Breastfeeding In Public. Yes or No?

This post also appeared on www.capecodonline.com/blogs in the opinion section of the Cape Cod Times, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc.

Nicole Newland, asked to stop nursing at a restaurant
Nicole Newland, asked to stop nursing at a restaurant

I came across an interesting news item earlier this month and it really made me stop and think. It involves a woman who was asked to refrain from breastfeeding her child while eating at a restaurant. She demonstrates the exact pose in the picture at the top of this post, so check it out for yourself. As for her story, here it is:

Tonight my sister, her boyfriend, my three month old daughter Catalina, and I all went out to dinner at a local restaurant, Arizona Pizza in Fort Myers (off of Winkler). Catalina got hungry and so I discreetly began to nurse her. Within moments, a server, Irene, came over to me and asked me to stop nursing or cover up, and then she TRIED TO COVER MY BABY WITH A NAPKIN!! I told her several times, as politely as possible that I would not do either of those things as Florida law didn’t require me too and in fact protected my right to breastfeed in public. She tried to cover Catalina a few more times and then asked me to nurse facing the wall, which I also refused to do. Afterwards, she went behind the bar and began pointing at me and getting all of the wait staff to turn and stare at us.

So, if you have a few spare minutes, I’d love it if you could send an email to one (or all) of the following email addresses telling them how terrible you think what they did to me is.

linda@arizonapizza.com
shannon@arizonapizza.com
arizonapizza@aol.com

Here is a copy of the letter I sent them which includes the exact Florida laws which protect my right to NIP.

Hello,
I am writing in regards to an incident that occured this evening at the Fort Myers Arizona Pizza around 7:30 PM. I was dining in the restaurant when it became necessary to breastfeed my three month old daughter. I discreetly began to nurse her. Due to her fussiness it was necessary for me to stand up and sway from side to side. As I was doing this, an employee of the restaurant, Irene, came up to me and told me that I needed to cease breastfeeding or cover up immediately and she attempted to place a napkin over my child’s head. I refused to do so, citing Florida law which states:

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 383.015
1993 Fl. ALS 4; 1993 Fla. Laws ch. 4; 1993 Fla. HB 231

The breast feeding of a baby is an important and basic act of nurture which must be encouraged in the interests of maternal and child health and family values. A mother may breast feed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breast feeding.

Fla. Stat. 800.02, 800.03, 800.04

Statute language omitted. These statutes exclude breastfeeding from various sexual offenses, from the definition of an unnatural and lascivious act.

Fla. Stat. § 827.071 (Child abuse statute)

(g) “Sexual conduct” means … A mother’s breastfeeding of her baby does not under any circumstances constitute “sexual conduct.”

Fla .Stat. §383.016, , 383.016, 383.311, and 363.318
Section 383.016 of the Florida Statutes, provides for a breast-feeding encouragement policy for facilities providing maternity services and newborn infant care and authorizing use of “baby-friendly” designation. Sections 383.016, 383.311, and 363.318 of the Florida Statutes relating to breast feeding, administration of maternal and child health programs, education for birth center clients, and postpartum care for birth center clients, requiring encouragement of breastfeeding.

She continued to insist that I cover myself or cease feeding my baby, which I again refused, politely citing Florida law once more and asserting my baby’s right to eat. She attempted to blame other patrons of the restaurant and in fact became quite rude, repeatedly attempting to cover my child’s head with a napkin. She then instructed me to turn around and face a wall while feeding my baby, which I also refused to do. I am outraged that your establishment would allow such bold disregard of Florida law and a woman and child’s right to engage in a breastfeeding relationship. I would like to know what will be done to rectify this situation and to ensure that it does not happen to anyone else again.

I will not be returning to dine in your establishment. Furthermore, I will encourage everyone I know to boycott the attendance of a restaurant that encourages such backward thinking and ill treatment as I received this evening.

Sincerely,

Nicole Newland

So I have a few thoughts and opinions on this.

First of all, she is legally protected under Florida state law. That’s pretty much the bottom line here from a legal standpoint. The law clearly protects her right to breastfeed, even in a private restaurant, and that’s that. The waitress had absolutely no right to tell her to stop feeding her child. Furthermore, if a waitress ever tried to cover my baby’s head with a napkin I would flip the hell out. That was a serious error in judgement and I hope she’s fired for that one.

Now, even though this woman is protected legally, the question remains: Is it in bad taste to breastfeed while out in public? For the purposes of this discussion, I’m limiting my comments to this specific case. The woman in this case admits she stood up and swayed from side to side, and did not use any kind of a cover. While I’m all for breastfeeding, there has to be some sense of decorum. It’s not like this woman was sitting discreetly in a corner trying to nurse her baby as conspicuously as possible. She was STANDING UP AND SWAYING FROM SIDE TO SIDE. I don’t care who you are, when a large-breasted and semi-attractive woman is standing up in the middle of a restaurant with half her boob hanging out, that’s going to attract attention. Now as I said before, the problem (at least in my opinion) occurred when the waitress told her to stop and attempted to cover up her baby. Let’s say that didn’t happen, and instead a few people nearby calmly and politely asked her if she could cover-up a little bit. I think that’s completely understandable.

Bottom line is I don’t believe what this woman did was appropriate. MJ has a very nice, pretty silk cover-up that she uses when she has to breastfeed in public. And as a result, you’d never even know she was feeding a child. And although feeding the baby is of the utmost importance, it’s vital to remember there are people around you who came out to eat a nice meal. Maybe those people are with some older children, and the parents of those children shouldn’t have to worry about their young boys seeing a woman’s boobs over an appetizer. And don’t give me this crap about explaining breastfeeding to children and desexualizing it…boys like boobs. Period! And boys will stare at boobs if they are out in the open. You can explain breastfeeding til the cows come home, but most boys don’t care. They see a boob and suddenly that’s all they can see and think about for the next week, nevermind until the end of the meal. There is an expectation of privacy in a restaurant and this woman did nothing to attempt to meet it. She could’ve and should’ve been more respectful of the people around her, or at least sat down so she wasn’t sticking out like a sore thumb. It just seems she was throwing it in everyone’s face a little bit and I think that was uncalled for.

I know there are very strong feelings on both sides of this issue, but this is my two cents. So nurse your child in public but buy a cover-up and have a little respect for the people around you.

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12 thoughts on “Breastfeeding In Public. Yes or No?

  1. I don’t see what all the fuss is about Aaron- I see the picture and you don’t really SEE anything! You KNOW what you COULD see but you don’t really see it. I am not saying that I would go around with my bra hanging open anywhere but I have fed Matt in public places and I do not have a cover up- I just cover up as best I can with what I am wearing. And I have never been stared at, asked to leave or move, or had any problems what so ever. Personally I will avoid having to do it in public to the best of my ability because it is usually distracting to Matt but I think you’re overreacting a little to think she’s ruining peoples’ meals. NOT feeding the baby and letting him/her cry- now that’s ruining a meal!

  2. I can see both sides of the debate. As a mom who breastfed, when my child was hungry I fed him regardless of where we happened to be. But I did do it discreetly. This woman sounds like she got her panties in a bunch and took it upon herself to be non-negotiable about the situation. Probably right around the time the waitress tried to paper her baby. I would have been the first mother in recorded history to kick a persons teeth out while still feeding my child. Aside from that though, she sounds like she was being obstinate just for the sake of it. I’d also advise the mom that if your child is still very fussy when you’re feeding him, chances are there’s another issue there.

  3. This is easy for me. I breastfed my son and I think it’s not only the best and most healthy for my son, but I think it’s natural.

    With that said, however, I feel it is innappropriate to breast feed in public without being as decrete as possible. Not because it is a BAD thing but because I believe that everyone has a right to their opinions. In all honesty, I am just as offended seeing someone change a child’s diaper in public and it’s not of sexual nature but it’s a private matter.

    The child IS eating, as well as everyone else, but there’s no knife or fork involved. If I went out to eat, and had to breastfeed David. I would check the rest rooms for a clean or quiet corner with a chair, or cover up and sit in the corner of a booth. As long as he was eating and I was comfortable, I knew everyone was happy because I didn’t draw attention and MAKE it everyone else’s business.
    I think it should be tolerated but it’s not! If David got fussy, I made it MY responsibility (not the burden of the patrons or restaraunt staff) to go out to the car feed him and settle him as quietly and discretely as possible. He would not have liked to breastfeed in public like that. I’d be hanging there with my boob out and he’d be making everyone stair at me with his cries. Sounds like to me she was trying to enjoy her meal and he disrupted it and she took the easy way out and want everyone else to be okay with it…in this day and age, it’s not gonna happen…SORRY!

  4. Mr. Gouveia, Also aval. on the BBC boards was a response from the restaurant to one of the many moms who blindly sent an email regarding this issue. The mgmt’s reply was well worded, can you also post that? Thnx, a concerned Mom of Many

  5. As to the restaurant’s response, this was the only letter I could find online:

    “I have just been made aware of the incident that occurred at our Fort Myers location. I have ordered a complete investigation of what transpired on Saturday evening. Arizona Pizza Company prides itself on being a family restaurant. Our whole concept and theme surrounds family. I cannot apologize enough for what happened to Nicole. That is not what we are about. I have already proceeded with the retraining of all employees regarding a mother breast feeding a child. I can assure you that this is not being taken lightly. The employee in question has been removed from service until we complete our own internal investigation. Again, I am very sorry for what has happened. I would like to contact Nicole but I did not see any contact info in the e-mail that I received. I would like to be able to contact her and let her know that I am sorry for all of this and that we will take extreme measures to make things right.

    Sincerely

    Bill Murphy
    Owner / Developer”

  6. I think women should be able to breastfeed when and where ever they like, but I agree with you. Be discreet. It’s common sense to respectful of those around you.

  7. Here’s the full response I was referring to.

    Bill Murphy
    Owner / Developer
    From: Azpcoflorida
    To: Azpcoflorida
    Sent: 6/11/2008 6:30:26 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time
    Subj: Breast feeding incident at Arizona Pizza Company

    This is an e-mail broadcast to many of the people that have voiced their opinion regarding an incident at one of our restaurants last Saturday evening, Attached is a response from my partner regarding the incident. We never had a chance to respond and were never asked to respond. This one sided story has tarnished our reputation in the community that we live in. What is portrayed in Nicole’s email is embellished way beyond what actually happened. We have video surveillance in our restaurant for our safety and the safety of the public. We have Nicole’s entire visit on permanent record along with the actions of our employees during her visit. We have not concluded our internal investigation as yet but I believe it’s time for a response. As you will see below, we took action immediately not fully knowing what had happened but based on receiving emails suddenly from everywhere. I just wish Nicole had spoken to a manger or given us an opportunity to respond before everyone decided to play judge and jury before the defendant arrived at the court. We are a family restaurant in every sense of the word. That is our concept and theme throughout. We have always welcomed breast feeding mothers and will continue to do so as long as we are around. Our business has suffered badly from all of this.

    I have personally spoken to Nicole twice over the past couple of days and explained to her our sincere apologies for what she described had taken place. I reviewed what we were doing for retraining in all of the restaurants nationwide. The emails keep coming and I know we can’t stop that. We are being accused of child abuse, assault on an infant etc. Hundreds of people have been effected by a story that was not factual by any stretch.

    I also told Nicole I could no longer sit back and watch our business deteriorate from all of this.

    Thank you all for taking the time to read this. There is more below.

    Bill Murphy
    Owner / Developer

    June 11, 2008

    As the Co-Owner of Arizona pizza I am saddened by the course of events that have taken place as a result of an email sent from a third party about a young lady breast-feeding her baby in our restaurant. We have received threatening e-mails from all over the world stemming from an e-mail sent out to the media and other websites that suggested we told this young lady to stop breast feeding in our restaurant, and that we tried to cover the babies head with a napkin several times. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and we have 33 minutes of very clear video surveillance tape to prove it. We acted immediately on Monday when we found out and ordered a full investigation. The employee in question was relieved from duty pending the result of a full investigation. She is devastated by these allegations. This 10-15 second encounter was part of the mother’s 33 minutes of breast feeding standing in the isle of the restaurant next to her table. At no time was the mother or baby touched during this brief conversation, the mother was never told to stop breast feeding her child and the breastfeeding was never interrupted. We acted immediately and re-trained all our employees on the laws involving mothers and breastfeeding. We ordered a video tape of that evening and asked everyone working that evening to submit a report in order for us to conduct our investigation.

    It’s sad that this event has seems to have taken a life of its own. Breast feeding has taken place in Arizona Pizza from the first day we opened, both my daughter and daughter-in law were breastfeeding their babies at the opening night party. One of our managers in Estero is still breastfeeding her daughter at Arizona Pizza Co. To say we are against breast feeding at Arizona Pizza is just wrong. Arizona Pizza is a family restaurant that has donated thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to community projects. It breaks my heart to read the emails and allegations from people who are viewing us from a far.

    Robert Smith

    Co-Owner /Partner

    Arizona Pizza Company

  8. This incident (and response) shows how ridiculous Americans are about nudity. Breast-feeding is as natural as any other basic human behavior, and the idea that a woman must be completely hidden while doing it is ridiculous.
    Yes, men might stare. Is it the woman’s fault that men are kind’ve perverts? Should she cover up so that men with roaming eyes could behave himself? I think that, while a young boy would probably stare, he wouldn’t find breast-feeding sexy: After all, he had done it himself.

  9. @ Melissa

    Yes, I see your point. We’re rather stodgy Americans where nudity is concerned. Expecting a little common courtesy when in public places. The nerve. I’m sure you wouldn’t be at all offended if a man decided to whip it out and urinate in front of your child at the park. It is, after all, a completely natural body function. There are also people who feel the same way about masterbation so I’d be careful what can of worms you decide to open.

  10. Whoa, Aaron, you opened a big can of worms huh? Time to change the subject before someone gets hurt….Did Will go anything new today????

  11. If anyone put a napkin on my baby’s head, I reserve the right to get uptight about it. I nurse my baby in public, but I do use a cover-up so people don’t stare. It makes me feel more comfortable and my husband too. Of course the baby would rather take it off. One time at a restaurant someone asked if I could breastfeed in the bathroom and I told them that they could eat their dinner in the bathroom. hah. in response to this woman…hey, she has the right to do what she did. maybe her baby hates a cover-up and was really being fussy about it. and everything she did beyond breastfeeding was done because the waitress pissed her off.

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