Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Portland Hospitals Give Babies the Best Gift of All for WBW!

That is, they are no longer giving away formula-filled discharge bags!

As of today, all major hospitals in Portland, Oregon, will no longer serve as formula company marketing hacks, sending new babies and moms home with formula in the traditional "gift" bag. This was managed without government intervention, but by staff lactation consultants and others who persuaded their hospitals administrators to voluntarily stop issuing the bags. (Once a couple hospitals agreed to stop, an LC at one holdout warned, "You don't want to be the last hospital in town still giving away formula, do you?") Altogether, five hospital systems, totaling 16 medical centers (including several outside the Portland area, as far off as Medford, Oregon), have stopped giving out formula in discharge bags. Some still are giving bags, but without formula or coupons.

Today, during its annual Benefit Luncheon, the Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon awarded the following hospitals for "Maternity-Care Best Practices" for eliminating infant formula sample packs:
  • Adventist Medical Center
  • Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center
  • Legacy Emmanuel Hospital and Health Center
  • Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital and Medical Center
  • Legacy Meridian Park Hospital
  • Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center
  • Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital
  • Providence Portland Medical Center (where my two came into the world!)
  • Providence St. Vincent Medical Center
  • Providence Milwaukie Hospital
  • Providence Newberg Medical Center
  • Providence Seaside Hospital
  • Providence Medford Medical Center
  • Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital
  • Oregon Health and Science University
  • OHSU Doernbecher Neonatal Care Center
  • Three Rivers Community Hospital (bag-free since 1997 and Baby Friendly since 1999!)
Thank you to all those who worked to make this happen. Oregonians once again lead the way in the US, supporting, protecting, and promoting breastfeeding!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Oregon Senate Passes Pumping at Work Bill

Today, during the first conference of the newly formed Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon, I and 80 other breastfeeding advocates, lactation consultants, peer counselors, and LLL leaders from across the state, took a break from the conference proceedings to watch the live broadcast of the Oregon Senate as it voted to pass the nation's strongest law yet protecting moms who wish to express breastmilk at work, by a vote of 28 to 2. The new law requires employers of 25 or more to provide breastfeeding mothers with 30-minute unpaid breaks every four hours and a private location to pump. While employers can request an exemption if providing such accommodations creates an undue burden, they first must work with the Bureau of Labor and Industry to see if there is a way for the employer to comply. Employers who refuse to comply with the law face a penalty of $1000 per day of violation. The Oregon House passed the measure in March and Governor Kulongoski is expected to sign the bill into law in a public ceremony later this month.

This legislation was authored by Dianne Garrett, a volunteer lobbyist with the Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon and mother. She worked tirelessly and with amazing grace, driving regularly from Portland to Salem to meet with lawmakers, drafting amendments that made the law flexible enough to silence objections from its only antagonist (the Association of Oregon Industries, which previously called the bill the greatest threat to Oregon's economic recovery), yet strong enough to provide 70 percent of Oregon's working moms with the accommodations they need to be able to return to work and continue to provide their babies with the food that is their birthright.

What a great day for Oregon's breastfeeding children, moms, and their advocates!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Human Rights vs. Hegemony

I spent a lot of time last week banging my head against the wall, trying to figure out for myself how to have a reasoned, respectful conversation with people who wish breastfeeding mothers and children would disappear from public. "How do I talk to people who come from such a different perspective?" I asked myself and other veteran breastfeeding advocates. I don't think that all the people who complain about breastfeeding in public are horrible, insensitive least, I don't want to think they are. There must be a way to talk about this issue that strikes a chord with them. Despite all the head-banging, I remained at a loss. Then this email from UK mum Morgan Gallagher arrived in my inbox. She was responding to emails from other breastfeeding advocates and professionals that were supportive of the outcome of the situation at the Ronald McDonald House in Houston. Here is the most articulate argument I've read in sometime for why I do all I do to support breastfeeding. It so clarified my thinking and I urge you to read it, too. Morgan gave me permission to post and hopes that people will find what she wrote useful.
I’m finding it increasingly difficult to read, and respond to, the posts which suggest it was Jessica and Tobin’s responsibility in RHM to prepare the way for her nursing. That is not unreasonable for Jessica to be asked to ‘announce’ her intention to nurse for, after all, we all need to find a way to rub along together.

I’m finding it hard to read these posts, as they seem to be suggesting that all parties involved have equal rights in the matter. Tobin’s need to be nurtured is of equal status as the rights of the ‘offended’ party in having to watch such an uncomfortable act.

This is complete nonsense. There is only one right here: Tobin’s right to nurse. That’s why there is a law stating so, no matter how ineffective it turns out to be.

Tobin has an inalienable human right here that is being denied. The right of a human child to human milk, to nurture and nourish when its psychobiology requires it.

The offended onlooker does not have any rights to be protected. The offended onlooker has a personal issue, a feeling of discomfort and unease, that requires handling. A cultural dissonance, that needs acknowledged, responded to, engaged with and hopefully smoothed away. The nursing dyad has no such personal issue in this paradigm. The nursing dyad is not operating out of a cultural context. The nursing dyad has supreme importance and protection in this scenario.

There is a simple truth here, that is so awesome and complete in its simplicity, that it’s in danger of being overlooked: breastfeeding an infant is not a lifestyle choice. It is not a cultural convention. It is not a personal statement. It is a biological imperative. It is our essential nature. It is an essential element of our species, and the continuation of it. It is a biological norm.

We do not choose to breastfeed. We can choose not to. Likewise, we do not choose to breastfeed in public. We can choose not to. Breastfeeding is not a cultural construct. Not breastfeeding, is. Nursing an infant when the infant needs it, is a biological norm. Deciding that this needs to be done in a certain place, at a certain time, or in a certain way, is a cultural value.

The problem with many of the comments in here over the past couple of days, comments about tolerance, offence, understanding that other parents are going to be askance at nursing twins is that these arguments place nursing within a cultural paradigm. It positions the debate in one of opinion, feelings and cultural mores. In doing this, it assigns equal right to all participants, not to have their feelings etc ‘offended’ and that they all have equal standing in the debate: no one position is more valued or ‘protected’ than the other. Different cultures often do things so differently from each other, that problems and tensions arise when people of the differing cultures meet are best met with discussion, sharing views etc. All laudable comments on such problems as they arrive in a multi-cultural society.

However, breastfeeding is not a cultural activity. Therefore it does not belong in the cultural difference paradigm. As a biological normative behaviour, it exists in a complete different paradigm: that of human rights.

Quite often, when this sort of thing is discussed, someone will say, Would you ask a black person to go eat in their room if someone else was offended? and a huge debate will fall open about whether or not that was an appropriate thing to say. One side will scream its not appropriate to reference colour, the other will say, Why not? and off the merry go round will go.

Well, I’m going to raise it here as an example of what I mean by the basic difference between arguing about a cultural convention and a biological norm.

Being black is a biological norm. In fact, it’s the biological norm. Being white is actually the absence of being black. To discriminate against someone on the basis of colour, is to discriminate on their essential biology. It is to discriminate against their right to exist: it impinges on their human rights. There is no logic, rhyme or reason to such discrimination. It is a cultural construct imposing lunacy on the essential nature of humans. No one decides to be black. It is not a cultural concept. It is not a lifestyle choice. It is an essential artefact of human biology. It is.

As is breastfeeding.

Remembering that we do not choose to breastfeed we can only choose not to. All babies are born to breastfeed. It is not a cultural concept. It is not a cultural artefact. They are not making a lifestyle choice. They are following their biological, and psychobiological, imperatives. They are doing what humans do they are suckling for nurture, for nourishment and for survival. It is.

That is why they need the protection of the human rights paradigm, not the cultural one.

When laws are passed to protect the nursing dyad, these laws are not about protecting cultural difference. It is not about soothing cultural dissonance. It is not about protecting feelings, emotions or opinion. It is about protecting the essential normative biology of a nursing dyad. It is to prevent cultural suppression of an innate human characteristic. Just as being black, is an innate human characteristic.

I reiterate: breastfeeding is not a lifestyle choice. It is not something you choose to do. It is something you can only choose not to do. If you accept that an infant has an inalienable human right to human milk, and to comfort and soothe on the mother’s breast, you must also hold up its right to do so when it needs to regardless of how offended the ‘onlooker’ in. By all means soothe the onlooker but don’t make it the responsibility of the mother to do the soothing.

Keeping nursing in public debates with the cultural paradigm is completely and utterly redundant in our current society. It was once the only place the debate could take place, and we must thank, and support, the previous generations in their struggle in that paradigm. Many nursing mothers here and now, are only here because of the work of previous generations, who in the Great Drought sought to change personal opinion when they could.
Slowly, gently, and in a ‘let’s all get along nicely’ way. Wonderful women fighting a small, slow battle, inch by inch. Thank you.

However, we are not there anymore. Keeping the debate in the cultural paradigm is not only no longer useful it is detrimental to progress. Keep it in the cultural battlefield and you do several things, all of them

For starters, you place all the pressure on the individual mother, and her infant. Jessica Swimely has carried that entire pressure of this battle on her head over the past few days as the law that is there to prevent her
from having to do so, has failed her. By keeping the cultural paradigm in mind, you make it about the mother making the inroads into culture. You makes statements as a society that breastfeeding is to be protected but you leave the individual mother to take the flack. She must make the choices daily, on where and when her child’s psychobiological needs are suppressed by the hegemony. She carries the burden.

As does the infant.

In addition, you get all the cultural ‘debates’ that take up the time and energy and prevent progress. The female human breast is ‘sexual’ and it’s understandable that others will be offended. Ehm no. The female human breast is not sexual. It does not carry a biologically determined normative function of ‘sexual attraction’. (Enlarged breasts actually mimic the true sexual attraction the human bottom. Large breasts are not biologically
standard.) Culture dictates whether or not it is a sexualised organ. Keep the debate in cultural mores keep having endless arguments about seeing sexual body parts. Some USA State laws have even identified this as part of the protective law and stated legally that a nursing breast is not a sexual object. When you accept, and promote, the concept that nursing in public is a cultural debate, you actually end up undermining what you’re trying to protect by constantly allowing the ever rolling debate on such trivial points as to how much of a breast can be seen before offence is caused. Unless it’s a non-nursing breast, in which case you’re allowed rather a lot of it on billboards.

You also create space for the debate to include when and why weaning should occur and further undermine normal nursing practices from establishing. Lest we forget, this is about nursing toddlers. Every single time one of the posters in here has made a comment about how it is understandable that people have reacted badly to nursing twin toddlers, a dagger has been struck in the heart of many of us. Two extremely pernicious concepts have bobbed to the surface here one is the ‘indiscrete’ women, making it harder for laws to be passed, as she ‘whips it out’ and alienates people. Concurrent with this is the notion that those of us nursing toddlers in public are making it harder for acceptance, as we are acting so far out of the cultural norm. Shame! Shame on you! How can you possibly justify discussing a woman’s body, and her biological imperative to nurture her infant in such negative and unjust terms? How can you stand up and say you support breastfeeding, but you can see that those nursing toddlers are better advised to hide more than the others? How can you undermine the very women fighting longest and hardest to establish normative nursing patterns. How can you justify suggesting that women nursing in public hinders breastfeeding awareness?

Yet you do all of these things, when you argue about breastfeeding as a cultural issue. Because the very nature of cultural debate is to state that all sides have some points to make, and must be accommodated.

Breastfeeding is not a cultural artefact. Breastfeeding is a biological norm. The ability of the infant to access their mother’s milk when and where it chooses, is a human rights issue. The right of the human infant to nourish and comfort itself at the mother’s breast when it requires to, is an inalienable human right. A woman having control of her own body, in order to nourish her infant regardless of cultural suppression, is her inalienable human right.

These are human rights, not cultural debates. We can act in order to get along nicely where possible, but the right of the human child to breastfeeding is paramount.

And lest we forget, the cost of the lack of nursing, is death for many human babies. In the USA, 2 babies per thousand die for being on formula. Many many more get ill. In the wider world, 3500 babies a day die for lack of breastfeeding. In the time it’s taken me to write this over 7000 babies have died. And in the global village we live in, the lack of nursing in the West, feeds into that statistic. Women in the West feeding their infants in closed rooms, are not seen by their own communities, by the expectant mothers around them but they are also not seen by the mothers of the Third World, desperate to give their babies ‘the best’. These women only see white, affluent and incredibly healthy babies and mothers on the sides of cans of expensive formula. By keeping our nursing mothers bundled in the corner, or locked in bedrooms with their toddlers, or asking the common room to clear before feeding them we contribute to the problem. But that’s okay, because the father over there, feeding his sick baby formula, is appeased.

Women chose not to nurse because they live in a culture that disapproves of it. We cannot change this, by working within the culture to ‘smooth it all out’. We cannot dump the responsibility on the individual nursing mother to prevent offence. We must act to protect her rights to nurse, and her child’s right to nurse. Their human rights. Full stop. Period. End of.

Working in terms of the sensibilites of the onlooker to nursing, was once useful. Yesterday. Or even the day before yesterday. We can acknowledge how useful it was, and how much was acheived, as we move on to tomorrow.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New York Times Covers Ronald McDonald House Breastfeeding Debacle

The New York Times covered the RMH story in this morning, but missed some important points.

"They [RMH administrators] agreed that the sisters could nurse in public areas if they were sensitive to others around them. McDonald House would work on clarifying its guidelines, Ms. Scott said." Being sensitive to others, as defined by the RMH administrators, means the moms are to announce their plans to nurse, yet then nurse "discreetly." As I wrote yesterday, this is extraordinarily silly and contradictory.

"Asked if the staff might have avoided the confrontation, [RMH Houston Executive Director] Ms. Scott said: 'It happened so fast, I don’t know what else we could have done. We feel we fell down the rabbit hole with all this.'"

What else could they have done? Hmmmm. Think think think. (Yes, I'm answering her Alice in Wonderland reference with a Winnie the Pooh reference.) How 'bout acting with as much concern for this mother and her young child as they were for the complaining father? How 'bout educating the father that this is how this mom comforts her child, instead of passing along his complaints to her? How 'bout not issuing thinly veiled threats to have this family removed from their accommodations?

What's missing from the Times coverage is what's still missing in this story. RMH administrators have not apologized for adding to this family's anxiety or for how insensitively managers at Holcombe House handled the situation. It has not made any public announcements to fully support breastfeeding in all its facilities and to educate its staff on the importance of accommodating breastfeeding families. It's hard to knock an organization like Ronald McDonald House that does such marvelous, charitable work for families with desperately ill children. One has to wonder, however, how this situation got so out of control and how even with a story in the New York Times, no one at RMH has come out with unequivocal message in support of breastfeeding families.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ronald McDonald House Tells Mom, "You can breastfeed, but..."

While I am glad Jessica Swimeley and her family will be able to remain at the Holcombe Ronald McDonald House in Houston, the resolution to this story is yet another disappointment. Dictating to mothers about how they may breastfeed is condescending. Telling them to warn others before nurseing, yet be discreet about how they nurse, is contradictory to say the least. A roomful of grownups came up with this? It's as silly as the stuff my four-year-old and her friends come up with!

Jessica and her sister Melanie want the Board of Directors of RMH Houston to adopt a policy that supports and protects all breastfeeding families that stay at its facilities and ensure that no other families experience the shaming and thinly veiled threats they experienced. They're asking for your help. Start by sending a letter to

Deborah Gibson
President, RMH Board of Directors
Ronald McDonald House-Houston
1907 Holcombe Boulevard
Houston, TX 77030

And a carbon copy of your letter to RMH HQ:

Ronald McDonald House Charities
One Kroc Drive
Oak Brook, IL 60523

You can also email the Attorney General of Texas Greg Abbott and urge him to look into this matter, as the RMH policy to tell mothers to breastfeeding in private appears to be a violation of Texas law.

If you're from Texas, take a moment to use this form to send a letter of support for the bill meant to strengthen your states breastfeeding in public statute.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Good News & Bad News

It's late and I'm very tired after a wild night of knitting with my mom-friends, so I'm just going to block quote Melanie's update from the meeting with RMH staff and board members. Comments? I'll have some tomorrow morning, as well as contact information for further letters to the RMH board of directors.
The meeting was about 2 hours long and included myself and my sister, a representative from the LLL, and a doctor from the area who is responsible for some big research on breastfeeding. I will not mention their names as I have not asked them for permission to do that but we thank them both for their support! We could not have handled the meeting without them. I contacted the suggested LLL person in Texas (again no names) and she sent them right out. She was great as well and worked tirelessly for us today.

From the RMH Arlene, the Director of Operations, as well as Naomi, the Executive Director, attended as well as a couple of their board members.

After a very lengthy conversion with many twists and turns the RMH is allowing us to stay. We are from now on allowed to breastfeeding in the communal areas if we follow some rules they have set forth and not too many people complain about it. They said if just one person complains they will tell them they support breastfeeding and discuss with them why they are concerned. If many people were to complain they will have to deal with that as it comes up, they could not say how as they have not encountered the situation.

The rules we are to follow are that we are to be discreet, this is at our discretion, meaning we choose what discreet means but they said they will obviously know if we are not being discreet if people are complaining that they are uncomfortable with us nursing.

We are also being asked to inform the people around us before we begin nursing if we think there is anybody that may be uncomfortable with it. We are to tell them nicely that we are going to breastfeed, in case they want to leave or look away.

There was alot of discussion about what discreet meant, but after some pretty silly possibilities for discretion they decided it would be up to us as to what that meant. They said they would not bother us about nursing again unless many people complained, which nobody felt was likely to happen.

The RMH wanted us to tell everybody that the RMH supports breastfeeding moms...they were VERY adamant about it. You can decide for yourself if that is true, I am only passing on what they said to us.

Now, at this point, this only applies to us. When asked how other nursing moms would be treated they said they cannot make any changes right in the room but that they will be examining the practice, or oral guidelines, of asking breastfeeding moms to stop. They said they did not have the power to make policy change, it had to go to the board; which they said they would seriously discuss doing.

Obviously alot more was said in 2 hours but this is the gist of the situation. If they really do examine their guideline this could be a really good thing but we will have to follow up to make sure that happened. Please if you decide to write anymore letters(and they received ALOT of letters) please do so to encourage them to reexamine thier guidelines and to thank them for considering it. Although they were not apologetic to us they have agreed to reexamine their stance and this could be really good for alot of nursing moms. If we handle this correctly this could mean national change for the RMH.

We will be waiting to find out how this plays out in the following days and will will update as needed. Lots of media have contacted us from all kinds of large outlets and I am still not sure who, if anyone, I will talk to at this point. We are trying to decide how to best help ALL moms.

We want this to benefit moms across the board so me and Jessica will be working to change their guidelines as we go. And the LLL says they will continue to offer us support. We are not giving up on a full scale policy protecting moms, but we will have to wait for a board decision on that. This will take time but I am confident that we can make this happen.

THANK YOU ALL FOR OUR SUPPORT!!!!! Above all if you all had not done what you have done I suspect we would not have had the outcome we did or even had that meeting.

Houston, We Have a Problem

Melanie posted an update on the situation in Houston as of this morning.
I just spoke to Naomi Scott, the Executive Director of the RMH Houston, and we have a meeting this afternoon at 4pm. She came back from her vacation early to handle the situation. Unlike Arlene, Unlike Arlene, Naomi was very pleasant on the phone but she told me that although they are not kicking us out right now that it is a guideline (an oral one) to ask all breastfeeding mothers to go to their rooms to nurse. This is the first I have heard of any oral guideline from anyone. It was never mentioned before. She told me this was because they had multicultural residents here and that they need to protects all the residents from feeling uncomfortable. Because of this they are not changing their stance on us breastfeeding downstairs.
I find myself struck dumb with disbelief and yet not surprised in the least. First, I must say I'm amazed by Naomi Scott's creativity. I don't think I've heard the "respecting cultural differences" argument for discriminating against breastfeeding mothers and children before, but it sounds to me like a new twist on the same ol' same old: The psychological comfort of adults who fetishize breasts is more important than the physical and emotional comfort of a young child. The sensitivities of people who can look away from a scene that causes them discomfort should be respected, but not the sensitivities of a mother, who has been shamed and threatened during an already stressful time by the very institution that offered her help.

I hoped against hope that this situation would be resolved quickly, so this family could get on with focusing on the care of Tobin. Shame on these misguided people who seem bent on blackening the reputation of Ronald McDonald House and giving these people such a hard time. I'm awaiting an update from Melanie and will post here again as soon as I have news.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ronald McDonald House in Houston Demands Mother & Child Nurse in Private

According to its web site, Ronald McDonald House "offers a home away from home to the families of children undergoing treatment for cancer and other serious illnesses." Jessica Swimeley, mother of a 17-month-old twin undergoing surgery on a brain tumor, thought she had found a safe and welcoming haven at Hollcombe House, a Ronald McDonald House near the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, but was shocked when asked by an RMH employee to leave a common area of the house, where she and her children normally eat, and nurse her son in their room, three floors up (where, by the way, the family is not suppose to eat). Understanding the importance of breastfeeding on demand, especially for a sick child and knowing the inconvenience of frequent trips to her room, this mom protested the request, that appears to be a violation of Texas law. She spoke to the person on staff who originally told her to nurse in her room, then had a phone conversation with Arlene Whatley, the Hollcombe House Director of Operations, who told Jessica that families who do not "acclimate to the environment at RMH should find somewhere else to stay."

Jessica's husband is serving in the Air Force, so her sister Melanie Mayo-Laakso is staying at Hollcombe House to help with the children. She said she came down to the common room to find her sister in tears after speaking with Arlene on the phone. Wanting to help her sister, who understandably is under a lot of strain already, Melanie tried speaking with the RMH employees, too. On the Mothering magazine discussion forum, Melanie writes, "I pulled up the state law on my laptop and after a lengthy discussion the administrator acted as if she was going to examine the law so she understood it and move on. I thought that was the end of it. Today I find out they may be kicking us out of the RMH because we refused to comply with what they call their 'interpretation of the law.' Their interpretation is that if they provide somewhere else for us to nurse they don't have to let us nurse in public places."

Does this sound like "separate but equal" to you, too?

Human breast milk kills cancer cells and even adult cancer patients drink breast milk to boost their immune systems and get relief from the side effects of chemotherapy. Infringing upon this child's access to potentially life-saving nourishment is a gross violation of his human rights. Ronald McDonald House Charities does so much to help families and I hold out hope that someone in the organization will do the right thing, right away, and ensure that families with sick children find accommodations that support and protect breastfeeding families, rather than shame and threaten them. Please, now, write to Naomi Scott, Ronald McDonald House Houston Executive Director and insist that she call for an immediate change in policy, welcoming breastfeeding in all public areas of RMH Houston and make plans to educate all RMH employees about the importance of providing breastfeeding friendly accommodations. Please send copies of your letters Susie Richard, RMH Houston Director of Operations and to Arlene Whatley, Hollcombe House Director of Operations. If you can, please fax a copy of your letter to Ronald McDonald House Charities headquarters, 630.623.7488, or call 630.623.7048 to register your concern about this situation in Houston. Let them know that families across North America are appalled by what's happening to this family and demand immediate resolution.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

HB 2372 Passes Overwhelmingly in the Oregon House

I don't have time to say much about this today, except, Whoo-hoo and Thank you Diane Garret for all your amazing work and dedication! Next stop, the Oregon Senate! Here's the press release from Speaker Jeff Merkley.

SALEM—The Oregon House of Representatives today approved a bill that would give nursing mothers the opportunity to express breast milk in a private area while at work. House Bill 2372 passed the House on an overwhelming 49-7 vote.

“There is no nutrient as important to an infant as breast milk,” said House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D-Portland). “This bill gives nursing mothers more opportunities to provide that nourishment to their children and that is something we should encourage in as many ways as possible.”

The bill as passed requires businesses of 25 or more employees to accommodate the expression of breast milk in the workplace. They must provide a clean and private area and unpaid break time for their nursing employees. Under the bill, employers may negotiate different terms if those requirements would impose an undue hardship. The bill requires only that employees be allowed to express their breast milk; it does not require that mothers be allowed to actually nurse their children in the workplace.

“It’s a great day for mothers and babies in Oregon,” said Rep. Carolyn Tomei, chair of the Human Services and Women’s Wellness Committee. “Working moms now don’t have to choose between the health of their babies and keeping their jobs.”

Three members of the Human Services Committee opposed the bill as it was originally introduced, but eventually it passed that committee on a unanimous vote. In total, 18 amendments were offered by Rep. Tomei and approved by the committee to gain broader support for the bill.

“Carolyn Tomei deserves the credit for shepherding this bill through the House,” said Merkley. “Let me also extend my thanks and congratulations to Rep. Diane Rosenbaum, Diane Garrett and the Nursing Mothers Counsel for their years of hard work on this bill. It has all paid off today.”

The bill is expected to clear the Oregon Senate before the end of the legislative session.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Biohazards at Daycare?

Two stories have surfaced recently about moms having problems with their breastfed children in daycare.

In Ohio, a daycare provider demanded an extra $50 a week to feed a baby expressed breastmilk. Robin Neorr of Columbus was told that her breastmilk is a "hazardous body fluid" and therefore had to be handled differently than bottles of formula. The CDC does not list human breast milk as a body fluid requiring special handling precautions and states on its web site that, "Occupational exposure to human breast milk has not been shown to lead to transmission of HIV or HBV infection." The daycare insisted that it had to use a separate refrigerator and bottle warmer for expressed breastmilk and even went so far as to put biohazard stickers on the bottles! As it turns out, Jennifer, over at The Lactivist, found that Ohio's daycare regulations stipulate more precautions be taken with the handling of formula than of breastmilk. For an update on this story and information about contacting the daycare center in question, see The Lactivist.

So, just up the road in Michigan, a mom was told to take her child out of his regular classroom and to the infant room to nurse. In fact, she says when she sat to nurse her son in his classroom, "The lead teacher ran to tell the director, and the other teachers evacuated the children." The scene of children being evacuated from a classroom to avoid seeing a classmate breastfeed would be funny if only it weren't such a sad statement about our culture. For more details on this story, see Breastfeeding 1-2-3.

Both these moms tried to reason with the management of the daycare providers, to no avail. Both are now trying to get laws changed in their states so that other families are not faced with such discrimination in the future. There is an effort to get these stories into the national media, who would like to hear from one or two other moms with similar stories. If you or someone you know has had breastfeeding-related problems at daycare, please contact me.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Breastfeeding Etiquette on the Today Show

This morning, Anne Curry's interviewed Susan Kane of Baby Talk magazine about attitudes toward breastfeeding in public. Curry starts by asking why 70% of new mothers start to breastfeed, but only 36% are still breastfeeding at six months, despite the AAP recommendation to breastfeed for the first year of life. Kane touches on the benefits of breastfeeding to baby and mom and the fact that 90% of mothers quit breastfeeding when they return to work. When Curry asks when is it appropriate for a mother to breastfeed, Kane rightly answers, "Whenver her baby is hungry." Wonderfully, Curry says at the end I think when it comes to making the decision between upsetting people and your baby's health and intelligence, choose your baby."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Support Oregon Moms Who Pump at Work!

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Diane Garrett, the Nursing Mothers Counsel's legislative lobbyist (a volunteer, mind you!), Oregon has a new bill that would require employers of 25 or more employees to provide time and space to employees to express milk. You can read House Bill 2372 here. If enacted into law as it is written, this would effect 10% of businesses employing 70% of Oregon workers.

On January 31st, Diane and I met with House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D-East Portland), as well as aides of Representative Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie) and Speaker Pro Tempore Representative Diane Rosenbaum (D-SE Portland). We had a great conversation about deflecting opposition to the bill as well as seeking broader support from the business community. The House Human Services and Women's Wellness Committee may hear testimony on the bill as early as next week. We are looking for moms who are willing to share their "pumping at work" stories, good and bad, with the committee. If you've always wanted a chance to get involved in the legislative promise, here's your chance! Contact Chris

We also need you, as constituents, to contact your representatives and ask them to support this measure. You can send an email. This is an quick, easy, and important bit that everyone can do to help get this measure passed. You can be sure lobbyists for business interest will be working against this bill--make sure your voice is heard in favor of it!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sorry, Commentors!

I just realized that Blogger was sending notices about comments to an email address that has not been working since November. I am so sorry that I did not publish comments sooner. I've fixed things and should be approving comments more quickly in the future! (Oh, except for comments from Jess. Why in the world would I publish anything from someone who says she wishes my baby would choke and die?)

Fred Meyer Employees, Please Contact Me

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Welcome Speak Pelosi's New Grandbaby and Urge Her to Support the Breastfeeding Promotion Act!

The group that helped organize the airport nurse-ins nationwide now has a plan to help Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi become very aware that the Breastfeeding Promotion Act is important to American women and that we desire and expect her support of it in January. Rep. Carolyn Maloney is going to reintroducing the Act this coming session. This will be the BPA's third introduction and if we all get behind it and make our voices heard, perhaps the third time will be the charm!

Here's what you can do to help:
  • Purchase or make a "Congratulations on the New Grandbaby" card. The Speaker and the press have made much of the fact that she is a grandmother and that she was awaiting grandbaby #6 right around Election Day. Paul Michael Vos, son of Alexandra Pelosi and Michiel Vos was born in New York on November 13th.
  • Write in the card that breastfeeding is a basic human right of all babies and that their mothers need public policies that support the decision to start and continue breastfeeding. Ask her to throw the full weight of her position behind getting the Breastfeeding Promotion Act passed this coming session.
  • Have your friends, family, and fellow breastfeeding advocates sign your card before you mail it to Speaker Pelosi. If you can, buy several cards, collect signatures from supportive friends, and mail them out with your own. (I'm going to bring one for people to sign every time I get together with friends and family this month.)
  • And lastly, forward this to every mother, friend, listserv, breastfeeding support group and parenting site you know so that others can also send a card. The idea is to get hundreds if not thousands of signatures/cards sent to Nancy Pelosi's office right now so that, by the time the Breastfeeding Promotion Act is reintroduced in January, she and her staff will have it on their radar.
Mail cards to:

Representative Nancy Pelosi
2371 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Once the Act has been reintroduced I will post information for how to contact your district representatives to encourage them to co-sponsor and vote for the Breastfeeding Promotion Act.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Be Very Proud, Portland Mamas!

Thank you everyone who came and spread the word about the nurse-in! We had FORTY moms and their nurslings, plus one grandma at Portland International Airport today. Channels 2, 6, 8, and 12 came to interview participants (that's ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX). A reporter from Oregon Public Broadcasting, a reporter from the Camas-Washougal Post Record, and a photographer from the AP were there as well. I spoke with two AP reporters (one local and one national) by phone in the morning. I also talked with Oregnonian columnist Renee Mitchell (former breastfeeding mom of twins) in the afternoon. I haven't seen the final tally yet, but there were at least 773 people at 35 airports across the country today and I think ours was one of the largest gatherings. And not that there's any competition or anything, but I love getting further comfirmation that Portland's the "breastfeedingist" city in the US.

We got a warm reception from travellers who happened by and from the Delta employees we spoke with (I made a point of urging them to speak with their bosses about getting a written breastfeeding policy in place, which Delta is currently refusing to do). One woman...I'm guessing a former breastfeeding mom...walk by us chanting, "Yay! Breastfeeding!" I saw a number of people stop and give moms kudos to their advocacy. The director of the Port of Portland approached us about our plans and was quite positive. I had stickers with the breastfeeding icon on them which I was handing out to participants and the press...I offered him some, explaining the purpose of the icon, and he asked for multiple copies. Perhaps PDX will be one of the first airports to adopt the icon!

This was a fantastic, positive action, mamas. Thank you to Amelia Psmythe of the Nursing Mothers Counsel and Marnie Glickman for helping with publicity...we had an amazing press turn-out today thanks to your efforts. Thank you to all who came for being "ambassadors of breastfeeding" and demonstrating, as you do everyday, the beauty and decency of nursing a child. Thank you for sitting in solidarity with Emily Gillette and moms across the country, advocating for yourselves, your children, and mothers and children you've never met.

Now, please write to your Congressional delegates and urge them to pass the Breastfeeding Promotion Act. Write to your Oregon state representative and press them to improve our currently mandateless legislation protecting breastfeeding moms who work outside the home and to clarify our nursing in public law so there's no question that moms and children may breastfeed anywhere they are legally authorized to be. If you don't live in Oregon, find out if your state's laws are up to snuff and get "lactive" if they're not. Write to your local paper and get this issue on the editorial pages. Talk with your family and friends during your holiday celebrations about the rally and the importance of supporting and protecting breastfeeding. This is such an important moment--I think it's safe to say that today's was the largest action of its kind so far and Emily's story highlights better than almost any we heard before the need for improved state and national legislation and greater cultural acceptance and support of breastfeeding.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

America's Not-So Friendly Skies

I've been quiet for the last few months because, well, my son started crawling and life just hasn't slowed down long enough for me to think let alone actually write down any thoughts. We're still really busy, but the story from Vermont has forced me to find some time.

Okay, so if you haven't heard, on October 13th, Emily Gillette, her husband and daughter were removed from an airplane set to make its delayed take-off from Burlington, VT, after Gillette declined a blanket that a flight attendent offered her to cover herself while she breastfed. She was in the window seat in the second-to-last row of a commuter plane, with her husband seated beside her in the aisle row. The only person on the plane who had an issue with this mom breastfeeding is the flight attendent, who told Gillette, "You are offending me." Despite the fact that Gillette explained that the law allowed her to breastfeed on the plane, the attendent had a Delta ticket agent come on board and order the family to leave. According to Gillette, the family did not make a scene, but quietly left, with the mom in tears. Though a news report says the pilot offered to let the family back on the plane, Gillette contends that was not the case and that the family would have jumped at the chance to get back on the plane and on their way to New York.

Gillette has filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission. Vermont law states a "mother may breastfeed her child in any place of public accommodation in which the mother and child would otherwise have a legal right to be," so thankfully, because the plane was in Vermont when this happened, this particular mom has some recourse. She has an organization behind her to enforce whatever agreement she reaches with the airlines involved. Here in Oregon and in most states, mothers do not have such protection. There is a patchwork of laws of varying degrees of strength, with varying degrees of enforcebility. Oregon law states that a woman may breastfeed in a public place, which sounds alright, but there's a question as to whether that means "public" in terms of publicly owned, like a park or government building, or "public" in terms of "place of public accommodation" which would include restaurants, grocery stores, airplanes... There should be no question. As stated in Vermont law, "breastfeeding a child is an important, basic and natural act of nurture that should be encouraged in the interest of enhancing maternal, child and family health."

As Emily Gillette said herself, this is bigger than the airlines. We need to get beyond the patchwork of protection. Congress needs to pass the Breastfeeding Promotion Act: amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect breastfeeding mothers from discrimination; provide tax incentives for businesses that establish private lactation areas in the workplace; provide for a performance standard for breast pumps; and provide families with a tax deduction for breastfeeding equipment.

What you can do now:

Organize or join a nurse-in at the Delta ticket counter of your nearest airport. Let the media know you are doing this in support of Emily Gillette and passage of the Breastfeeding Promotion Act. For more information about organizing a nurse-in or to find one that's being organized, join the Yahoo group dedicated connecting breastfeeding advocates for Tuesday's nurse-ins.

Sign the MomRising petition in support of the Breastfeeding Promotion Act.

Write a letter to your local newspaper. Get this issue back on the front burner.

Write a letter to Congresswoman Maloney, urging her to press again for passage of the Breastfeeding Promotion Act. Write to your own congressional delegates and ask them to support this legislation. Now is the time!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

All I Want for Christmas...

I just learned about these breastfeeding education videos, produced by a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and mother of seven. They appear to be well researched, informative, and beautiful. Just watching the little clip that's shown on the web site brought me to tears.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Lactivist Manifesto

From a recent comment submitted by Anonymous: "The problem with you nazis is that you marginalise mothers and women who make alternative feeding choices." well put. Nazi. Yes, that'd be me. By day, I'm an ordinary boob-flashing mom-about-town, selfishly dragging my kids to parks, swimming pools, grocery stores, and cafes so that I can freak out the squeamish by nursing topless. By night, I get together with my brigade of nursing-bra-burning Nazis to strategize about how to marginalize formula-feeding moms and win the Mommy War once and for all.

This is the problem with flinging accusations at people whom you've never even met, Anonymous. I am, in fact, quite aware the many reasons why it is so difficult to breastfeed in the United States today and I do not judge harshly mothers who choose to formula feed. There is MUCH work to be done before breastfeeding can possibly become a choice most mothers make without sacrificing themselves and their families in ways that many now feel they cannot.

What work would that be?

Mothers need the option of taking at least six months of paid leave after the birth of a child. Fathers (and, in an alternative universe in which lesbian and gay couples could legally marry and enjoy the privileges heterosexual couples take for granted, the non-lactating mom in a lesbian apologies to gay men for seeming to exclude you from this equation, but I haven't worked out in my own head what this alternative universe would look like for you) should also have the option of taking at least a month of paid leave, to support their spouses and care for older children during those first few critical weeks as mom and babe establish their breastfeeding relationship. It would be nice if all employers would accomodate mothers who want to return to work, offering them time and space to pump, but there are so many jobs which cannot reasonably accomodate a breastmilk pumping mother and returning to work can negatively affect a mother's supply. Police officers, flight attendants, and trial lawyers are just a few off-the-top-of-my-head examples of people whose jobs don't just stop 'cause it's time for mom's 30 minute pumping break. Rather, moms should have the option to stay home during those first six months of exclusive breastfeeding.

Americans need to get over their breast fetish. I'm not suggesting that breasts should no longer be considered errogenous zones, but we need to stop fetishizing them to the point where people are uncomfortable with them performing their primary function. Some people find ankles quite sexy, but don't freak out and complain to management when they see a woman in an ankle-exposing outfit at a grocery store. Breasts have a job to do. Let's let them do it in peace.

Lactation consultants should be as on the scene after every baby's birth as pediatricians are today. Every mom should be visited by a lactation consultant at home or in the hospital during the first days after giving birth, see one again later as necessary, and have those visits covered by health insurance.

Breastmilk banks should be as common as blood banks, if need be, and women who donate their milk should at the very least be honored with a nice little lapel sticker that says, "I donated milk today." Just as the Red Cross goes around to college campuses and business parks, seeking blood donors, they should set up pumping stations where lactating mothers can come donate milk. If every lactating mother donated four ounces of milk once a year, would that be enough for the babies whose mothers cannot breastfeed or pump themselves, or die before their babies reach one year of age?

What about the moms who still, given six months off work, visits with the lactation consultant, etc., do not want to breastfeed? Of course, every woman has that option, just as she has the option of smoking cigarettes during pregnancy. Every mother should know, however, that choosing to formula feed actually puts her child's longterm health at greater risk than choosing to smoke during pregnancy. Statistically speaking, smoking during pregnancy, which can lead to low-birth-weight, actually poses fewer risks to a child's health than being fed formula during the first year of life outside the womb. Does anyone say that doctors are trying to make mothers who smoke feel guilty when they advise them to quit smoking?

We need to stop talking about "making" mothers feel guilty about not breastfeeding and start talking about the fact that formula is a processed, inferior food. While it contains calories and nutrients, formula is missing much that breastmilk supplies. Of course, no one forces parents to feed their children 100% organic whole foods everyday, but most of us recognize that Ritz Crackers and Fruit Roll-Ups are no substitute for fresh fruits and vegetables. Nutrition experts are not labeled "fruit Nazis" for trying to persuade more people to eat healthier foods. Mothers the world over breastfeed not out of guilt, but because it is the least expensive, most convenient, and healthiest way to feed a baby.

Breastfeeding advocates like myself are not the vanguard of the Mommy War (that would be the mass media). While some of us don't always take the time to understand the unique challenges moms who don't breastfeed, many of us do. Let's stop fighting and start working toward building a culture that supports mothers who want to breastfeed and celebrates them, rather than shames them, for doing the very best for their children, whenever and wherever they are hungry.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Dear Anonymous

I will not allow anymore comments on this blog that demean nursing mothers, their babies who deserve to eat whenever and wherever they are hungry, or the wholesome beauty that is breastfeeding. Respectful disagreement is welcome, however profanity, personal attacks, and red herring arguments will not be published here. Go somewhere else and spew your filth.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Article in the Oregonian

MomMA co-founder Chrissy and I appear in a story in yesterday's Oregonian about the "breastfeeding landscape" in Portland.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

On the Selfishness of Mothers Who NIP

Mothers who advocate for their babies' rights to nurse wherever and whenever they are hungry have been accused by some of being selfishly unconcerned with the feelings of others. Who is the selfish one, though, really? The mother who puts the needs of baby for nourishment and comfort ahead of her own personal concerns for modesty or the passersby who put their psychological comfort "needs" ahead of the real, physical needs of a baby? I am so tired of being told that I am being selfish. Since becoming a mother, I have learned a whole lot about setting my needs and wants aside in the service of the needs of my children. Aren't the selfish, self-absorbed people those who believe that their needs are more important than the needs of babies and children?

When I was nursing my daughter three years ago, it never occurred to me that I should breastfeed discreetly for anyone's comfort but my own--I nurse as discreetly as I can in public because I prefer not to expose my breasts to strangers. Sometimes, though, when nursing a fussy or distracted baby, even the modest mama finds herself briefly exposed. I grew up with the understanding that it was rude to stare at any woman's breasts and assumed most strangers, polite ones anyway, would do their best to avert their eyes at such critical moments.

I also was taught that I am responsible for my feelings and my reactions to whatever I encounter in the world around me. I don't expect others to put my needs above theirs or those of their dependents. Growing up, I learned that babies often require us to put their needs above our own...even babies who are not ours, because parents deserve our support as they raise the next generation.

If the sight of a mother nourishing her child makes you uncomfortable, avert your eyes. It is the height of self-absorption to demand that busy mothers, some with more than just one child with them as they go about their daily lives, concern themselves with whatever screwed up ideas you have about the wholesome, nourishing act of breastfeeding. If you unwittingly catch a glimpse of a woman's breast while she nurses her child and that makes you uncomfortable, take the time you would've spent complaining to a manager or venting on my blog and look inside yourselves. Why do you believe that your needs supersede those of a baby? What is it about breastfeeding that makes you so uncomfortable? Why do you pervert a something as innocent as a mother feeding her hungry baby?

Think about it.

Nursing Mothers Counsel WBW Awards Luncheon

Today the Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon hosted a luncheon to celebrate our state as a leader in breastfeeding promotion and highlight what is left to be done to improve the long and short term health of Oregonians by increasing breastfeeding rates. Awards to important contributors to Oregon’s breastfeeding promotion efforts were presented at the luncheon as well. I was honored at the luncheon as an award recipient, but rather than just toot my own horn, I want to tell you about the work all the other award recipients have done to support, protect, and promote breastfeeding in Oregon this year as well. What a list of accomplishments:

Media Matters for Breastfeeding Mothers Award
KATU News featured three recent breastfeeding stories by Shellie Bailey-Shah and further supported breastfeeding through a morning segment after the launch of the National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign.

KGW News supported breastfeeding by highlighting the roll of breastfeeding support in Fit Pregnany Magazine's survey results which declared Portland the #1 city to have a baby.

Breastfeeding Champion Award
Oregon State Nutrition and Health Screening Program for Women, Infant and Children (WIC) was commended for its long-term, multi-faceted approach to breastfeeding support, promotion and protection. Oregon State WIC was among the first in the nation to use food dollars to purchase and distribute breastpumps instead of infant formula, and to send Nutrition Leads to Lactation Educator training.

Breastfeeding Mother Friendly Employer Award
Oregon Health Science University has the distinction of being the largest employer in the state to earn a designation as a DHS Breastfeeding Mother-Friendly Employer.

New Seasons Market has the distinction of being the first grocery store and the first chain to earn the DHS Breastfeeding Mother-Friendly Employer designation. The company's policy is exemplary and sets a high bar for multiplicity at several retail sites. The company also has a commitment to supporting breastfeeding mothers in their stores.

Legislative Legacy Awards
There are three women who share principal responsibility for Oregon's legislative legacy in breastfeeding support and protection: Martha Johnson, RN, IBCLC; Dixie Whetsell, MS, IBCLC; and NMC volunteer lobbyist, Diane Garrett. Martha and Dixie are the co-authors of many successive versions of workplace accommodation legislation. They have brought drafts of the bill before the legislature since 1999. Through the efforts of Diane, the Oregon State Legislature passed SB 618, a bill encouraging employers to accommodate breastfeeding employees.

The Voice for the Mothers Award
I was incredibly honored to accept this Nursing Mothers Counsel award, which reads:
In Celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, August 2006, Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon presents the Voice for Mothers award to Chris Musser, for transforming a personally challenging situation into a catalyst for empowerment, from one mother to others. Though you dubbed yourself the "Reluctant Lactivist," you quickly became a highly effective one, launching Mom's Milk Anywhere for the support and protection of breastfeeding in public as SB 744 ensures.
There are so many people who deserve credit for enabling me to stand up for myself, my children, and mothers and children everywhere who want to nurse in peace. I don't know what I would have done without my brilliant and impassioned friend Chrissy Gardiner, whose support, outrage, and ideas have fueled me throughout this experience. Creating a social support group for nursing moms was Chrissy's idea...I honestly don't think that big on my own. Chrissy and my other NE Knitting Mom friends, especially Alenna, Brittney, and Sally, spent many Monday evenings listening, advising, and encouraging me as I went from feeling humiliated and ashamed to empowered and activated. They are the core organizers of MomMA. While I was still deciding whether or not to do anything about my humiliating experience at Fred Meyer, I called the Nursing Mothers Counsel help line and received the encouragement and direction I needed to stand up for myself and be a voice for mothers who have suffered in silence after being harassed for nursing in public. I also want to thank my husband Mike for his continued and enthusiastic support. He's a devoted and wonderful husband and father who has helped me stay true to myself and my ideals as I navigated through an exciting and challenging time. Finally, I want to say how much I appreciate all of you who have written to me with support and encouragement. Reading your kind words, knowing that so many people out their get it and appreciate the importance of celebrating, not humiliating, mothers who nurse in public, has helped keep me going even when the negative, uninformed commentary of others dragged me down. Thank you. Please keep up the good work. It's such a boost.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Mom's Milk Anywhere held its first gathering of World Breastfeeding Week at K&F Coffeehouse this morning and KATU-News was there. I'm thrilled to see this issue getting so much press coverage this week (the Oregonian plans to run stories in both its Living and Business sections as well) and hope that it will help persuade more people that breastfeeding in public is a perfectly normal and decent thing to do!

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Well, my friends and I have been very busy the last few weeks, making preparations for World Breastfeeding Week. We have renamed our group and are now Mom's Milk Anywhere, or MomMA. We have a web site and we have a Cafe Press site selling the cleverest breastfeeding-advocacy wear you've ever seen. We have great plans in place for World Breastfeeding Week. Check it out! Note also that Chrissy and I will be featured in the Oregonian in an article on the "breastfeeding landscape in Portland," during WBW. Very exciting stuff!

I would never have imagined that my humiliating experience would lead to something as wonderfully positive, creative, and supportive as MomMA. I am just thrilled to bits.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Food for thought for those who find breastfeeding indecent

Recently Timmi Toler of the Daily News in Jacksonwille wrote a column with some food for thought for breastfeeding moms. She claims that nursing in public is shocking and makes people uncomfortable, so mothers would do better to breastfeed their children in closets or restrooms rather than in public.

Much of the controversy surrounding nursing in public is about standards of decency, which are actually quite flexible, changing with both time and place. Not all humans, as Toler claims, "freak out" when they see a mother nursing. All over the world, women breastfeed in public and the people around them don't freak out and suggest they find a toilet. People here in the US freak out not because they are human, but because they have been taught that there's something indecent, even disgusting about breast exposure and babies suckling. We live in a hypersexualized culture in which even non-sexual acts have become sexualized and live a Puritanical legacy that makes some of us so squeamish about sexuality that we blame perfectly decent mothers of doing something nasty when feeding their children. Just a hundred years ago, a decent woman wouldn't have exposed her ankle in public. Today, the idea seems absolutely ludicrous. Standards of decency can change and it is long past time for the idea that there's something indecent about breasts exposed in the act of nourishing children to change.

While I couldn't agree more with Toler that breastfeeding can be a special moment with one's baby, it's also just the act of feeding a baby. I do it a dozen or more times a day. Just because I don't find a closet or restroom to nurse doesn't mean that I haven't adjusted my life to accommodate the needs of my children. In so many respects, my life revolves around my children, and indeed much of the time we are out in public, it is in service of their needs for socialization, exercise, food, clothing, medical care, and so forth. Since I breastfeed my son on demand, as all the experts say is best for him, there are many times during the week that he enjoys his meals in public. Because I have learned that he's easily distracted, I do find quiet places for him to nurse when I can, but I certainly don't feed him while sitting on a toilet or hiding in a closet. I honestly feel sorry for Toler and her children that she felt she needed to hide when breastfeeding. How very sad for them all.

I'm completely confused about this statement in Toler's column: "These folks are also entitled to certain rights when they visit the mall and seeing an exposed breast isn’t one of them." Okay, the sentence itself doesn't make any sense, but ignoring the lack of editorial oversight at the Daily News, what right is she talking about exactly and where is it described in the US or any state Constitution, other statute, or court ruling? Because if we're talking about this issue in terms of rights, the fact is that most states in the Union have statutes that specifically protect the rights of mothers to nurse in public, exempting them from whatever indecency laws might otherwise apply to public breast exposure. I believe the 5th circuit court in California said it best:
Nourishment is necessary to maintain the child's life, and the parent may choose to believe that breastfeeding will enhance the child's psychological as well as physical health. In light of the spectrum of interests that the Supreme Court has held specially protected we conclude that the Constitution protects from excessive state interference a woman's decision respecting breastfeeding her child. (650 F.2d at 787)

States shouldn't interfere with mothers decisions about breastfeeding and neither should folks like Timmi Toler. Breastfeeding is such an important public health issue, it is appalling to me that people continue to say on the one hand that they support breastfeeding, but on the other shame mothers and suggest they hide themselves in closets when they feed their babies. So many babies in the United States spend critical developmental periods being sick thanks to formula that they cannot easily digest. So many of them never reach their full potential as adults because their IQs are lower than they would have been had they been breastfed. So many health dollars are spent on people with pneumonia, botulism, bronchitis, staphylococcal infections, influenza, ear infections, German measles, Crohn's disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Hodgkins disease, leukemia, osteoporosis, allergies, and asthma, who may never have become ill if they'd been breastfed. So many babies die of SIDS who may have lived had they been kept close to mom at night and breastfed. So many families whose budgets are already stretched would have a $100 or more a month to spend on food, clothing, and rent if they didn't feed their babies formula. So many of our world's finite natural resources would not be wasted on making and washing bottles and artifical nipples if more mothers breastfed. So many hardworking mothers and fathers could spend more quality time with their children, rather than mixing formula and sterilizing bottles, if their babies were breastfed. We need to do so much more to encourage mothers to breastfeed. Telling them to stay in the closet, literally, can be nothing but discouraging.

Shame on you Timmi Toler. You're the one who desecrates breastfeeding by continuing to espouse the notion that there is something indecent about it, not those of us who feed our babies when they're hungry, wherever we happen to be. We who nurse in public are are not making an "in your face" point, we're just taking care of our children. Stop trying to shame us and leave us in peace.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Victoria's Secret Nurse-In!

What is up with Victoria's Secret employees? In December last year, a South Carolina mom was told that breastfeeding in the store was against company policy and was advised to go to a public restroom. We know the policy in fact does allow moms to breastfeed in their stores...just a couple bad apples...apology performed by PR flack...blah blah blah. Then last week, within two days, at a store in Racine, Wisconsin, and another in Boston, two different moms were told to take their hungry babies to the restroom to eat by Victoria's Secret employees. The irony of this happening, repeatedly, at a store that sells all manner of bras (except nursing bras) is not lost on me, but I don't have time to go into the implications of all that right now.

ANYWAY...these two women urge nursing moms to join them in a nurse-in at Victoria's Secret stores nationwide on July 1 at 1 pm, to protest not only this particular company's poorly implemented policy, but to demand state and federal protection of babies' right to nurse when they're hungry, wherever they may be. Here in Portland, moms will be nursing at the Lloyd Center, Clackamas Town Center, Washington Square, and Tanasbourne Victoria's Secret stores. (We're expecting press coverage at Clackamas Town Center.) Join them. If you're not a nursing mom or can't make a nurse-in, but still want to help, go to ProMoM and use their nifty email thingamabob to send a note to Victoria's Secret/Limited Brands.

Nurse on, mamas!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

It's About Babies, Not Boobies

So, it's been a with two young children gives me little time to complete a thought, let alone write one down. I still don't have much time, but wanted to share the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Breastfeeding Campaign Ad materials. I'm not sure what I think about the, um, titillating nature of the print ads. Part of me loves it, part of me thinks it will just add to people's perception that breastfeeding is about boobies, not babies.

Nippers Unite! has had a couple business meetings and we are beginning to plan our events for World Breastfeeding Week in August. If you would like to keep informed about our plans, please join our Yahoo group.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Letter to Barb

Here's letter I wrote to an acquaintance recently, who questioned my decision to nurse Luc at Fred Meyers.

Dear Barb,

I have to say I'm somewhat taken aback that you would not be supportive of a mother's right to nurse in public. You have always seemed to be such an open minded, tolerant, "live and let live" sort of person, so it surprises me that you wouldn't be okay with mothers doing what they need to do to take care of their babies, wherever and whenever they need to, or that you would secondguess my actions about how I take care of my children. I hope you don't mind me addressing your comments below point-by-point. I believe that you have good intentions and I hope you believe that I do too. If I seem a bit strident or sensitive, well, this is a very important issue to me and I was publicly humiliated in a store where I shop frequently and even though in the end I "won," I'm still a bit tender from the experience.

You say, "It is not the vision of a baby feeding that anyone objects to." Here are some comments from visitors to my blog:
"People come to the store to shop, not to see a woman breastfeeding her baby."
"I'm female, but I'm getting a little sick of the ragin' booby ladies wanting to flap them tatters everywhere." Much more of the same can be found all over the Internet. Here's what Barbara Walters had to say about seeing a mother nurse her baby on a plane during takeoff (which, by the way, is vitally important for babies as their eardrums can be damaged if they do not suck during takeoffs and landings). With regard to "covering" babies while breastfeeding, many babies refuse to be covered while they eat and some people have expressed that they are even bothered by the sight of a covered baby breastfeeding. It is impossible to make everyone happy and comfortable, and really, a mother's first priority is the happiness and comfort of her baby, not grown ups who are perfectly capable of looking away or moving away.

You say you would "vote" for breastfeeding to happen in a more private surrounding. Fortunately for nursing mothers and their babies, Oregon law codifies and the Supreme Court supports nursing in public, so your vote doesn't really count. Here are the relevant citations:

1999 Ore. ALS 306; 1999 Ore. Laws 306; 1999 Ore. SB 744:
A woman may breastfeed her child in a public place.

As stated by the U.S. Supreme Court, “Nourishment is necessary to maintain the child’s life, and the parent may choose to believe that breastfeeding will enhance the child’s psychological as well as physical health. In light of the spectrum of interests that the Supreme Court has held specially protected we conclude that the Constitution protects from excessive state interference a woman’s decision respecting breastfeeding her child.” 650 F.2d at 787.

You suggest that I couldn have taken a "quick walk to the car" when my baby needed to nurse. I would like to tell you about something that happened just two days ago that reveals how danergous such a suggestion is. I was walking through the WinCo parking lot with Luc in one arm and holding Annabel's hand with the other, when I heard a car start. I couldn't see which car it was, and cautiously proceeded with my children. Turns out it was a car hidden from me by an SUV parked beside it and the driver had no idea that we were about to walk behind her car when she pulled out. Had I been making that "quick walk" you suggest, with Luc crying in one arm and Annabel yanking on the other (as she does at times, especially if we go somewhere and then suddenly leave), I may not have heard that engine start and an actual tragedy might have occurred rather than a bit of embarrassment, offense, or disgust on the part of the people who took the time to complain to a manager about me feeding my baby, rather than just avert their eyes from the scene.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by the "controversial manner in which the event took place," so I can't really address that point. I can assure you that I didn't nurse my son in Fred Meyers in an effort to create a controversy, I nursed him there because that's where we were when he began to cry frantically and I determined that he was hungry. (For what it's worth, I did nurse Luc less than 30 minutes before we arrived at the store.)

Could there been no other more private place? Again, it's my right to nurse in public, my baby's right to eat when he needs to, so why should I have scurried around the store, finding some private place, with my bawling baby and flighty toddler when there was a bench, provided for the comfort of all Fred Meyers customers, right where we were?

Did the confrontation with the manager benefit Annabelle in any manner?? I did not confront the manager, he confronted me. I was just minding my own business and reminded the manager of Oregon law when he confronted me. And yes, I do believe that standing up for Luc's right to eat when he needs to, without burdensome restrictions for the comfort of adults who can avert their eyes or move away, does benefit Annabel. I hope that by the time she's a grown women, thanks to mothers like me taking a stand, breastfeeding in public will be as controversial as being pregnant in public (there was a time when it was considered immodest for a women to be obviously pregnant in public).

This does not even begin to imply that private places should be sought out in all cases...but Fred Meyer's?? What of Fred Meyers? What makes it so special? It's where we were. It's where a LOT of mothers have to go, sometimes with their babies who may need to eat while there. When the public affairs flack at Fred Meyers called to apologize on behalf of the company, she assured me that they would be correcting their employees about the law and the company's policy because, and I quote, "Mothers are our core customers and we want them to feel welcome to take care of their babies in our stores."

Breastmilk is the very best food for babies and respectable medical organizations, including the American Pediatric Association, the World Health Organization, the American Diabetes Association, encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies for the first year of life and ideally until the age of two. Sadly, public perception is one of the greatest obstacles to breastfeeding in the United States. One of the reasons I took a stand was not just because I was wrongfully humilitated. I knew I would eventually bounce back. I'm strongly committed to breastfeeding and I also have a fantastic support network of current and former nursing mothers, who shared their sympathy and outrage when they heard what happened to me. Unfortunately, most mothers do not have such support and may have never nursed in public again or worse, given up breastfeeding altogether, had they been publicly shamed as I was.

Anyway, thank you for sharing your opinion with me and if you've read this far, thank you for bothering. You are actually the only person I know who has not given me her wholehearted support for my efforts and I appreciate your honesty and the opportunity, perhaps, to explain to you why supporting mothers who breastfeed in public is important. Fred Meyers, thankfully, has admitted its managers were wrong and has publicly promised to re-educate all of its employees about the law. I am proud that I made that happen by standing up for myself, my son, and nursing mothers and babies everywhere. I wish, as someone I consider a friend, that you could be proud of me too.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Jimmy Kimmel on Baba Wawa

I don't watch much television and never saw the comments Barbara Walters made on The View last year about being "uncomfortable" seeing a mother breastfeed her baby on an airplane. Couple days ago, I stumbled across this amazing clip. Jimmy Kimmel is officially my new hero.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Why I Love People With Gray Hair

Caitlin just posted this story as a comment and it's such a lovely one that I wanted to put it up here so others would be sure to read it.
When my daughter was three weeks old and I waited for my husband to pick me up from the dentist, she decided she needed to nurse. This was a small conservative Louisiana town (before Louisiana passed its pro-nursing law), and there was a little old lady (LOL) staring at me from a few chairs away. I threw a blanket over my whimpering daughter and tried to get her latched on. As a new mom, I found a good latch hard to manage even when I could see, and manipulating a full breast and a starving newborn under a blanket was not a skill I could manage. Baby began to scream. LOL stared. I frantically tried to manipulate my nipple into baby's mouth. Baby shrieked and flailed under the heat and restrictiveness of the blanket. I was about to burst into tears myself when LOL leaned over and said, "I breastfed all 14 of my children." I discarded the blanket, baby nursed contentedly, and LOL and I had a lovely chat. May all you nursing moms be blessed with LOLs, and may everyone let you (or your kids' dad when he shops with the little ones) cut in the checkoutline whenever need be.

Some people have commented here that older people are the ones who complain about mothers nursing in public, but in my experience, older people are more understanding, helpful, and patient than others when I'm out with my kids and are the most likely to say something positive about me breastfeeding. My daughter has always been the kind of kid who makes an effort to get people around her smile, and even as a baby, she seemed to know that anyone with gray hair was an easy mark. She would get the attention of some grandma or grandpa while we waited in check out lines and without fail, they would respond and strike up a conversation with her and me. Recently, while nursing my son at Tryon Creek Park's nature center during the Trillium Festival, an older gentleman who was sitting next to us struck up a conversation with me about how the Hebrew name for God has been incorrectly translated into English. "It should be literally translated as 'god with the nurturing breasts'." He went on to tell me that he sees lots of mothers nursing at his church these days and that he thinks it's a wonderful thing. I think that older people supporting nursing mothers is a wonderful thing. (Oh, and if anyone can point me to more info about this "god with the nururing breasts" thing, I'd be much obliged.)

Plan Your Nurse Out Now!

World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7) is still a few months away, but it's not too soon to start planning a nurse out in your community. Will there be one in Portland, you ask? You betcha! Stay tuned for details.

Nippers Unite! Planning Meeting This Saturday

Our new group is having a lively email discussion and readying for our first planning meeting at Chrissy's house this Saturday. I'm thrilled to have something so positive come out of what started out as a humiliating, defeating experience. While showering this morning, I was thinking about that afternoon, remembering how I felt like it was me and my baby against the world while I sat there listening to that manager tell me people were offended by my efforts to feed my son. I stood in the shower and bawled, the first time I've cried over any of this since it happened. It felt so awful to be shamed by members of my community for lacking sufficient breastfeeding finesse. I wish no other mom would have to experience that, though I'm sure more will. My friend Sierra wrote to me today that "parents of young children should be given a break by everyone else." She's right. Damn we're doing the hardest job of our lives...every single mom I've talked with says that being a mother is the most challenging thing she's ever done. It's such important work, too, though so completely undervalued in our society.

I don't know any mothers who want special accommodations, but gosh it would be nice to get bit of understanding when our kids aren't being the "seen but not heard" creatures you expect them to be, instead of dirty looks and tsk-tsks. I have fantasized about some nice old lady walking up to me that day at Fred Meyer and saying, "Sweetie, it looks like you could use an extra pair of hands. Can I help? I'll entertain your little girl for a few minutes while you take care of your baby." Would that have been so hard? Would it have taken more effort than tracking down the store manager to complain about how offended you were at the sight of the breast of a mother trying desperately to calm and feed her crying baby?

It never occurred to me when I was breastfeeding my daughter that I should be discreet for anyone else's comfort but hers and mine. I would find a quiet spot so she wouldn't be distracted and keep myself covered because I felt uncomfortable, vulnerable, when my breasts were exposed in front of strangers. I truly had no idea that people actually found the sight of a mother breastfeeding her baby disgusting. I'm still having trouble getting my head around the idea. To me, it's one of the most beautiful sights in the world. I hope that by the time my daughter has children, that we will be blessed to see it much more often.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Thanks, Mean and Ignorant People!

If it weren't for you and your unbelievably uninformed, self-absorbed comments about nursing mothers here on this blog and others, talk radio, and the evening news, we probably wouldn't have gotten so damn fired up about the need to support mothers who choose to nurse in public. As of this morning, 40 people have asked to join Nippers Unite. We'll have our first planning meeting in private, but after that, expect to see us out there "making a point" and helping one another NIP with confidence on a regular basis. Did you actually believe you'd shame us into the closet?

The Primary NIP Myth: "The Right Not To Be Offended"

The following piece is by Sher Maloney, creator of Nurse Here Now. I have found it so inspiring I wanted to share it.
People suppose they have the right not to be made uncomfortable by seeing a baby nursing, but that is their desire, not the actual case. That kind of sense of entitlement is founded on a false premise.

There is no such thing as "The Right Not To Be Offended".

For example, if I am eating out and the man at the table next to me does something I find offensive, say, chews loudly with his mouth wide open, (which actually does make me sick and can ruin a meal for me) I can go over to his table and request for him to sit somewhere else, or I can ask the wait staff to have him finish his meal in the car, or possibly cover up with a tablecloth, right? We all know I'd be laughed out of the place if I responded that way, even though in my opinion, it is obvious he was being impolite. It isn't reasonable to believe that my opinion of his actions should obligate him to change his behavior, even though I wish he would. It isn't reasonable to believe that holding the opinion that breastfeeding is impolite means a mom should be obligated to avoid doing it in front of you or to do it in a way you find acceptable.

It is apparent that many people think they are entitled to have others meet their personal comfort needs, they seem to feel that rather than taking responsibility for their own discomfort if they see something they don't like, that the "offender" should then assume responsibilty for making them more comfortable. Adults are capable of meeting their own comfort needs. All it takes on their part to avoid being uncomfortable is to look away. But rather than doing so, they choose not to meet their own needs and then blame someone else for their discomfort.

If you have eyes, and ears, the reality is that you will sometimes see and hear things that you would rather not. A desire to be comfortable with the way the babies around you are eating is a preference that no one else is obligated to accomodate. It's not a matter of politeness or courtesy - feeding a baby is neither impolite nor "inconsiderate" nor discourteous in itself. It is unrealistic and self-absorbed to expect someone else to meet your own petty comfort needs. The general public is not responsible for understanding and accomodating everyone else's personal preferences.

Whether I like seeing a baby breastfeeding or not, it's my responsibility to take care of my own comfort. It's not up to perfect strangers going about their business to see that I remain in my own personal comfort zone.

Copyright © Sher Maloney

About the author:

Sher Maloney is a mom of two boys, WAHM and wife. When she is not firing off lactivist articles, she is spending time with family & friends and making unique handmade soap. Visit her site to see her work, or contact her at

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

We Are Williamette Week Winners!

Ta-da! Our victory made it into Willamette Week's Winners and Losers column. Thanks Sarah and Karla for letting me know about it!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Supporting Mothers Who NIP

I could not have stood up for myself as I have without the support of my amazing mama network. Thank you Alenna, Anne, Brittney, Cherrie, Chrissy, Christie, Emily, Jenna and Jenna, Jennifer, Katie and Katie, Lesley, Lillie, Melissa, Nicholette, Peggy, Sally, Sarah, Shannon, Shauna, Sierra, Teri, Ticia and so many others whom I have never met who sent me emails, cyber hugs, wrote fantastic, thoughtful comments here, and persuaded Fred Meyer to pronounce its support for mothers who nurse in its stores: without your empathy and outrage, your ideas and encouragement, I wouldn't have started this blog, nursed on the news, or withstood the backlash of the self-absorbed folks who think that their comfort is more important than that of mothers meeting the basic needs of their babies.

Throughout this experience, I have thought a lot about the moms who don't have such support for their decision to nurse in public or to breastfeed at all. Really, this fight has been for them and their babies. Thanks to my commitment to breastfeeding and the support of my friends, I would have bounced back from the Fred Meyer incident eventually, but what about those mothers who don't have such support and are discouraged from breastfeeding at all because of the cultural attitudes that led to those customers to complain, that store manager to tell me about their complaints, and that regional manager to tell me the situation had been handled appropriately? More importantly, what about their babies, who do not enjoy the food they were born to eat?

While some say that it's prefectly okay to breastfeed, as long as you are discreet when you do it in public, to that I say, define discreet and tell me why it is that the breastfeeding mother, who is making herself vulnerable to looks and comments from strangers while trying to do some of the most essential work on the planet, isn't the person who should get to define that for herself, her baby, and the particular situation in which they find themselves when hunger strikes. If you tell women they may only nurse at home or nurse in public with their breasts completely under cover at all times, you might as well tell them not to breastfeed or only to breastfeed for a few months. You're also suggesting that there's something about breastfeeding that's patently offensive or lewd, which of course just feeds into some women's existing discomfort with breastfeeding, no doubt leading to fewer babies enjoying their most fundamental human right.

My friend Chrissy and I have been talking about starting a group that provides a supportive atmosphere for mothers who want to nurse in public. Yesterday, she created a new Yahoo! group and blog for those of us who want to make sure every mother who wants to nurse her baby in public can gain the confidence she needs to do so. I don't want to fight with those who think breastfeeding is disgusting or should only be done according to their notions of discretion. It's every mother's right to nurse in public and the rude, self-absorbed people who think they can change that by shaming mothers will eventually find, to their dismay, that nursing in public has become as accepted as being pregnant in public and that a bare breast gets as much attention as a bare ankle. In the meantime, those of you who wish to support breastfeeding mothers and their babies, please join our campaign to make nursing in public normal. You can join whether you're currently a nursing mother or not. We plan to meet regularly, in public, to talk about breastfeeding issues and all the other things mothers talk about and to provide a safe, supportive atmosphere for moms who want to NIP for the first time or to regain their confidence after being shamed as I was. Join here now. Nippers Unite!

Nurse At Will, Fred Meyer Shoppers!

The following arrived in my Inbox yesterday.
Ms. Musser:

Per our conversation on April 19 and again on April 21, I am forwarding you the information we have provided to all of our regional managers, store directors, and department managers (for example, Apparel managers in each store, grocery managers in each store, Home department managers in each store, etc.). They will share this information with their employees, and our regional teams will ensure that all personnel are aware of Fred Meyer's policy.

As I shared with you when we talked on the 21st, Fred Meyer's policy has always been - and remains - to uphold the law. I would like to reiterate our sincere regret that you were made to feel uncomfortable and humilated in our store. Fred Meyer welcomes all customers to our stores---especially mothers. We support the right of women to breastfeed their children. In addition to being the right thing to do, it is the law in most places. And where it is not explicitly the law, we still want the same respect extended to women.

The following information went to the above personnel via several of our internal communications vehicles on April 21. These are the same communications vehicles we use for training and informing our managers and employees about all of our policies:

"A recent incident at one of our stores has brought to our attention the need to educate our stores on the laws regarding breastfeeding (Oregon, Washington and Alaska noted below).

Most of the state breastfeeding laws permit mothers to breastfeed in any public or private location and/or provide that breastfeeding does not constitute indecent exposure or other criminal behavior.

Simply put, a mother may breastfeed her child in our stores.

If you are approached by other Customers having a complaint on this issue, please politely explain that the law guarantees women the right to breastfeed in any place where they have a right to be.

Oregon law ORS 109.001 1999 Ore. ALS 306; 199 Ore. Laws 306; 1999 Ore. SB
744: A woman may breastfeed her child in a public place.

Washington law RCW 9A.88.010 2001 Wa. ALS 88; 2001 Wa. Ch. 88; 2001 Wa. HB 1590 (1): A person is guilty of indecent exposure if he or she intentionally makes any open and obscene exposure of his or her person or the person of another knowing that such conduct is likely to cause reasonable affront or alarm. The act of breastfeeding or expressing breast milk is not indecent exposure.

Alaska Sta. 29.25.080 (Michie 2000) provides that: In the laws of the State, "lewd conduct," "lewd touching," "immoral conduct," "indecent conduct," and similar terms do not include the act of a woman breastfeeding a child in a public or private location where the woman and child are otherwise authorized to be.
Breastfeeding does not constitute indecent exposure or other similar offences.

Idaho does not specifically address breastfeeding by State law. Fred Meyer’s position is that Idaho stores will follow the same rules as Oregon and Washington stores. If approached by a Customer with a complaint, politely explain Fred Meyer supports a mother’s right to nurse her child in public."

Ms. Musser, please call me if I can provide additional information or answer any questions.

Melinda Merrill
Director, Fred Meyer Public Affairs

Could the company had done better? Certainly. I was just chatting with my friend Alenna last night about what a great PR opportunity Fred Meyer has here. Instead of just abiding by the letter of the law, they could have embraced the spirit of it and made even more of a point of publicly welcoming nursing mothers to their stores, perhaps with signage at its store entrances.

Oh well. Freddies, I give you an "S" for Satisfactory. I won't boycott your stores anymore, but I also won't add you to the list of breastfeeding-friendly businesses I'm currently compiling. (More on that soon...send your favorite NIPping spots to me!)