Beyond Riddle’s Shaming Comments for Texas Breastfeeding Moms

by Danielle Rigg, JD CLC | March 20, 2013 11:10 pm

Last week Texas moms helped tackle a big cultural and legal Booby Trap.   Representative Jessica Farrar sponsored House Bill 1706 — a law that if passed would give a breastfeeding mom the ability to sue a business or person for harassing her for breastfeeding in public.  Texas, like most other states, already has a law declaring that a mom has a legal right to breastfeed anywhere she otherwise has a legal right to be.  This addition, would enforce the law by giving the mom legal recourse (a civil cause of action) for being told she “can’t do that here.” Michelle Hickman, Best for Babes’ volunteer Director of Activism and a native Texan, has been working like crazy behind the scenes to support Farrar’s effort, and was there to testify about this groundbreaking legislation.

Best for Babes' Michelle Hickman breastfeeding her daughter Natalie at the Texas House of Representatives

Best for Babes’ Michelle Hickman and daughter Natalie at the Texas House of Representatives

Why is this proposed law so important?  Because harassment and humiliation of moms who nurse in public is rampant but carries no penalty in most states.  Best for Babes’ Nursing In Public Harassment Hotline, overseen by Michelle, has collected 60 incidents in the 6 months since it’s inception!  Just to be clear, those incidents involve paying customers who stop briefly to feed their hungry baby, so they can resume minding their own business — be that in a market, on a plane, or at the gym, etc., they are yelled at, demeaned, shamed, have blankets forcibly thrown over their babies heads, and even have objects thrown at them.  This is how we treat mothers who are contributing to our improved collective health and debt reduction?  Read:  Breastfeeding Could Save $13 Billion. 

Humiliating moms for nursing in public is a major deterrent to breastfeeding–a Booby Trap. The prospect of being shamed in public or having to run for cover to a car or bathroom with a hungry baby, often with other young children in tow, so sours the deal that many women give up or don’t bother trying.  We don’t blame them.  Who would sign up for that?  Breastfeeding shouldn’t be a “sentence.”

From Left, Michelle Hickman, Susan Landers, Krisdee Monmoyer & baby boy, Gail Gresham

From Left, Michelle Hickman, Susan Landers, Krisdee Donmoyer & baby boy, Gail Gresham, where they testified at the public hearing for HB 741 & HB 1706

 

To be fair, many business-owners and retail stores are largely unaware of a mom’s “right to breastfeed in public.”  However, without the threat of a legal consequence for offending a mom, once they are aware, there isn’t much incentive to comply beyond issuing an apology.  Yes, a public apology is what moms want initially.  But to ensure that harassment doesn’t continue on another day, what is really needed is a commitment to a policy and training for themselves and their workers, about how to treat breastfeeding customers.  HB 1706 is one way of fixing that problem.  Another would be to make it a criminal offense – a misdemeanor — punishable by a fine.  That may be a better option because moms of young kids shouldn’t have to start a lawsuit to get some relief! Either way, the legal consequences that would follow breaking the law, are needed.

Having the law on our side would help greatly, but we’ve also got a much deeper cultural Booby Trap to deal with.  State Representative Debbie Riddle’s ignorant comments on her Facebook page (which she posted and then removed) made this patently clear.  Riddle said she would not support the bill, but also stated that women should be “modest” while nursing, or retreat to their cars to do it,  “cover” the baby with a blanket,  “its not rocket science.” Guess she never nursed a baby in a hot Texas car, or struggled with a baby yanking off a receiving blanket.

A recent poll from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation confirmed that moms want to feel welcome nursing in public and that it would make an enormous difference to their lives if they did.  Dr. Gail Christopher, WKKF Vice President of Program Strategy said it best:“If we truly understand that breast milk is the best first food for new babies—and our polling shows Americans do—then our institutions and communities need to make it easier for all mothers to nurse.”

Breastfeeding is a behavior with such widespread benefits for us all that it’s our social responsibility to help moms succeed – at home, at work in public, wherever.  A national law making discrimination against nursing moms illegal would go a long way toward the culture shift we need.  HB 1706  is a praiseworthy step in the right direction!

Do you think that giving moms who are discriminated against for nursing in public the right to sue and collect money damages is a fair remedy, or should it be a crime punishable by a fine?

 

Show your support to moms who are nursing in public by purchasing our “Thank you for breastfeeding!” cards. And just in case the mom is ever harassed for nursing, we want her to know she can call and get help, support, and even get involved in efforts to help prevent discrimination against nursing mothers everywhere by including our breastfeeding discrimination hotline number on the back.

$3 gets you 10 of them (that’s shipping included!) and we hope you love them as much as we do! Also consider donating to the hotline to help keep us going!

Thank you for breastfeeding! cards

 



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