Speaking up for change on any topic can be intimidating. When it comes to normalizing breastfeeding, including advocating for corporate policy change and improving legislation, sometimes I wonder what my one small voice can do when so many changes need to be made. But one voice can make the small ripple that starts a tidal wave of change.
Today I’d like to introduce you to one such voice. Robin Kaplan is an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), the host/producer of the Boob Group ,and the owner of the San Diego Breastfeeding Center. A mother reached out to Robin through the San Diego Breastfeeding Center’s Facebook page to ask for help regarding an incident of breastfeeding discrimination at the Chula Vista Courthouse in San Diego.
In a complaint that the mother, Rebecca, filed with the courthouse, she shared:
I was sitting in the court room in the front, far left hand side breastfeeding my infant who was beginning to fuss. I was approached by [a courtroom Deputy] while court was in session. He very rudely and loudly stated his personal feelings about breastfeeding[ . . . ]. He said, “What are you doing?” I told him I was breastfeeding, he said that “you should be ashamed of yourself, it’s inappropriate, you need to leave and go outside, do that somewhere else private, and it is illegal to breastfeed in court.” In a very harsh voice and loudly for others to hear. [. . .]
I felt embarrassed and ashamed because of the way that the Deputy was staring me down so I unlatched my child thinking I should leave, I did not want to interrupt the proceedings and I was so embarrassed I started to get very emotional. The judge heard the commotion and stopped the court and asked what was going on. I explained to her what the deputy said and she said that I could stay. She also asked me if I had a cover which I did and gave permission to continue breastfeeding. I was relieved to hear this from her because the Deputy was so rude and uncaring.
Robin knew that this incident deserved attention. She contacted Michelle Hickman, Best For Babes’ Director of Take Action (Activism). Best for Babes was already very familiar and appreciative of The Boob Group’s positive messaging and communication style, and mainstream brand and image–the right approach is key in educating outsiders! Michelle promptly put Robin in touch with me. Robin expressed her desire to do something – to take positive action that would both educate the courthouse staff, as well as to organize some kind of effort to introduce legislation for an enforcement provision – to help Rebecca and other mothers who might face this situation.
While California has a statute protecting the rights of breastfeeding pairs, a breastfeeding mother has no legal course of action if her right to nurse in public has been violated. According to California Civil Code section 43.3, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present.”(1)
Robin and I worked together to craft a letter that Robin delivered to the Chula Vista Court’s presiding judge, as well as the San Diego Court’s executive officer. In the letter, Robin offered, free of charge, to make a 15-minute presentation during the court’s annual employee discrimination training to educate courthouse staff about the language of Section 43.3, as well as to discuss how to handle a scenario where a mother is breastfeeding in the courthouse. She also asked the court to display signs that identify it as a “breastfeeding friendly” facility, and she requested a formal written apology for the actions of the deputy to Rebecca. Keep your fingers crossed that the court is receptive to the suggestions!
After updating her Facebook followers about the letter, Robin was contacted by Caridad Sanchez, a staff member from Senator Barbara Boxer’s office. Caridad was appalled at the way Rebecca was treated and inspired to help remedy this situation. She wanted to do her part to make sure this does not happen to other breastfeeding mothers.
Caridad and Robin will meet soon to discuss how they can motivate state legislators to pursue an enforcement provision to the California state law, as well as to investigate other possibilities to protect the rights of breastfeeding women.
Did Robin know, when she decided to do something to help Rebecca, that she would set these wheels in motion? Probably not! Will it be this easy to obtain positive change in every situation? Unfortunately, no – take Hollister, for example, which has refused to apologize to Brittany Warfield or acknowledge the international nurse-in organized in support of Brittany and nursing moms.
But change does start with one person who wants to do something. One voice. One effort made to right a wrong.
Change starts locally. It gains momentum as you make connections, utilize resources, and share your passion compassionately. If you are passionate about protecting the rights of breastfeeding pairs, do something!
- Hand out “Thank You for Breastfeeding” cards. Or simply give every breastfeeding mom you see a smile and/or a “thank you.”
- Encourage moms to call the 1-888-NIP-FREE hotline if they experience breastfeeding discrimination.
- Connect with us here at Best for Babes. We can put you in touch with mothers – like Robin – who have experience working for change.
- Talk to local and state breastfeeding coalition members — you can google them or ask a lactation consultant — and reach out to La Leche League groups in your area – they are passionate about breastfeeding rights, too.
- Research your state breastfeeding laws. If your law could be improved, or if your state does not have an enforcement provision, work with your state breastfeeding coaltion to call your local legislators and ask them to sponsor a bill.
- Stay positive! Swimming upstream is no easy task. Surround yourself with a cheering squad and win over the opposition with your positive attitude, professionalism, and determination. Read up on Best for Babes’ guidelines for successful breastfeeding advocacy.
You can be that voice of change. We are here to help.
And please help keep our 1-855-NIP-FREE Nursing Harassment Hotline Alive! Your donations, no matter how small make it possible to provide this badly-need public service to moms and babies!
(1) Originally, I had written that California’s law applies to courtrooms. After Jake of BreastfeedingLaw.com commented on this post, I did some more research. While I would not go so far as to say that the law does not apply to courtrooms, a judge does has authority to control the courtroom so that the proceedings are not disrupted.
Also, it is not my understanding that children are banned from all courtroom proceedings. It is similar to the above – that the judge can decide whether to allow children to be present or not (and I’m sure a large part of the decision rests in the type of court and case).
Ultimately, if Robin does get an audience with someone at the courthouse, I think she plans to go into it agreeing that every judge and courtroom requires a certain amount of decorum, and that we respect every judge’s right to have distraction-free proceedings.
Dionna is a lawyer turned work at home mama of two amazing kids, Kieran and Ailia. You can normally find Dionna over at Code Name: Mama where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with little ones. Dionna is also cofounder of Natural Parents Network and NursingFreedom.org, and author of For My Children: A Mother’s Journal of Memories, Wishes, and Wisdom.