Saturday, December 19, 2009

Breastfeeding in Public?

Breastfeeding in public?
Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse December 18, 2009 01:18 PM

Mother of three Mary Martinez was ousted from a Target store in Michigan earlier this month, after she began breastfeeding her hungry 4-week-old daughter in the electronics section.

Though there were few other shoppers in the area, Target security approached Martinez and her husband, Jose, and told them to leave. "He said, 'It's against the law. You have to go,'" Jose Martinez told Fox News.

The police were called, and even after an officer admitted that breastfeeding in public was not, in fact, against the law, the family was escorted out of the store.

I'm not sure whether this smacks of ignorance or is indicative of a cultural issue. So I'm throwing it out to you: Do you think this happened because of our society considers breasts to be sexual objects? Or were the security guards just ignorant about the rights of a woman to breastfeed in public?

In an interview with Amy Gates at Crunchy Domestic Goddess, Mary Martinez insisted that she had been discreet and wasn't exposing herself in the store. "She’s my 3rd child and I breastfed the other 2 until they were 2, I know how to be discreet," she said. "If you can watch the news clip [which is here], I was nursing then and I imagine that’s as much skin as I showed in the store…none."

Martinez and her husband were certain that they weren't breaking any laws because Jose Martinez happens to be a Detroit police officer. Still, he says, he asked the local police who came to the scene, just to be sure. "I asked one of them if it was indeed illegal maybe in Harper Woods to breast-feed. He said, 'No.' And that was it. We got our stuff together and we left," he told Fox News.

"Forcing me out of the store. Two security guards, the manager or team leader, two officers, they just made a spectacle and a scene. I feel like I can't go to that specific Target anymore," Mary Martinez told the news station.

The store insists that the incident became a safety issue. "This specific situation escalated to a point where we were concerned for the safety of our guests, so law enforcement was called," the store management said in a statement. "We regret the incident in our store and will continue to provide a shopping environment that respects the needs of all guests, including nursing mothers."

I think that Kate Harding at Salon put it best when she asked: "Are you kidding me? How on earth does feeding a baby "escalate" to a safety issue for other customers?"

For the record, breastfeeding in public is legal throughout the US. Forty-three states have laws on the books specifically protecting the practice, and 28 states have laws that specifically except breastfeeding from public indecency laws (you can find details at the National Conference of State Legislatures website).

The fact that we need laws about it at all, though, speaks to a larger problem. In other countries, breastfeeding is expected, even encouraged. Here, though? It's OK to wear a barely-there bikini on a crowded beach, but women are told to hide in a public restroom to feed their child?

Parents, please weigh in: How do you feel about breastfeeding in public? Moms, in particular: Did you or didn't you, and why?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at


Anonymous said...

Im not a parent but in my opinion, there aint nothing wrong, immoral or pornographic about a mother breastfeeding her children...

Truth to tell...I think that target needs to be sued for violation of the mother and child's civil rights.

Lyndsi said...

People are just not aware of the laws. I have seen many people breastfeed discretely and it not bother anyone. There is always the chance you could make someone uncomfortable by breastfeeding in public.
Another good option is to go to a dressing room for a few minutes. Although, if you have a newborn that is very impatient I fully support anyone who decides they need to feed their child the most perfect, natural food there is for babies!