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Tuesday, February 05, 2008Exchanged a few emails today with Lactivist reader Shaylene. She was having a discussion with a group of women and wondered what my take was on the subject. After trading a few emails back and forth, we figured we'd throw it out for public discussion here.
The question: If a mom is in a mall or store shopping and wants to breastfeed her baby in privacy, is the store obligated to allow her to use a dressing room to nurse?
I'll hold off until some comments start rolling in before I share my thoughts, but I'm very curious to hear what you all have to say.
ETA: Ok, we've had several comments roll in, so I'm going to go ahead and share my thoughts.
Speaking in general terms, Scarlett pretty much summed up my stance in the comments. Here's what she said:
Obligated? Not at all. If the woman is a regular customer and has a rapport with the staff then I would be surprised if they declined. However some mothers take an hour to breastfeed their baby. Is it fair to expect a store to have a dressing room out of action for that long? Dressing room = trying on clothes = they might look good = person might buy them = money = income/livelihood. Is it fair of us to expect someone to give up potential income to accommodate our nursing? I can only speak for myself and I would never expect a store to do that for me. I would be happy if they did and it would increase the chance of my being a customer at the store again but the chances are I wouldn't ask them in the first place.
I've nursed Emmitt in dressing rooms when I was already in those rooms trying on clothes at a store I intended to buy from. That said, I've never gone into a dressing room to nurse in a store where I wasn't trying on clothes. I just find a bench or a chair somewhere.
Now, speaking of the specific situation (at least based on what info I got from my emails with Shay) I can understand that the mother this happened to was upset because the employee told her if she wanted to nurse in privacy she needed to go use the family restroom or go to her car. We all know it's completely unacceptable for a store to suggest a woman nurse her child in the restroom. Now, if it's a store like Babys R Us that has a "mommy station" with rocking chairs and changing tables and the mom has asked for a PRIVATE place to nurse, it's obviously appropriate to refer the mother there.
But that's the key here. This mom was asking for a PRIVATE location to nurse. She wasn't told she couldn't nurse in the store, (to my knowledge, if she was, then the store is totally off base) she was told she couldn't use one of the changing rooms to nurse.
While I commend any store that allows a mom to nurse in an empty changing room, there's no way I would say a store HAS to let you use a changing room. Changing rooms were designed for people who want to try on and possibly buy clothes. They were not designed as "resting areas" for customers. I cannot fault a store for wanting to keep those spaces open for people who want to try on clothes. As Scarlett said, some women take 30-60 minutes to nurse. Sure the rooms may be empty now, but in 30 minutes there could be a line. Supporting breastfeeding mothers does NOT equal giving up potential income.
I think what it really boils down to is how things are handled when the store says no. A store that says "I'm sorry, but our policy is only to allow people who are trying on clothes in the changing rooms" isn't going to get a tongue lashing from me. Now, if some uninformed employee suggests the restroom as an alternative, I'd obviously go to the manager, clarify store policy and suggest they brief their employees on the appropriate response.
Let's also keep in mind there are no security cameras in the dressing rooms, and as lame as it is, there ARE mothers out there who use their baby's to shoplift items.
Now, let's take this a step further.
What I hear some women saying is "because I'm a nursing mom, the store is obligated to give me a private place to nurse if I want one." Sorry folks, but even in the states with rock solid breastfeeding laws this is absolutely not true. They must allow you to nurse in the store, but they don't have to give you access to a private place to nurse. Otherwise the laws would be written to require stores to set aside a private, non-bathroom location for nursing moms. Don't take a basic law and expand it beyond it's intentions just because you want a store to do something. The law doesn't work that way.
After all, if we're talking about a store that doesn't have dressing rooms, would you expect them to let you into the manager's office? A janitor's closet? Some other non-bathroom, but private location? I'm guessing no. If you were in a grocery store and needed to nurse and did not want to nurse in public, you'd probably go to your car, right?
Thus, I have a hard time vilifying any store employee who took part in a conversation like this:
Mom: Excuse me, my child needs to nurse and I'm looking for a private spot. Could I use one of your dressing rooms?
Employee: I'm sorry, our dressing rooms are reserved for customers who are trying on clothes. We don't really have any publicly available "private" spaces for nursing in our store. The only thing I can think to suggest is your car?
If that conversation happened, I'd view it as an employee upholding a FAIR store policy and trying to be helpful. SURE it would be great if they said "yes, you can use it" but they're not evil for saying no. In fact, I wouldn't even boycott the store.
Thus, I'm seeing the problem not so much as "she was told she couldn't nurse in the dressing room" but "they were rude to her AND they suggested she use the bathroom."
I can completely get behind being upset at those two things and contacting management for resolution, but to be that up in arms over a store not allowing their dressing rooms to become private nursing stations? Sorry, I just can't get up in arms about it.
Labels: Nursing in Public