At last count, nurse-ins have been organized at over 100 Target stores across the country for 10 a.m. local time on Wednesday, December 28th, 2011. For locations and more information, join the closed Facebook group, Target Nurse-In and see the documents page.
What is a “Nurse-In”? A “nurse-in” is a peaceful demonstration to raise awareness about a barrier to breastfeeding. According to the State of Breastfeeding in the United States, breastfeeding rates are lower in the U.S. than in most industrialized countries. Barriers to breastfeeding, a.k.a. “Booby Traps,” are pervasive. Negative health consequences for mothers, babies, all of society and the planet are epidemic.
Why is there a nurse-in at Target? On Nov. 29th, Michelle Hickman was nursing her baby in a remote corner of a Houston Target store, using a cover and unseen by customers, and was accosted by employees who insisted she nurse in the fitting room, threatened her, and embarrassed and humiliated her. When Ms. Hickman called Target Guest Relations, she was told that Target’s policies “are different from the law” and was further harassed. Upon going up the chain of command, she was promised an apology, however, to date she has only received a written re-stating of Target’s corporate policy; with no mention of the words “we are sorry”, “we regret”, “we apologize” or any other phrase that can be interpreted as apologetic. There has been no public statement, consequence for the employees that we know of, or indication that Target will make an effort to properly train employees on the rights of breastfeeding mothers and the need to support their efforts.
Why are other Target stores affected besides the store in Houston? Target has a history of inconsistency in how they treat breastfeeding customers. Some mothers give their local stores rave reviews, others have come forth to say they were embarrassed or humiliated for nursing in their local store. Clearly, the corporate policy on breastfeeding customers that Target announced after such an incident in 2006 is not being implemented effectively across all 1700 stores in the U.S., and it is not acceptable that women continue to be harassed at Target stores for exercising their basic human right to nurse their babies as they see fit. It is not acceptable that a mother who contacts Guest Relations has not received an official apology.
What is Best for Babes’ role in the nurse-in? Best for Babes was contacted by Michelle Hickman on December 12th. We shared her story because we believe that negative attitudes about breastfeeding in public create a big Booby Trap that keeps mothers from initiating breastfeeding and from reaching their personal breastfeeding goals; leading to increased negative health consequences for mothers, babies, society and the planet. We believe that all mothers deserve to achieve their personal goals–whether those are to breastfeed for 2 days, 2 months, 2 years or not at all–without being undermined, harassed, humiliated or discriminated against. We are tired of seeing mothers urged to breastfeed by every major health and medical organization, yet kicked out of stores, restaurants, airplanes and even courtrooms for breastfeeding. Almost all states have laws that allow mothers to nurse their babies in any public or private location, but these laws are frequently not being upheld. Click here to find the laws in your state. We are tired of hearing that breastfeeding mothers are being told how and when and where they can nurse. We hope that eventually breastfeeding mothers will be protected nationally through an amendment to the Civil Rights Act.)
Best for Babes has not helped organize the nurse-in. We see our role as 1) raising awareness through our blog posts and Facebook page, 2) acting as a mediator by reaching out to Target constructively and positively and 3) providing guidance and resources. We have reached out to Target Headquarters to commend them on having a corporate policy, to applaud those employees who have been supportive and welcoming towards nursing mothers, and to offer our help in reviewing the corporate policy and developing and employee training toolkit on supporting breastfeeding customers so that employee actions are consistent across all stores and regions. We see the national nurse-in as an opportunity for Target to turn a negative into a positive: by working with us to develop a toolkit and being the first to implement the toolkit they can set a positive example for ALL customer-oriented businesses in the U.S., help us reward and recognize those companies that have an effective corporate policy and excellent track record in training employees, help mothers and babies, and reap positive publicity for turning this situation around. We have assembled a working group of senior corporate Human Resources and Communications professionals who stand at the ready. We had a very productive conversation with Antoine LaFromboise, a corporate spokesperson from Target and sent a follow-up email, but have not received a response, which is disappointing. It appears that all calls to Target Executive Management are being directed to Guest Relations.
Was Michelle Hickman covered when she nursed her baby? It is immaterial. Some mothers feel more comfortable using a cover or a blanket while nursing, some do not. Sometimes babies do not like to be covered regardless of what the mother wants. At Best for Babes, we believe that mothers should nurse in the way that they are most comfortable, and we agree with PhDinParenting that telling women to cover up or strip down is a frequently used tactic to oppress women. We also agree with Phdinparenting that there are more than 50 Reasons for Breastfeeding Anytime and Anywhere. In a bottle-feeding culture, it is understandable that not everyone is completely comfortable seeing babies nurse–yet–but we all have a responsibility to help others overcome this barrier and learn to see that breastfeeding is not only healthy but beautiful! (As someone who was once squeamish about breastfeeding I can relate, but if I can now see breastfeeding as amazing and wonderful so can everyone else.)
Why didn’t she go to the fitting room, as the employee requested, and why did she feed the baby sitting on the floor? Because it is her legal right to feed the baby wherever she is comfortable. I can’t speak for Michelle, but I can say that sometimes it is not convenient to go to the Fitting Room. Some mothers don’t feel comfortable asking for what they need, some may be all the way on the other side of the store and don’t have time to haul all the way back. Some mothers don’t feel comfortable sitting in a chair in the furniture section, some may prefer a spot out of the view of customers. Some may find that sitting on the floor is more secure with an active baby. Let me add that 10 years ago, when I was nursing my first child, I found a spot to sit and nurse behind the stairwell in the World Financial Center where I used to work as an executive. Yes, I sat on the floor because that was more comfortable for me than sitting on the bench in full view because I was nervous! Imagine a mother waiting in the check-out line during the holiday rush who needs to pick up her toddler from daycare or school; her infant starts crying . . . wouldn’t it just be easier to quiet and comfort the baby with nursing right then and there? If we want to see more mothers achieve their breastfeeding goals, we need to make it as easy and convenient to breastfeed in public as we have made it to bottlefeed.
Finally, it has been a pleasure speaking with Michelle Hickman, we admire her strength, calm and reasoned approach and we stand behind her and her desire for a peaceful demonstration. We hope that it will shed light on the societal barriers mothers face and further the dialogue about how we can best protect breastfeeding mothers. We loved it when Michelle said “this is SO not about me. It is about all the moms who might not breastfeed or might stop early because they have been humiliated.” We couldn’t agree more!
Any questions we didn’t answer? Leave them below!