A dispute over breast-feeding at a Salt Lake City grocery store has sparked plans for a nationwide nurse-in this Saturday, when moms armed with hungry babies are expected to descend on dozens of Whole Foods Markets.
Angelina Love, 23, was nursing her 17-month-old son while shopping at the Trolley Square store this June when an employee asked her to cover up. Another customer had complained after seeing Love feed her child with her tank top-style dress pulled down beneath her left breast.
Love was shocked.
"A breast-feeding woman is feeding her child," she said this week. "She's not exposing herself."
An employee explained that some customers found the behavior offensive, Love recalls. Several other employees arrived and said there were other places in the store she could nurse with more privacy, such as the cafÃ©. They said they were trying to please everybody, Love said.
"You're putting shame on me and my family by telling me to cover up or asking me to move,"Love said she told the employees.
The mother and employees couldn't come to any resolution, so Love took the manager's phone number and walked out of the store with her family. Love said she shook as she put her son in his car seat and cried on the drive home.
Now she is asking Whole Foods to develop a pro-breast-feeding policy and trainingthat would prevent a similar confrontation from happening again. The corporation, which is welcoming the nurse-in, says such a change is in the works.
"The bottom line is some people made some mistakes and we have addressed that internally," said Libba Letton, a Whole Foods spokesperson. "This nurse-in is a great way to bring attention to an important issue."
If Love returns to Whole Foods and nurses her son, she will not be asked to cover herself, Letton said. A complaining customer would be told about the policy.
But Love worries that Utah's breast-feeding law is inadequate because it focuses on preventing the prosecution of women breast-feeding in public. She is calling for the expansion of the law to prevent future discrimination by businesses and others that could ask nursing moms like her to leave.
What the Utah Legislature passed in 1995 is the "weakest law possible," according to Jake Aryeh Marcus, a civil rights lawyer in Pennsylvania who specializes in breast-feeding law. Several Utah laws reference breast-feeding, one stating that nursing is not an "obscene or lewd act, irrespective of whether or not the breast is covered." A county or city may not prohibit breast-feeding.
But no woman has ever been charged with public indecency for breast-feeding in public, as far as Marcus knows.
"Passing a law like that tends to placate people who want a real law, but it's not a real law," she said. "It's protecting people from something that actually never happens."
A few states such as Washington now protect breast-feeding with anti-discrimination law. When Utah passed its breast-feeding laws in 1995, the obscenity language was similar to new laws in other states. Now it's time for Utah to revisit it, Marcus said.
"In order for women to continue to be part of the social life, whether it's going to work or going to church or going to the grocery store, they have to have their children with them and that means feeding their children," she said. "What Utah has is really not much more than nothing."
Utah has one of the highest percentages of breast-feeding moms in the nation, according to the 2011 report card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 85 percent of children are breast-fed at some point, with 61.5 percent still nursing at six months, compared to 44.3 percent nationwide.
Whether Utah is perceived as a nursing-friendly state can depend on the circles you move in, said Christy Porucznik, spokesperson for La Leche League of Utah. She has nursed everywhere from the elephant show at the zoo to Costco and hasn't heard of many women facing discrimination.
"Women need to talk about this, because it may be there are 600 other Angelinas out there who just aren't leaving the house anymore," Porucznik said. "And that would be horrible."
Love remains surprised that the problem ever arose at Whole Foods, which she believes typically attracts customers drawn to healthy living habits such as breast-feeding. Its policy on breast-feeding was previously unwritten.
"We've never written it down because it's something like 'our customers breathe air,' " said Letton, who is trained as a doula and breast-fed her own children.
Though a nurse-in has historically been a vehicle to generate public support for breast-feeding, it isn't always a solution. Despite a national nurse-in at Delta Air Lines ticket counters in 2006, a case involving a mom kicked off a flight for refusing to cover her child while nursing is stuck in the courts, Marcus said.
As of this week, Love remains unconvinced that Whole Foods has fixed the problem and is eager to see more specifics.
"I'm not going to shop in that store again until they make it sure this won't happen again," she said."Nursing a child is normal and not something unsightly that should be hidden."
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O Go to wholebabyfoods.blogspot.com to read more from Love and Whole Foods. Click on the Facebook link for details on Saturday's event.