As if breastfeeding weren't hard enough on its own, many moms are publicly shamed for feeding their children. The sexualization and stigma surrounding breastfeeding has forced moms to feed in hiding, unable to meet the needs of their children without shame. Case in point, one breastfeeding mom claims she was kicked out of a mall for "indecent exposure," according to People, prompting a group response from moms who are putting their feet down on breastfeeding-shaming.
Oklahoma mom Jacquelyn Daugherty was reportedly shopping at the Lawton Central Mall when she took a break to feed her hungry 9-month-old son. She then proceeded to nurse him, until a security guard allegedly told her that she would have to leave, as People reported. Daugherty told local ABC News affiliate KSWO that she had the law on her side, but the guard was not swayed:
He told me that it was indecent exposure, and that I needed to go to my car or the restroom. And I handed him my Oklahoma breastfeeding law card, and he said that it doesn’t matter, that I’m on the mall’s property, and that I need to leave. So I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it at the time. I just decided that I was going to pack up and leave; I’ll just go home and nurse him.
As of 2004, Oklahoma state law permits mothers to breastfeed in any public location "where they have the right to be," according to the state's website. Romper's request for comment from Lawton Central Mall was not immediately returned. However, in a statement issued to People, Lawton Central Mall said there is a specified breastfeeding area and addressed Daugherty's situation:
At Central Mall Lawton, we are committed to providing our customers and employees with an enjoyable shopping environment. As part of this commitment, we provide many offerings designed for families including family bathrooms, nursing areas and play areas. We also have a private nursing area in our ladies restroom. As a family-friendly destination, we do allow women to breastfeed in the center and are addressing the recent situation involving a nursing mother.
Daugherty, with the support of breastfeeding rights group the La Leche League, has organized a nurse-in with other nursing moms at the mall on Friday, according to KSWO. The moms plan to meet in a central location and nurse their babies together so that "none of [them] feel like [they're] being singled out," the outlet reported.
At the nurse-in, they will stand together, confident in their feeding to make a statement. Daugherty explained to People that the moms want people to know that they are comfortable feeding and are supported by the law.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands currently have laws in place to specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. Despite having laws in place, Daugherty explained to People that she feels intimidation prevents mothers across the country from exercising their legal right to breastfeed in public. She told the publication:
There are a lot of moms in America today that are constantly being put down just for nursing their children. It shouldn’t matter how you take care of your baby as long as you take care of them. It shouldn’t be a thing where people just stare and criticize and say bad things about me because all I’m doing is being a mom.
And this seems to be more than just an American problem. A study conducted by The Guardian found that a third of women in the United Kingdom feel embarrassed about breastfeeding in public and roughly one fifth of them feel that other people don't want to see them nursing publicly.
Perhaps shows of force, such as the nurse-in, and open exercising of legal rights is the key to changing public opinion and making women feel comfortable. Props to Daugherty and her breastfeeding buddies for taking the initiative and not taking the shaming sitting down.
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