The Risk of Overzealous Lactivism

Like many in the breastfeeding community, I was outraged when I saw recent reports about a new ordinance in a suburb of Atlanta that prohibited public breastfeeding of a child over two.  The issue quickly went viral in breastfeeding circles, with well-meaning “lactivists” quickly springing into action, writing a petition, calling the municipality, and organizing a nurse-in, which gained international publicity.  What amazed me so much about the whole incident was that all of this happened so fast, not only before any attempted enforcement, but before the ordinance was even made available to the public!

As someone with a research interest in breastfeeding and the law, when I read the first news reports, I went to Forest Park, Georgia’s municipal website to try to find the actual law.  Not only was the actual law not available on the website, but the minutes of the city council meeting that enacted it were not even posted yet.  After a great deal of digging, I was eventually able to locate a copy of the ordinance from someone who was in attendance at the city council meeting (the text of the law is now available for download online, though it has still not been made available by the municipality).

When I read the ordinance, I was surprised to discover that contrary to how it was presented in the media, this is not, on its face, a law banning breastfeeding.  What I discovered, instead, is a general public nudity ordinance, that four pages in, contains a line exempting from coverage “any female person exposing a breast in the process of breastfeeding an infant under the age of two (2) years.”   While I disagree with the age limit for the exemption, this is not a law taking a bold stand against extended nursing.  It is not even clear under the language of this law that the amount of breast that is typically shown in the process of nursing any child, even a child over two, would be enough to be considered “exposure.”  Although this ordinance may theoretically cover a nursing child over two, we have no evidence that Forest Park ever initially intended to enforce the law in this way before the loophole was brought to light through lactivist activity.

What we have here, then, is a rather vague nudity ordinance that went out of its way to exempt the majority of public breastfeeding situations from coverage.  There is no indication from the face of the law that the city council ever initially intended to take a stand on extended nursing.  In fact, according an individual at the council meeting, it “was NOT read at the meeting, nor was it distributed. Instead, the mayor simply read from the agenda and then the council voted on it. I am fairly certain the only person who ever actually read the ordinance is John Parker, the city manager. “

Until the breastfeeding community jumped in and escalated this situation, there was no evidence, whatsoever, that the indirect prohibition against nursing a child over two contained in this ordinance was due to anything more than misinformation about breastfeeding and sloppy drafting.  By immediately springing into action before gathering all of the relevant facts, breastfeeding advocates lost a valuable education opportunity.

I think we all need to take a deep breath and slow down.  There is no doubt that in the days since this ordinance was passed, some of the officials in Forest Park have reportedly made some pretty inflammatory remarks about extended nursing—if they didn’t intend to make a stand about extended nursing before, after all of this attention, boy howdy do they now!  I fear that by jumping into action so quickly, well-meaning breastfeeding advocates have participated in creating a Booby Trap that has the potential to backfire on us all.

The mission of Best for Babes, to mainstream breastfeeding by turning our culture from one that is breastfeeding-averse to breastfeeding-friendly, should be the core mission of all who advocate breastfeeding.  None of us would be doing this if we weren’t passionate, and I completely understand the fire in the belly that news like that out of Forest Park ignites, but message matters.  To be most effective, we need to look critically at whether the advocacy strategies we employ are real, effective instruments for lasting social change.  When we become militant with our message and fail to celebrate small victories, we marginalize breastfeeding.

When we align breastfeeding with alternative lifestyles, we alienate mothers and babies.  I love the solidarity of nursing mothers coming together to support one another in a nurse-in.  But a gathering of over a hundred women with signs in front of city hall is not just a nurse-in, it is a protest.  No matter how peaceful a protest, and all reports indicate that the protest in Forest Park was carried out in a very calm and respectful manner, the underlying message of any protest is that the activity being argued for is not the norm.   How many pregnant women, watching the news coverage of the Forest Park nurse-in, cemented their decisions not to nurse, lest they be mistaken as “one of those people?”  When we lose credibility, we marginalize breastfeeding.

The Surgeon General recently released a Call to Action, launching a national breastfeeding campaign that includes 20 specific recommendations for broad social action to help breastfeeding become “the easy choice, the default choice” in the U.S.   Nowhere does it list the kinds of activities employed by the well-intentioned and passionate lactivists in the wake of Forest Park’s ordinance.  This was not an oversight.  When we assume malicious intentions and fire indiscriminately, seeking to promote an agenda rather than attract to a cause, we marginalize breastfeeding.

After the Forest Park nurse-in, the city council announced it would reconsider its public nudity ordinance.  This is fantastic news.  But, without more focus on how our actions are perceived by those outside the breastfeeding community, we run the very real risk of winning the battle, but losing the war.  Make no mistake, there is a fight here and the fight component is key.  As Best for Babes has identified, the hallmark of every great cause with broad-based popular support is the fight against an inarguable big bad wolf that needs to be felled because it harms all people.  That is what attracts people to breastfeeding as a bona fide cause.   If we continue to take shots at groups of people who are just doing what cultural norms dictate, and if we continue to do it in the style of the angry mob, we will not elevate breastfeeding from a marginalized movement to a great cause.  Message matters.

Image credit: dmolsen

Kori Martin, JD, LLLL lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and three breastfed children.   In addition to leading a local La Leche League group, Kori serves as the Legal Professional Liaison for LLL of Texas, writes on topics related to breastfeeding and the law, and is a member of her state and local breastfeeding coalitions.  A graduate with honors from The University of Texas School of Law, instead of practicing as an attorney, Kori works passionately to help mothers and babies overcome barriers to breastfeeding success.



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63 Responses to The Risk of Overzealous Lactivism

  1. Jodine Chase says:

    I’ve been puzzled by this argument presented from time to time by my American cousins, over the staging of nurse-ins to insist on the right of the breastfed child to be nourished at the breast in public.

    Why is it that protest is a dirty word in the US? Is it a left-over from the days of the Vietnam war? Why do we need to distinguish between “nurse-in” and “protest”, as if the latter is somehow inappropriate and the former, then, becomes disingenuous.

    The United States of America stands tall in the world as a bastion of individual rights and freedoms, but somehow standing up and protesting in order to assert those rights and freedoms is seen as alternative, marginal, not polite (dare I say not lady-like?)

    • Autumn says:

      I completely agree. It sounds as if the alternative is to act as normal as
      Possible and never voice our opinions, lest we alienate others. Sorry but I’m more interested in getting info out there rather than worry about whether others consider me a weirdo. In fact, I would prefer to be thought odd than be considered one of the “normal” people.

  2. Natalie says:

    I really like this post, thank you. I agree. I feel like much more good could have come of this had it been approached differently. I am glad that they were passing a law intended to protect breastfeeding mothers. The age limit was unfortunate and should have been changed, but how much more good would have come from praise and education rather than shocked outrage?

  3. Great post! Thanks so much. So true. We need to educate ourselves on the actual laws before we hit the streets for nurse-ins. Thanks. I’m retweeting and

  4. Liz says:

    My LLL co-Leader and I agree that we were never ever harassed about nursing our babies (or at least in my case) even our toddlers in public back in the 1980′s. I never had one person take offense at my nursing in church, at a funeral, at the beach, at picnics for my husband’s work, etc. or if people took offense they certainly didn’t confront me about it. I’m not sure whether this current climate is a result of a lot more women breastfeeding, or a result of a lot more women breastfeeding in an indiscreet fashion. I know at least one of the moms in our LLL group a couple of years back boasted about pulling her whole breast out to nurse her baby at some event in the park. We just wouldn’t have done that.

    Babies have a right to be fed, and breastfeeding is a natural process. It’s a sad commentary when business owners, policemen, museum guards, etc. interfere with that process. However, I think we may make the transition to normalcy easier if we practice at least a little discretion in the interim. That doesn’t mean “hooter hiders” which actually just call attention to what you’re doing, but it does mean that you don’t sit in the most conspicuous place available and then simply whip out your breast either. With tiny babies sometimes a shawl is helpful as you’re getting them latched in the first place, and babies of a certain age are frequently more easily nursed in a quiet place because otherwise they pop on and off a lot.

    However, I think the fact is that it isn’t really about the amount of skin that’s showing. In many cases no one is initially even aware that the baby is nursing, but when they get close and see what’s happening they get upset. It isn’t that they can see something, it’s the idea that the baby actually has it’s mouth on the mother’s nipple. “Yew, gross,” is a frequent reaction, particularly if the baby is past a year. Most of us had to get adjusted to the idea of toddler nursing. We’re dealing with a culture that still isn’t adjusted to it. My granddaughter’s other grandmother recently suggested that they should simply take the breast away (she just turned two) because that’s what she did with her kids’ bottles. She said they would have been on the bottle until 5 otherwise. In point of fact my gd’s mother was on the breast at past 5. Nana doesn’t understand toddler nursing at all, finds it repellent in fact, and in that she is much more in accord with the rest of the culture than those of us who support breastfeeding toddlers. It’s going to take at least a whole other generation of nursing toddlers for it to be normalized. In the meantime let’s not scare off the pregnant women who are only just getting used to the idea of nursing a tiny baby. Let’s continue to nurse our older babies, but do it discreetly. Let’s talk about the joys of nursing an older baby or toddler rather than complain about the demands (we all know both aspects are there – share the complaints at your LLL toddler meeting, not with the pregnant moms).

    Rome wasn’t built in a day and re-normalizing breastfeeding is going to take time. Being militant may obtain rights, but it doesn’t generally obtain good will and it’s not apt to achieve the goal of normalcy.

  5. Grafton says:

    “…the underlying message of any protest is that the activity being argued for is not the norm.”

    This is simply not true.

    • Julie says:

      Agreed. Why would we protest something that was rare and not a problem? Segregation was the norm and that’s WHY it was protested. And it is OK to protest things even if there is no malicious intent. If someone is obviously a “bad guy” there’s probably no need to protest. Its when something is taken for granted as acceptable that we need to ban together and stand up against it, if we think it’s wrong. I’ve been to protests where the speaker has literally said, “We love you guys, but you’re wrong!” Protesting is a part of democracy. It’s not an angry mob, it’s power in numbers and speaking up for what’s right. That can be divisive at times, but silence is much more harmful.

      Is it right that we legislate separate dress codes for men and women? I know it’s the NORM, but is it RIGHT? And if it is not, should we be polite and quiet about it like a 10 year old bride, because it’s what’s expected of us?

  6. Korie says:

    While I think there is a whole lot of merit to this piece, I think it is important to consider how breast feeding is viewed in the majority of the south. In my experience, the general attitude in most of the south is that even breastfeeding past age 1 is not acceptable. It seems that breastfeeding mothers, especially in the more rural areas, are the minority. It seems to me that while there is an interest in breastfeeding the support is not there. Like I said, this is in my experience, so please know I am sorry if I am offending anyone. It just seems like while these mothers may want to they don’t have the crucial early support to insure that their attempts to breastfeed are successful.
    Whether or not the law was available or the board members didn’t actually read it, someone thought to put that specifically in the law. That is a direct attack on breastfeeding mothers. I mean some kids who are 1 look like they are 2. If I was a mother to one of those children and already shy about breastfeeding I would never do it in public. I can understand that the activists may make those members angry or defensive but who cares? The law was already written in the ordinance, the attitude was already there. I don’t see how being meek about the issue would have made any headway? I am all for coalition building and compromise but this is an issue that should really be off limits.
    I will tell you my daughter turns 2 this week and we are at the end of the road with breastfeeding. She is only nursing about once a day now. I have never felt very comfortable nursing in public. We lived in Colorado for the first year of my daughters life and it really doesn’t matter what your political ideology is in Colorado, everyone breastfeeds. I think people probably hide it if they feed their children formula, which is also sad. Anyone I met there who didn’t breastfeed would tell their reason right away, and it was almost always a very very good reason. Like, they had had a breast reduction asa teen-ager and were not able to produce milk. In my experience there they had very good programs at the hospital for new moms to receive help in the early days of breastfeeding.
    Then at around age 1 we moved to Oklahoma because my husband is attending graduate school here. That friendly supportive environment was gone. I will say their are very strong small groups of breastfeeding advocates that i have come across. For the most part, people are uncomfortable, squeamish, and not supportive of breastfeeding. Even my family who are educated progressive people think that I still breastfeed is very strange and wrong.( Not that uneducated people would or wouldn’t I am just being specific)
    Before living here I may have agreed with the writer, because over activism on anything usually is silly to me, but after? I totally agree with everything those nursing activists have done in Georgia.

    • Angelica says:

      I have to be honest, I’ve never cared much for what other people thought about me. I’m one of those women who will fight for my rights til the end. My son has epilepsy and his medicine ruins his immune system. But because he’s still breastfed at the age of 3 years old he’s very healthy. Anyone could tell me to not breastfeed my child out in public but they’ll end up getting a mouthful from me. I’m not going to stop doing something that is right by my child for anyone else’s comfort. If they don’t like it, keep walking. They look at naked women ALL DAY LONG, we see it on televisions, we see it in movies, we see it in magazines, yet a breast in a child’s mouth after a certain age is wrong? I don’t think so. This is a step back, not a step forward. People can interpret it any way they want to but it isn’t doing a damned thing as far as progress goes. Go to other countries and you’ll see children breastfed past the age of four. But in our country that’s supposed to be so developed? Really? Something’s got to change. We have to think more about our children and less about our comfort. End of story.

  7. Jake Areyh Marcus says:

    I am anxious to see the text of the ordinance but this link leads to an .exe file. Can you help me get a copy of the ordinance?

    Thanks!

  8. Sara says:

    “What I discovered, instead, is a general public nudity ordinance, that four pages in, contains a line exempting from coverage “any female person exposing a breast in the process of breastfeeding an infant under the age of two (2) years.” While I disagree with the age limit for the exemption, this is not a law taking a bold stand against extended nursing.” [/quote]

    Something does not have to specifically be a bold stand against something, to have negative effects for it. If breastfeeding should entitle one to an exception to the nudity ordinance, then when publicly nursing a child who is 2 or not is no longer protected, that is a problem.

    That said, like you, when I first heard of this, I was not willing to join the knee-jerk reaction of outrage, because I had not yet seen that it was actually true. I am not going to protest rumors.

    However, once that you see that is is true, I don’t follow how it just doesn’t seem like worth anyone’s time or efforts to challenge. What is written SHOULD be challenged.

    • Marcy says:

      I agree. Perhaps the law didn’t *specifically intend* to “attack” breastfeeding mothers… but whether the intent was there or not, that wording, to me, makes it clear that any mother who is breastfeeding a child who even *appears* to be 2 years or older, is violating public nudity laws. I don’t see that as a “misunderstanding” or misinterpretation of the law. (How much more “bold” does it need to be than to outlaw nursing past 2yrs?)

      • Rebecca says:

        The problem is we’ve taken a baseball bat to a finishing nail. My daughter nursed until just shy of two, and I support nursing as long as the mom and child want, but the response here should have been to start by contacting the council that enacted it. Instead, rather than talking about how this ordinance only exempted moms nursing children under the age of two, as a community, we started railing about how this community made it illegal to nurse a child over two in public. Yes, its essentially the same thing, but we have to realize the intent was to *protect* breastfeeding, not limit it. The gentleman who wrote the bill admitted that two was a fairly arbitrary age. While 64% of moms in Georgia breastfed at all, only 33% breastfeed to six months, and 25% at a year. By two, kids who are still nursing, are usually also eating solid foods, and may be nursing much less frequently.

        My choice was not to nurse out of the home once my daughter was about a year old- mostly because she was very distractable and wouldn’t really nurse if we were out and about, and I gave her healthy solids instead. People who spent a lot of time with me out of the house didn’t realize I was still nursing unless it came up in conversation. Its most likely that there was no intent to limit breastfeeding in public, but they wanted to put some kind of definition, not realizing that simply exempting mothers breastfeeding their children may have been sufficient.

  9. Sarah says:

    I hate that you are just shrugging this off. It’s about making women feel 100% comfortable breastfeeding. We have to encourage every mother to do so. Any negativity might discourage moms to be. Babies benefit from breastmilk plain and simple. One law that mentions breastfeeding is just a stone throw away from multiple laws saying any age you can’t. And that’s what it’s really about.

    • I know that personally, before I breastfed, this wouldn’t have made me comfortable with breastfeeding at all. In fact, I would have found it really off-putting. So for me, the nurse-in is much worse for expecting/new moms than any negativity about already breastfeeding dyads.

      • Jake Areyh Marcus says:

        Why?

        • Rebecca says:

          From my own experience-

          because my breastfeeding relationship becomes less about a parenting choice and more about a political statement.

          because I feel like “if I don’t make it to XYZ age, all this was a waste” and I’ll be a failure as a mom.

          because since I chose to use a cover when nursing in public, I’m *TOLD BY OTHER NURSING MOMS* that I’m making it harder for other women to nurse (again, from my own experience)

          and this next one is going to offend some folks before I breastfed- I would have felt these moms were using their kids to get themselves attention.

          While I believe nurse ins have their place, that place is *after* other avenues have been attempted. I also disagree with nurse-ins at establishments which have asked nursing moms to leave . . . why give them the business? and if you’re going to nurse there without spending money, you leave a negative impression that nursing blocks the space for paying customers. I’d rather publicize a nurse in at a breastfeeding supportive place, with the owners chiming in about how much extra revenue the protest (against wherever they were told moms couldn’t nurse) brought them.

          Look at the comments from the non-lactivist community. The nurse ins aren’t really helping the community feel better about nursing moms.

  10. Jennifer Trias says:

    I really dislike the language of “angry mob,” “militant,” and “escalating”, as I have heard from people who were there and it was a very peaceful demonstration. The media coverage of the nurse-in was certainly better than the coverage of the nurse-in in DeKalb, Illinois, where the participants were called “angry” in at least one article. If biased media coverage is all it takes to make a woman not want to nurse, then I am not sure what to say. I would guess that nurse-in’s give many moms the courage to nurse in public or to nurse for longer. Either way, is there any evidence on the effects of nurse-in’s on breastfeeding rates? Is there any evidence that peaceful demonstrations can become a booby trap? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    I can see the point of not jumping the gun, but at the same time, when would have been a good time to protest this ordinance? When a mom nursing a 2 year old is arrested or cited for violating an ordinance? No, there was no evidence that the city planned on enforcing the ordinance as written, but if it is written down that way then it definitely can be enforced as written. I guess I am not sure what you are saying should have been done? Should people have written letters first? How long should they have waited to stage a nurse-in? Or are nurse-in’s, in general, just a bad idea no matter how peaceful they are?

  11. Lisa says:

    Wow… I had been very supportive about what happened (as far as the nurse in), but this was definitely NOT the version I heard/read/about the law… Thank you!

  12. Maryelaine says:

    Well said, Liz!
    There are better ways to pass the message, get the word out, whatever you want to call it than being in your face about nursing. I’ve nursed three kids in public, starting with the oldest in 1992. The two younger kids are less than 4 years old. I have never had anyone confront me or be rude or harassing at anytime. People generally don’t care, in my experience, what you do. There’s no reason to pull your whole boob out. Descretion is a really, really great keyword.a

  13. Jake Areyh Marcus says:

    Thanks much for a copy of the ordinance (a bizarre and laughable document). No question that the press misrepresented what the ordinance does and unnecessarily inflamed all involved. But the ordinance nonetheless is still unlawful. Georgia state public breastfeeding law, while weak and inadequate, sets no age limit. A local municipality can’t place an age restriction where state law protects the act without an age limit. I think the attempt to do so is worthy of a protest.

    Not being “one of those women” has been used against feminists in every generation. Political activism frequently involves being “one of those women.” Without “those women” I wouldn’t have the vote. Personally I don’t think this was an over reaction, though I completely agree that quickly organized nurse-in often are. While the specifics of the ordinance may not have been known by everyone involved in protesting, the important element was: Forest Park set an age limit on public breastfeeding. We all know that when breastfeeding women need a lawyer to challenge bad law, they are virtually impossible to find. I don’t think it is reasonable to expect women to wait to challenge the Forest Park ordinance.

    Press misrepresentation of this ordinance was really outrageous and irresponsible.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post. :)

    • Faye Black says:

      Amen!

      “Not being “one of those women” has been used against feminists in every generation. Political activism frequently involves being “one of those women.” Without “those women” I wouldn’t have the vote. “

    • Jessica Lang Kosa says:

      Jake, based on the description of the law above, I disagree that Forest Park “set an age limit on public breastfeeding.” The law as quoted in this post (I haven’t seen the text and you have, so I should probably shut up) sets an age limit on the automatic exemption of breastfeeding from the nudity law. If I understand it correctly, a woman nursing a child under two is specifically defined as legal regardless of how exposed she is. A woman nursing a child under two does not have this protection, but the law would only apply if her breast was exposed as defined by the law. Which it usually is not. (In reality, people who aren’t familiar with nursing toddlers rarely even realize what’s happening, in my experience.) So it’s not that the nursing is automatically illegal, it’s that the nursing could possibly be considered illegal nudity. So I’m not at all defending the law! Just nitpicking.

      • Jake Areyh Marcus says:

        Georgis state law exempts breastfeeding from indecent exposure law at any age. By setting an age limit on this exemption in Forest Park, the ordinance in its original form would have made breastfeeding illegal under the ordinance past the the of two. if it isn’t exempt, then it *can* be prosecuted which is setting a limit.

    • Jake, thank you for your thoughtful reply, you summed up very much my response as well.

    • Maria Paciullo says:

      Well put, Jake. And If women keep thinking they need to be discreet, then breastfeeding will never become the norm (and women with large breasts will never be able to breastfeed outside of their homes.
      Maria Paciullo, JD, (NY/MA/CT), LLL

    • jessica says:

      Another big thank you for so thoughtfully wording the things that I had in my head. As a LLLLeader I have participated in many a conversation about how not to appear “marginal”. Often times these revolve around the shaving of various body parts and one’s choice of clothing and shoes. I cannot even begin to express the depth to which this frustrates me. I am an intelligent human being engaging in an act backed by reams of good research but if I have hairy legs and birkenstocks somehow I am not worthy? “Those women” you mentioned also helped to give us the right to show our ankles and wear pants without being seen as lewd and lascivious. Not to mention all the women, including the post author, who proudly display the initials JD, MD, etc after there names. I imagine that their foremothers were frequently told by friends and family not to be one of “those women” who would never get a husband, give women a bad name, etc.

      Seeing women who breastfeed in public, even those who expose their breasts to do so, as exhibitionist is little more than slut shaming and I’m tired of a culture that feels it has a public right to legislate my body and my behavior when it has not impact on their own.

  14. Faye Black says:

    This article really misses the mark for several reasons. First, it’s incredibly arrogant. Sorry, but true. The mission of bestforbabes is a good one; but you are one group with personal and biased opinions like any other. You don’t get to tell other breastfeeding advocates (“lactivists?”) how to promote breastfeeding. Your approach and your opinions are not infallible enough for that.

    Second, you spoonfeed us the law as if we were all silly and mistaken. See, the actual *effect* of the law doesn’t matter, per this post, provided the *intent* was not to capture extended nursers so much as it was to exempt nursing moms up until two. But see, this is exactly inverted. It does not matter what the intent of a law may have been; this does not diminish its effect. While most folks expected soft enforcement here, a law must be interpreted as written, not as intended. We can’t just excuse their ignorance and hope for the best.

    Third, the approach your author is taking to the term “protest” is wrong-headed. Certainly you are not alone in grimacing every time you see a nurse-in. Sure, it’s not your approach, and that’s understandable. But don’t forfeit the war on behalf of everyone else because you think the progress made here (they are revisiting the law) wasn’t worth the fall-out. Nurse-ins do at least two things. 1. They bring publicity to an issue and our positions against the issue; whether people support or oppose, they’re talking about the issue. 2. They bring about rapid change. A phone or email campaign might have brought about the same policy revisit, or it might not have. But a few hundred nursing moms outside city hall can be powerful.

    Finally, I was just really disappointed that the best for babes group not only apparently finds normal nursing (“extended” nursing to some) a fringe issue that is not worth sacrificing their greater mission for. And since they take pains to tell us that their mission should be *our* mission, I guess we’re all out their shooting ourselves in the collective foot. Hm. No, I don’t think so.

    The bottom line is that there are many different approaches to take in supporting breastfeeding. But admonishing moms for “overreacting” to having their rights taken away is silly.

    To be honest, I think the author, as interested as she claims to be in research, should do some of her own research on explicit and implicit rights. If you interpret bans like this as “giving” you permission to do something, you might feel better about them than when you see them for what they are – putting limits on your rights. This law says, no matter how innocent you think it, that you do not have the right to publicly nurse your child over the age of two. Someone drew a line arbitrarily; perhaps based on an overly literal interpretation of AAP and WHO guidance. Surely, that person should be educated. Nurse-ins, or “protests” if you must, bring the dialogue into a broader arena. That’s a good thing.

    We can get really philosophical about this, if we want. Recall that the Federalists always said a bill of rights wasn’t necessary. Why? Because any right given to you implies that you did not have that right before the government made it explicit. This felt conflicting, to many, with natural human rights.

    Said Alexander Hamilton: “For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not content that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretence for claiming that power.”

    Maybe it seems a bit exaggerated to some to suggest that our rights to nurse – from the moment of birth until whatever weaning is best for the mother / child pair – should be as unalienable as our right to free speech or a free press or due process, but surely it is important. And while you may not agree (in fact, we did end up with a bill of rights) with the fact that making rights explicit implies that anything not covered is implicitly prohibited (or explicitly prohibited, as in this case), the concept is still valid.

    In any case, there is nothing “fringe” or “extreme” about sticking up for the rights of nursing pairs, even when the law only impacts some of them.

    • Jake Areyh Marcus says:

      This reminds me of a point I neglected to make above. Reading the ordinance, I don’t see any evidence of intent – malicious or benign. The stated intent is to prevent some crap “secondary effects of nudity” including “protecting children under 18 years of age.” Seems to me breastfeeding *is* protecting children under 18 years of age.

      I don’t really think good or benign intent matters in this instance given what the law actually does but regardless I don’t see good or benign intent in the ordinance.

      • Beth says:

        Right on, Faye! I am somewhat offended by the article itself as I never thought that we’d be needing to defend our actions to women who also breastfeed. If you do not want to attend a nurse in, please stay home. It’s kind of the same as if you don’t want to see my baby (one and a half) latch on, please turn away. What’s interesting is that since the nurse in, wording of the law has been changed and nursing mothers and nurslings of all ages are now exempt. I am a huge fan of PROTESTING for our rights. This is the way that all of us (except the richest one percent in this country) can expect to see change. As I posted earlier (on fb) I saw a nurse in when pregnant with my son. It did NOT turn me off. It made me so proud of each and every mother there. I would counter your claim that nurse ins turn new moms off to breastfeeding by asking, How many pregnant woman do you think it gives the extra push to try it? For me, that nurse in pushed me over the edge. I wanted to be part of that community.

    • Julie says:

      Nicely written, Faye! Got a blog?

      • Faye Black says:

        Thanks!

        I had a blog long ago, before marriage and kids, and haven’t updated it in eons. I keep thinking it is time for a new one, but haven’t made the jump from considering to doing.

        Incidentally, I’m actually impressed that the author came back and acknowledged this piece had some flaws. That’s not easy to do.

        • Julie says:

          Yes, my respect for the author skyrocketed when she returned in a humble manor and encouraged discussion. Very cool. Very thoughtful. Someone worth listening to.

    • Lisa B says:

      Love it, Faye! Well stated and I concur, you should blog! :D

  15. Kori Martin, JD, LLLL says:

    Let me be clear: I am not in favor of this law or any other that limit a child’s right to breastfeed in public at any age. Nor am I arguing against anyone’s right to exercise their Constitutionally protected freedom to engage in peaceful protest. My goal with this article was to play devil’s advocate and challenge the breastfeeding community to think critically about the unconscious messages taken away by those outside the breastfeeding bubble. I am very thankful for all who have taken advantage of the opportunity to engage in thoughtful, considered discussion of this issue!

    • Jodine Chase says:

      The Breastfeeding bubble? We *all* have mothers, every human one of us. We all were born to breastfeed. That’s a giant bubble encompassing all of humanity.

  16. Cindy Hetzer says:

    “Until the breastfeeding community jumped in and escalated this situation, there was no evidence, whatsoever, that the indirect prohibition against nursing a child over two contained in this ordinance was due to anything more than misinformation about breastfeeding and sloppy drafting. By immediately springing into action before gathering all of the relevant facts, breastfeeding advocates lost a valuable education opportunity.”

    I agree that it was primarily a case of cut and paste on the part of the city council. (And everyone is ok with the idea that none of the council members actually read the text of the proposed ordinance … ?) But how exactly did anyone lose an educational opportunity? I can assure you that many mothers wrote educational emails, letters, and faxes to the council and the city manager. Most of these were polite. I wrote one myself, and I read several others that mothers posted in various places. Response? Silence, or ridicule, depending on who responded and when.

    I live in the area. I am “just” a mom. I don’t think of myself as a lactivist, by the way … that is a term that others apply to me. I was in the thick of it during this entire thing. Your article is deeply offensive to me. The “militant lactivist” image is a farce. And your article perpetuates the caricature.

  17. Timpani says:

    While there may be a “risk” to overzealous lactivisim, I’m more than willing to take that risk rather than let any restrictions placed on breastfeeding go unchallenged.

  18. Meredith says:

    First of all, a nurse-in IS a protest. And a protest is not a bad thing, either in name or in purpose.

    I think the argument you’re dancing around here is that it’s just not seemly for women to come out and protest. That they shouldn’t be angry, or take action, or advertise themselves as nursing mothers. I have news for you: historically, over and over, it is peaceful, collective action of large groups of people, coming together with passion and purpose, that changes minds. No good would have come of these women staying at home. The fact that they protested made this story a national news item. It said, yes, we’re here, we’re nursing toddlers. For whatever you think about its inappropriateness, this action did more good than harm.

    As you lawyer, you more than anyone should know that laws are judged to their letter, not their intent. This law could end up with women being fined or arrested just for feeding their children. They had a right to be upset, and were right to fight. Laws that challenge breastfeeding in public ARE among the big bad wolves we’re all fighting.

    The place we need to tread carefully is with individual women. They deserve our help and support, and to be free of our judgment. That much is clear. However, if someone decides they didn’t want to breastfeed because a group of people held a protest, I’m sorry to say they probably never were going to anyways. I think you know that too, since you chose the word “cement,” implying they were most of the way decided already.

    - “One of those people”

  19. Jessica Lister says:

    I’m one of the organizers of the Forest Park nurse in. It was a peaceful demonstration that showed the outpouring of love and support of breastfeeding mothers in the community. It was about mothers taking a stand for their rights! A local radio station (Star 94) actually said on their station that they went to the nurse in with a certain mind set and left with a whole different mind set. They saw how natural and normal breastfeeding is, and Casey (radio guy) even stated that he didn’t see a boob the whole time he was there. I don’t think it was an overreaction at all, I think it was something that needed to take place to let the city council of Forest Park know that we were serious and we weren’t going to sit back and let our rights be taken away! I wouldn’t change anything about my response to the ordinance. If I offended anyone, so be it! Tonight at the city council meeting the ordinance was changed and the age limit was removed. So, in the end we were successful.
    http://www.myfoxatlanta.com/dpp/news/local_news/forest-park-changes-ordinance-to-allow-breastfeeding-20110606-es

    • Rebecca says:

      I’m glad to hear it. I’m just curious what the outcome would have been if a group of breastfeeding moms had approached the city council with information about extended breastfeeding and their concerns about the law.

      • Julie says:

        In my experience, when taking that kind of approach with a school board about curriculum changes, the Secretary of State about nursing in the lobby, the parks department about improving property, or other local issues I’ve worked on, that approach doesn’t get you far at all. It’s worth trying, and I always do, to start, but the only thing it ever ends up being worth, is getting quotes from the opposing side that I can use against them later when I talk to the media. Not that it always gets that nasty, but it has at least once. I know that some people DID approach people on the city council about the issue well before the nurse-in was scheduled. Even I shot off an e-mail from Michigan to Forest Park’s city manager sharing my personal experience and insecurities with an older nursling. It is certainly worth sending a letter or trying to schedule a meeting first. But even more important to be ready to show up in big numbers. And when you do, and you have a single unified message, you get results. And almost every time, you also hear someone saying, “sit down, your rocking the boat!” And you have to be ready for that. Just like this author, Ms. Martin, is putting herself out there to be critiqued, protestors are doing the same. But its worth it – it really is.

  20. Monique J says:

    “When we align breastfeeding with alternative lifestyles, we alienate mothers and babies.”

    What does this mean? Is the author saying that being involved in political actions like protests is ‘alternative’? And what is the ‘mainstream lifestyle’ breastfeeding is supposed to be aligned to, if it is not supposed to be aligned with alternative lifestyles? And who is this “we” doing all the aligning? I find this concept offensive. Is the author suggesting that, for example, gay mothers should not NIP, so “we” don’t scare all the mainstream heteros away? Or maybe democrats shouldn’t nip? Or homeschoolers? Teen moms? Talk about a booby trap.

    This article implies to me that breastfeeding mothers don’t have freedom to make ridiculous or poorly thought out choices (if that’s what you think this protest was). The author seems to suggest all breastfeeding mothers must behave in some kind of polite mainstream way so that we don’t offend anyone. Perhaps we should all agree on politics and religion as well!? Why on earth should we?

    I agree that nurse-ins may not always be the most effective form of political action, but I reject that they are ‘alternative’ or the action of an angry mob, and I completely disagree that breastfeeding mothers must be ‘mainstream’. Mothers who breastfeed are not limited in their diversity of opinion, points of view, and lifestyles.

  21. Jen says:

    The point that many seem to be missing is that we can loose credibilty when we react before we get the facts.

    • Kara Sweeney says:

      Why do you think anyone acted before they had the facts? Because the media slanted the reporting in a particular way? Or because you believe all the moms at the nurse in were blinding following some cause without being educated?

  22. Liz Brooks says:

    We all read through our own eyeglasses, don’t we?

    The sentence that jumped out for me, in Kori’s original article, is: “To be most effective, we need to look critically at whether the advocacy strategies we employ are real, effective instruments for lasting social change.” Well, Bingo, I thought. Why? I am an old politico: a campaigner and lobbyist. I was a litigator and prosecutor when practicing law. Professionally, I evaluate controversies by asking, “What tactic or argument will work best in **this** situation, to come to the result I am looking for?”

    And that, of course, changes. Sometimes a loud, noisy protest is what the situation calls for. Sometimes quiet behind-the-scenes advocacy and maneuvering are best. Sometimes you need one camp doing the former while another camp does the latter.

    In breastfeeding advocacy, as with breastfeeding itself, There Is No One Right Way. T

    • Kathy Kuhn says:

      Yea, LIz, I didn’t realize this was written by you until I saw your name at the end. I should have known!

      As I read the responses I thought, “isn’t it wonderful that there is such a variety of breastfeeding women and reasonable approaches to advocating breastfeeding!

      I also thought, won’t it be nice when this isn’t even a discussion anymore b/c breastfeeding is considered as normal as breathing!

      Kathy Kuhn breastfeeding advocate for 30 yrs

  23. Kori Martin, JD, LLLL says:

    Congrats to all involved on the successful revision of the ordinance at Forest Park’s City Council meeting last night. I am really glad to see this resolved positively through all of your hard work. My original argument was not that nurse-ins and direct activism never work, nor that they should never be used, but that we should make sure we have all the information before employing such strategies, and employ them with the knowledge that there may be unintended consequences to taking such action.

    I regret that the mothers involved in taking action in Forest Park felt attacked by my article. I can see how that happened and it really was not my intent in writing this piece. I originally conceived of this article the day after the council ordinance first passed, when all public information about this incident was based on one misleading news report and I was seeing contact information for Forest Park city officials posted on blogs and Facebook pages with calls for people around the country to harass them. I wrote the article almost two weeks ago, well before the most recent campaign to organize around the next city council meeting had taken shape. My opinion on the matter clearly does not count for much with many of you, but for what it is worth, I think the activist activity surrounding last night’s city council meeting was carried out masterfully.

    In no way am I intending to speak for LLL. These are my thoughts and mine alone. I attached my LLL credentials as a short-hand way to demonstrate my stakeholder status in this discussion. Looking back, I probably should have left this credential off my piece. Most of my writing has been for academic journals, not opinion pieces, and apparently I did not make the transition seamlessly.

    • Maria Paciullo says:

      The law should have been jumped on right away, so I am glad it was. It would have been nice if it could have been done differently, as in at the original mtg. Perhaps that wasn’t possible. I agree with many of your points regarding education, but not the points about protesting. This is 2011 and women are allowed to stand up for what they believe in, and they are respevted when they do so. I’m not so sure that young mothers of today are looking to emulate women who think OTHER women should HAVE to nurse discreetly (often, when mothers today try to nurse discreetly, it is because they think they have to, not because they want to) or that they are looking to emulate women who are afraid to protest for fear of not meeting up with the 1950′s norm for mother. BUT I will admit that I am in the Northeast and am pretty much freaking out right now if you are right and that’s the way things still are in the South! Thank you for the discussion. :)

  24. Katie says:

    I’ve never attended one and doubt I ever will. As a full time working mom of a 10 month old, I’m not likely to use a precious vacation day off work to attend a nurse-in. Sorry if that makes me some sort of traitor to the nursing moms’ tribe.

    There is a stereotype of a “lactivist” in our society – if you asked my formula-feeding friends and relatives, nurse-ins are for these mythical hippie SAHMs who bare both breasts in the middle of the mall to nurse their 5 year old. ;-) My father-in-law has referred to the La Leche League as “breastfeeding Nazis”. While I’m sure they all think I’m insane for nursing now and will think I’m even more insane for nursing her into toddlerhood, I’m not what they would think of as a lactivist.

    Also, mentally I associate “nurse-in” with “sit-in”, like the sit-ins that were done at universities to protest the war in Vietnam. The word is descriptive but I think the connotation is not necessarily a positive one for the general public. I don’t have a suggestion for an alternate word, unfortunately!

    • jessica says:

      Wow people really do see things through their own lens! I too associated nurse-ins with sit-ins and am proud to be part of that tradition which stands up for those that are being marginalized or oppressed.

  25. Kara Sweeney says:

    I think you miss the whole point of protest and civil discord against laws that discriminate and oppress. It does not matter whether the intention of the lawmakers was to oppress breastfeeding or marginalize women. Once it is on the books it can be used as such. It doesn’t matter if the City of Forest Park intended to hand out tickets for breastfeeding a toddler. Once that law is on the books, anyone who gets upset about a mother breastfeeding in public would have had the right to ask a police officer to intervene and ask about the child’s age, the appropriateness of it, etc. and whether the police had any interest or not, the law would have require them to do it.

    You may be correct that some women are “put off” by breastfeeding advocates, because they are already shamed and unsure of how breastfeeding is perceived in our society. You may be correct that any attention drawn to it will make them even more uncomfortable. But what you fail to understand is the long-term goals of protesters and advocates of breastfeeding. For my part, I’m in it for the long-haul. It’s not just about today’s breastfeeders, but generations of women to come. I want my grandchildren to be raised in a world where it’s unthinkable to have a law that mentions breastfeeding in the same breath as indecency. That doesn’t happen by quietly ignoring misguided lawmakers or ignorant politicans. That doesn’t happen by assuming everyone will just figure it all out. Societal change only happens when people stand up publicly to make a difference. Be that at a nurse-in or breastfeeding your child with no apologies or even “indiscreetly”.

    Your post reminded me of women who disliked suffragettes fighting for the right for women to vote – they were considered “unlady-like” and “uncivilized”. It’s well to remember that we owe many of our rights to women and men from history who weren’t afraid to protest in outrageous ways, so we could even have this debate.

  26. Kara Sweeney says:

    Oh, I also wanted to point out that any of the protesters at the nurse-in I spoke to were perfectly aware of what the law stated, it’s intentions or lack there-of. Just because the media took a stance on it, doesn’t mean we were blindly following their lead. We were well informed and knew exactly what the wording was and in what form it took. I just don’t see how the intent was relevant. And I’m unclear why you think that matter or would have changed the response.

  27. Carol says:

    If legislators feel they can somehow put extended breastfeeding into the same category as public nudity and not have nursing mothers and breastfeeding advocates outraged they are sadly mistaken. To say that no one read the bill and voted on it is equally outrageous. It is these kind of “hidden” laws that get passed that causes people to be discriminated against and badgered. This is exactly the type of behavior of lawmakers that needs to be protested. For a LLL leader to somehow feel the protest by way of a nurse-in was inappropriate appalls me. A peaceful nurse-in is our constitutional right to bring attention to lawmakers that they are out of line – our right to assemble. It was not an “angry mob” and articles such as this makes women feel as if they should stay in back rooms. We live in a nation where the majority of women start their baby’s life with breastfeeding. Sadly, we are not a nation that continues long-term breastfeeding. Everyone, including law makers, needs to wake up to the health of our nation. I am an IBCLC and I believe you are wrong in stating a strong stance should not have been made against these legislators. They are now reconsidering a law that should never have been introduced to begin with. Mothers – it is time to stand up for yourselves and your chidren. You are in the right and don’t let anyone else tell you differently.

  28. And let’s not call it extended bf. It’s just biologically normal duration of bf to bf a toddler or preschooler. Since we want to normalize bf, we need to normalize expectations for it’s duration.

    • jessica says:

      and while we’re at it can we not call them preschoolers? There is nothing biologically normal about referencing a child’s age relative to their place in a social institution ;-). It is normal to breastfeed toddlers and young children. Thank you for all the work you have done for breastfeeding families!

  29. We have no problem reacting when Facebook deletes a picture or 2 from a company’s site and getting press coverage and organizing an outcry against the move yet when there is wording in the law that places an age limit on public breastfeeding but categorizing it as public nudity and therefor possibly punishable by law we’re supposed to go quietly to petition? I do believe that sometimes zealots of a cause can do more harm than good in their knee-jerk and over-the-top reactions but how is a peaceful protest and letters asking that the language be changed hurting the cause? Because some on the council had disparaging comments to say about extended breastfeeding after? Their attitudes regarding breastfeeding beyond the age of 2 were already established (if not younger), protestors did not create that attitude in them and have it develop over night. Certainly, if they had valued breastfeeding over the age of 2 they would have taken care to not rubber stamp a law that made women breastfeeding a child over the age of 2 susceptible to prosecution for public nudity.

    And I find the argument that it may not have been a problem anyway because it may not have been enforced to be extremely weak. The reality is that it would set a precedence for laws to change to discriminate against any breastfeeding in public. Doesn’t mean it would but should we just cross our fingers, rub a bald head and wish for good luck? I don’t think so. Like Jake, I’m grateful for the women that have gone before me and were willing to be one of “those women” and when necessary I will pick up their signs to carry on their legacy so there continues to be forward motion in the progress of women’s rights. It made a lot of people uncomfortable when women fought for suffrage rights, doesn’t mean they were wrong to call out society and lawmakers and fight for what was right. With the wording of the law the way it was not protesting it would have potentially given us a much bigger and complicated fight once it was passed and a mom was charged with public nudity. How unfair to the woman that would have been the victim of other women not wanting to come across as “those women.”

    Pressuring a municipal council is our legal right and responsibility when laws are being pushed through that hurt the people. Personally I probably wouldn’t participate in a nurse-in, not that I have ever had the chance. Not because I disagree with them but because I feel more effective using other means to help effect change. But I did go on national television, breastfed my baby and took on a private company that deleted my breastfeeding support page. A private company that could do whatever they wanted and permit whatever they want to permit on their site. I talked with reporters, people joined to protest Facebook’s actions, and there was coverage all over the internet protesting what a private company did with breastfeeding photos and a support page. Earth Mama Angel Baby recently got coverage regarding Facebook deleting 2 of their photos showing breastfeeding and Best for Babes assisted in getting that media attention. If we can attract media attention and organize virtual protests over a private company pulling breastfeeding photos posted on their website and not be concerned about losing credibility then why would exercising our rights as the people be more concerning? From the article: “If we continue to take shots at groups of people who are just doing what cultural norms dictate, and if we continue to do it in the style of the angry mob, we will not elevate breastfeeding from a marginalized movement to a great cause. Message matters.” Breastfeeding photos posted on a website is somehow MORE of a problem than laws that leave breastfeeding mothers vulnerable? Our public reactions to Facebook deleting breastfeeding photos absolutely left a bad taste in some people’s mouths and marked us, even BfB, as militant breastfeeding “crazies.” If you’re not sure, just go read some of the comments on those articles or view some of the news coverage of those stories and how some of the anchors lead into the subject.

    Most disappointing to me in this article is the tone that BfB is doing advocacy “right” and everyone else is somehow hurting the cause to mainstream breastfeeding. There are lots of ways to be an activist, there is not just one right way. I absolutely believe that sometimes advocacy can sometimes hurt the cause but over all a variety of approaches can help bring balance and eventually lead to the change we all want to see.

  30. Michelle, LLLL says:

    I like your article. I think it is an important perspective to consider.

  31. Zawn says:

    Kori,

    You quoted me in this article, which is fine, but you took my statements completely out of context. You also failed to use your connection to someone who has been intimately involved in Forest Park politics–and the person who sent you the original ordinance– to ensure that you got your facts straight. Frankly, I feel rather betrayed given that this blog post is not at all reflective of the conversations you and I had when I was informing you about what was going on in Forest Park. Everyone who writes knows that you don’t burn sources and you let them see what you’re writing about and know their perspective, but I’d rather just address some of the erroneous contentions in your article:

    1. You are correct that the ordinance is not solely targeted to breastfeeding. However, I’m a bit surprised that someone with a law degree would see this as relevant. Single lines, single sentences and even single words in ordinances are frequently and regularly used to infringe upon people’s rights. Further, as far as the law and the courts are concerned, it doesn’t matter whether a law devotes on sentence to banning some forms of public breastfeeding or devotes a hundred pages to doing so. The effect is the same, the enforcement is the same, and the fact that the ordinance is violative of Georgia law is the same. Further,the fact that the law associates breastfeeding with public nudity and general lewdness should be disconcerting to those who support public breastfeeding, not a consolation.

    2. It is incorrect that breastfeeding acttivists immediately staged a protest without exploring other options. Numerous people called the city council, which is precisely what one is supposed to do in a democracy. The city council, and specifically the city manager, were unresponsive to the point of laughing at breastfeeding women and had no intentions of changing the law until the nurse-in occurred. One could easily interpret your post as a screed against any form of activism and citizen engagement. I am unclear what you would have citizens do when their government is unresponsive if you are opposed to petitions, calling the government and protests.

    3. you argue that we should look critically at whether the stretegies employed by the breastfeeding community are effective. It seems, indeed, that they were. Immediately after the protest, the city announced its plans to change the law, and did so at the next city council meeting. They had no intention of doing so until the protest occurred, and made public statements to that effect–public statements of which you were aware when you wrote this blog post.

    4. You argue that militance and failing to celebrate small victories harms the cause of breastfeeding. What, specifically, is the small victory breastfeeding women should have been celebrating when this law was passed? What, specifically, is militant about lobbying one’s government?

    5. Women are far more likely to decide not to nurse when threatened with imprisonment for doing so than when faced with hundreds of women publicly supporting nursing. What evidence do you have to cite your contention that lobbying a government to change its laws is more harmful than arresting women for breastfeeding?

    6. You allude to an angry mob. Please point specifically to the angry mob that descended on Forest Park. In your post, you yourself state that the protests were not only effective, but also peaceful.

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