends a clear and unambiguous message that nursing an infant at the breast is an unacceptable cultural practice.  It is important to note that breastfeeding rates in the state of Georgia fall below the national average at every measured stage; moreover, such a restrictive policy directly counter-indicates the Surgeon General’s call to action to increase breastfeeding in the United States.

It is my sincere hope that the members of the Dougherty County School Board vote against these restrictive breastfeeding policies.


Respectfully yours,

Cloth mother, PhD.



Monday, March 14, 2011

Breastfeeding is not a crime, part 2

I want to thank everyone I spoke to at the Children's Hospital today about Friday's incident.  Extremely respectful and kind representatives assured me that the hospital has no policy against breastfeeding on the premises and is in fact a very strong proponent of breastfeeding.  I am truly thankful for the time and attention they have devoted to this matter; moreover, I am thankful for the good work they do saving children's lives everyday.

Still, it is distressing (to put it lightly) that a woman can be asked to leave any location because she is nursing her baby.  The law does provide women with the right to nurse in any public or private location, but that does not stop people from getting offended by it.  I just don't understand how anyone could find fault with a mother nourishing her child.  Apparently the reason why my friend was asked to leave the hospital cafeteria was because people had complained that they did not want their children to see a woman breastfeeding.  My reaction to this is that maybe if more children grew up seeing women nurse, no mother would be told she could not breastfeed her baby in a hospital cafeteria because that's where people eat.  If children grew up viewing breastfeeding as normative, maybe breasts wouldn't be fetishized to the extent they are, and people would actually come to realize what breasts are there for.  In this regard, it seems strange that we even need laws granting mothers the right to breastfeed anywhere they wish.  It should just be a given.

Obviously, this incident happened to my friend, and I wasn't there to witness firsthand the details of what happened.  So I think I will step out of the issue for now.  And again, I want to stress the respectfulness of everyone I have spoken to at the hospital, and I want to make clear that I in no way wish to tarnish the reputation of the hospital or any of its employees.  What I do hope though, is that no woman is ever again asked to leave the premises because she is nursing her baby.

I'll close by including some pictures of me, nursing Will in various public locations.  Soooo offensive, isn't it?

Will's first cable car ride

On a cable car in San Francisco

Dr. Mom

Dr. Mom, PhD in breastfeeding.  And Biological Anthropology.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Breastfeeding is not a crime

A friend of mine was visiting St. Louis for an appointment at the Children's Hospital this week.  While at the hospital, she went to the cafeteria with her 6 week old baby.  The baby got hungry, so she started to nurse him.

Everything was going great until a security guard came up to her and told her discretely that she was going to have to leave.  My friend asked him why.  He said that she couldn't nurse in the cafeteria.  My friend asked him why she could not nurse in the cafeteria.  He told her it was because there were children around and some people had complained.  She asked what she was supposed to do.  He told her to go to a nursing room on the fifth floor.  She told him she could not leave the cafeteria because her husband and older son were planning to meet her there, and she wasn't sure when they would be arriving.

He asked her to leave again, and she told him she was not sure about Missouri law, but in Illinois, (where she is from) a woman is permitted to nurse in any public place.  At that point, the security guard said he would go check with his supervisor regarding Missouri public breastfeeding laws.

He did not return, and my friend continued to breastfeed her baby.

I think my friend handled the entire situation superbly.  I wish I had her composure.  I asked her permission to post about this on my blog, and she said yes, but the whole situation makes me so angry that I can barely form sentences.

A few weeks ago, something similar occurred when a nursing mother was asked to leave the Smithsonian.   After that incident, breastfeeding advocates staged a nurse-in on the premises.  Maybe St. Louisans should do the same.  It feels particularly insidious when a woman is told she cannot nurse in a hospital.

And for the record, Missouri law: "allows a mother, with as much discretion as possible, to breastfeed her child in any public or private location."

That law seems heinously ambiguous (who determines how much "discretion" is sufficient?) and pales in comparison to the extensive protections offered breastfeeding women by many other states, including my former home state of Illinois.

Come on, people.

We're mammals.

Get over it.




Dear William (19 months)

Dear William,

Today you are 19 months old!  The last couple of weeks have been full of a lot of changes.

First off, I think you are done nursing.  You nursed about a week ago... last Sunday morning when you were crying and fussy (cause I think your teeth hurt).  I was trying to put away laundry, so I stopped and nursed you a little bit, and then you felt better.  You haven't seemed to concern yourself with nursing since then, so I was thinking that was it, until today when you just wouldn't stop crying (more teeth coming in), and I let you nurse again for a few minutes.  So we are probably done with it, but maybe not completely done.  We'll see.  In some ways it would be nice to be done with nursing, but in other ways it makes me kind of sad.  The sadness mainly comes from the realization that you are growing up and I am so baffled about how you went from this tiny crying thing to a great big giant boy like you are now(often still crying).


The second biggest change is that you go to bed on your own now.  One night, your dad decided to see what happened if he just lay you down in your crib with seahorse and tip toed out of the room.  You screamed and cried.  For maybe 2 minutes.  And then you were completely silent!  We've been doing that ever since.  Last night you didn't even cry when we put you in your crib; you just cuddled seahorse and went nigh nigh.


You seem to be off rice and beans, which has been your staple food for something like 6 months now.  All of a sudden you just don't want it anymore.  Your latest thing is cold rotini noodles dipped in hummus.  Yuck.


Well William, your little friend Anton is visiting this weekend.  Do you remember him?  His mama was in my yoga group and you first met them when you were only a week or two old.  Anyway, my point is, we've got company, so I have to cut this letter short!



Hi guys

At the playground

Cue the theme music and... strut