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Ann Arbor Woman Told to Stop Breastfeeding in Public

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

On the heels of a story about a woman that was asked to stop breastfeeding on an airplane comes another story about Ann Arbor resident Kelly Fuks, who was asked to stop breastfeeding her six-month old in the swimming pool area of the YMCA.

Normally, I'd be all ready to go into a diatribe on this story, but there are two sides being told and depending on which one is true, I'll be ranting at a different person. ;) So, I'm going to share the two sides, share my rants and ask readers to weigh in as well.

Side #1: Fuks is asked to stop breastfeeding because she's distracting the lifeguards.

The issue arose Dec. 22 when Fuks took her 6-month-old daughter, Ansley, her 3-year-old son, Maxwell, and a friend swimming at the Y in downtown Ann Arbor. Fuks said a lifeguard approached and told her she could not breast-feed Ansley on the deck of the family pool.

When she queried Y management later by phone, Fuks said, she was told that breast-feeding by the pool is forbidden because it's a distraction to lifeguards.

"In my opinion, if their lifeguards are that easily distracted, they need much better lifeguards and a better training program,'' Fuks said.

Fuks went on to say that she had breastfed by the pool in the past and to point out that the teens in their bikinis were likely more "distracting" than she was.

Now, if this is the case, I'm obviously going to rant in Fuks favor and take serious issue with lifeguards that can't focus on their jobs because some woman is nursing her child. I'll point out that while Michigan does not yet have laws on the books that are specifically designed to protect the rights of a breastfeeding mother, they do have a statute that excludes breastfeeding from their public indecency laws. The lack of a specific law also doesn't make it illegal to nurse in public, it just doesn't provide extra legal protection. That means that it would be up to a court to decide.

It also means that Ms. Fuks has great reason to launch a protect and incite a nurse in for which she would have The Lactivist's full support.

Side #2

But Diane Carr, senior programs director at the Y, said all food and drink is forbidden in the pool area, and that exceptions can't be made for breast-feeding.

"It's difficult to be able to make exceptions and then be able to enforce it,'' she said.

Asked about the distraction rationale, she said that anything happening in the pool area that breaks rules is a distraction to lifeguards because they have to respond and deal with it.

The Y does allow breast-feeding in other areas where parents and children are permitted to be together, such as the family locker rooms or the lobby waiting area.

If the Y actually has a stated policy that says there is absolutely no eating allowed in the swimming pool area, then they are perfectly within their rights to ask Ms. Fuks to go elsewhere to do so.

In fact, the Y could easily argue that when they told Ms. Fuks she was a distraction, they meant that she was a distraction because she was breaking a rule, not because she was breastfeeding. That's a perfectly legitimate stance to take.

Under the current pool rules, a formula feeding mother would not be allowed to give her child a bottle in the pool area, so why should a nursing mother be given "special" privileges?

I'd also note this line from the article...

But, Fuks said, it is too much trouble to pack up her children and head back to the locker room when Ansley gets hungry. Her primary goal while swimming is to let Maxwell get his ya-yas out, and constant interruptions to feed his sister don't help, she said.

This is what admittedly set me off on wondering if it shouldn't be Ms. Fuks that was getting the brunt of my rant. If she's not being misquoted, then this attitude sort of sealed it for me. If Fuks knew that she could breastfeed anywhere IN PUBLIC in the Y with the exception of the pool area, then I think her fit pitching is inappropriate and childish.

Yes, it's trouble to pack up your children when they need to be fed. Any mother knows that. But if she couldn't give her 3 year old a snack in the area why would she expect to be able to give her six-month old one?

Would love to hear your thoughts...

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  1. Blogger Carrie Huggins | 10:50 AM |  

    Hmm. This one is a toughie. While the idea that a Mom nursing is distracting while a young woman in a string bikini isn't, the "no food" rule does mean no food period. In that case, rules is rules. If a bottlefeeding Mom wouldn't be allowed to bottlefeed, then a nursing Mom shouldn't have special privilege.

  2. Anonymous Anonymous | 1:32 PM |  

    I think that the mom has every right to BF even though the rule is no food or drink. I have a pool and the only reason behind the rule is to keep those things out of the water. Does that mean mom can't go swimming?!? She can't leave the food at the door. I think if you nurse you deserve special rights due to the fact that you have chosen to do something so extraordinary for your child!

  3. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 1:38 PM |  


    Gotta dissagree with you here...rules that are applied equally are rules. If a mom can't give her child a bottle, then she shouldn't be able to nurse either.

    I assume the mom can swim just fine, so long as she isn't going to nurse while doing it.

    Leakage happens, but it's not like breastfeeding moms just go spurting milk everywhere anytime they go swimming...

    That whole "special rules" thing gets really tricky really fast. Who is to decide who gets special rules...where does it end? When someone gets to arbitrarily decide such things then the beliefs of whoever is in charge are going to prevail. That means if a non-breastfeeding friendly person is in charge, they'd get to decide that you couldn't breastfeed.

    It's a slipperly slope and not one that I think Lactivists are going to want to get on...

  4. Anonymous Anonymous | 1:42 PM |  

    The post makes no mention of two very important words that appear in the original article; "health issue".

    The real story is simple.

    Person breaks rules. Person is told to stop breaking rules. Person takes offence at being told to stop breaking rules. Person asserts their "rights". Person has their rights explained. Person complains vocally and emotionally of "oppression". Person convinces other gullible people to champion for person's "rights". Story changes.

    The whole idea of "rights" is that no-one, absolutely no-one, gets "special privileges". In an age where rights are of supreme importance, this truth is often forgotten.

  5. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 1:54 PM |  


    Interesting perspective and one that often, but not always applies.

    If the rule is "no blacks" or "sure you can drink when you're 18" or "enjoy child porn" then it's not ok.

    Rules aren't always right and when they are not right, people should fight them.

    In this case however, the rules are "fair." So I see no reason to be pitching a fit.

  6. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:22 PM |  


    Do you have anything to say about the "health issues" mentioned in the original article?

    You'll get no argument from me about fighting to change rules that are unjust. Do you think the pro-breastfeeding and pro-cannabis movements have any synergy? Perhaps together we could usher in a new generation of very happy families. :)

    Rules universally applied are fair, by definition. Where I have a problem is with "special circumstances", usually some individual or minority group pushing others around on the grounds of non-existent or mis-interpreted rules.

    I don't mind affirmative action. If our culture is in some way taking a backwards step in its attitude toward public breastfeeding, I support any move to kick it's butt back. However, if our culture has never had a neutral or positive attitude toward public breastfeeding, I cannot support any "special circumstances" argument to kick it around just because "it ought to be allowed". The bar has to be higher.

    Breastfeeding is a natural bodily function, so is therefore not something that should be a subject of any shame. However, being natural does not mean that it should automatically be allowed in public. Most people choose to urinate and defecate in private so performing these acts in public is considered extraordinary, especially considering that private facilities are always available.

    So I suppose my question becomes "where do most mothers prefer to breastfeed - private or public?"

  7. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 2:31 PM |  

    The health issues part is exactly why I agree with you. "heath issues" are what sparked the rule of "no eating near the pool" to begin with and it's a uninversally applied rule. Thus, I have no problem with it.

    The issue that I took with your post was that after your excellent health issue point, you went on to make a very generalized statement that I don't agree applies in every situation.

    As for the pro-breastfeeding and pro-cannibis, it depends on how pro-cannibis you want to get. Cannibis when used recreationally doesn't do anyone any good, in fact, it's just as dangerous as alcohol in many ways. I really don't have much of an opinion on it except to say that if it is legal, you'd have to have DUI laws that also applied to cannibis use. If you mean the medical-use, I have no problem with it at all.

    But...I don't think that you can really compare the two. Breastfeeding is a form of nourishment, the best form of nourishment. An essential for a child. You can hardly say the same about cannibis. ;-P

    "Rules universally applied are fair, by definition."

    Semantically, you are correct. I'll amend my statement.

    Rules universally applied may be FAIR, but that doesn't mean they are RIGHT.

    And after all of the intelligent conversation and thought you just added to my blog, I know you REALLY didn't mean to go and compare breastfeeding with urinating...right?

    Come on now...

  8. Anonymous Anonymous | 3:28 PM |  

    I think we're on the same wavelength regarding rules and rights. I'm not trying to be disingenuous. I support the proposition that mothers should be free to breastfeed in public within reason, should they so choose. Where's the harm?

    On cannabis and breastfeeding. I would no more question the nourishment provided by breast milk than I would the nourishment provided, albeit in a different form, by cannabis. I do not advocate the consumption of anything I know not to be beneficial.

    You question my associating urination with breastfeeding. Much as I would love to expound my theory, because it is intersting, I suspect it is rather too graphic for your readership. I could be persuaded to post to my own blog on the subject.

    Do you think most mothers prefer to breastfeed in private or in public?

  9. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 3:42 PM |  

    I think MOST mothers prefer to breastfeed in privacy, but I also think most of them will tell you that they feel that way because they are embarrassed to try and nurse in public.

    That makes me sad.

    That's where I think the problem lies.

    Far be it from me to tell people they MUST breastfeed in public. But I'd like to see the day when any woman feels comfortable doing it if they WANT to.

    Ya know?

  10. Anonymous Anonymous | 4:47 PM |  

    Then we are agreed. Mothers should feel no shame should they choose to breastfeed in public or private.

    I qualify thus: "so long as the intent is to provide nourishment to an infant". The cases where this would not be true are so few as to be insignificant.

    Now, urination and breastfeeding. Are you interested to know the connection? :)

  11. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 4:50 PM |  

    LOL...only if you promise that it will be a unique argument...

    And that it won't mak eall of the breastfeeding moms that read this blog want to throw rocks at you. :)

  12. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:21 AM |  

    Unique arguments are my specialty. I can cope with rocks being thrown at me, so long as they don't rebound and hurt others.

    Now I'll have to go think... do not be disturbed by the loud, grinding noise!

  13. Blogger Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... | 6:31 AM |  

    Cool blog--I'll be back to visit. I found you through a comment at doulicia.

    Me--I can't believe it's an issue. But it's definitely going to bring out the (lactivist) "troops". I can't wait for an update from you on the situation.

    I'd be curious to know if they have a covered cup rule--as in no glass but a covered other kind of cup is okay. (A breast can't be more contained than a cup with a cover/lid.)

    The article is also contradictory--is breastfeeding not allowed--or food and drink not allowed?

    As for distraction it being a distraction to the lifeguards to have anyone breaking the rules...methinks someone isn't being honest.

    If it's breastfeeding, due to a "distraction" for the lifeguards and an exposed breast, I think that in a place where bikinis up to here and down to there (and not even covering THERE) that it's a silly mistruth.

    If it's a actual "no food and drinks" rule, then technically lactating women shouldn't even be allowed IN the pool area...an extreme but truer sense of the rule. How would they ever know this and enforce that?


  14. Blogger Carrie Huggins | 8:14 AM |  

    Emily said:
    I think if you nurse you deserve special rights due to the fact that you have chosen to do something so extraordinary for your child!

    Hmm...I disagree. Breastfeeding is the NORMAL way to feed a child. It's not special or extraordinary. That thought is part of the reason why bottlefeeding is the norm in our culture...nursing is seen as something only *special* women do..only the privileged few are "able" to breastfeed.

    While I do think nursing is wonderful, it's no more wonderful than holding hands with your child or kissing your mate. It's just the thing that is done.

  15. Anonymous Anonymous | 11:10 AM |  

    After parenting an extremely high-needs baby, I'l have to say it would never occur to me to equate "no food or drink" with "breastfeeding." To my infant son, breastfeeding was not only nutrition but comfort, calming, and organizing. He breastfed often several times an hour, and I usually breastfed him in a sling everywhere I went. I figured people preferred a comforted, content baby to a screaming baby.

    So I'll have to say, I personally put breastfeeding in a different category than giving my three-year-old a snack.

  16. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 11:25 AM |  

    So I guess we put your vote in the "special rights for breastfeeding moms" side of things?

  17. Anonymous Anonymous | 7:45 AM |  

    In response to someone who said...
    [blockquote] <--- Jennifer, can you allow this, please?
    If it's a actual "no food and drinks" rule, then technically lactating women shouldn't even be allowed IN the pool area...an extreme but truer sense of the rule. How would they ever know this and enforce that?

    You cannot eat or drink from a closed or unexposed container. As soon as you expose an open container, it is reasonable to conclude that you intend someone to eat or drink from its contents.

    In response to Carrie who said...
    While I do think nursing is wonderful, it's no more wonderful than holding hands with your child or kissing your mate. It's just the thing that is done.

    Yes! Absolutely! That is how things should be all over the human world.

    The snag is that "the thing that is done", or "culture and custom", changes both from place to place and from time to time, depending on the people.

    There are too many examples, but some I have encountered include...

    ... in many parts of Asia, it is extremely rude to kiss or show affection in public.

    ... in Thailand, it is religiously offensive to pat a child on the head, no matter how cute they are.

    ... in Australia, it is considered offensive to complain, even if you are right.

    ... and let's not even begin to enumerate the cultures in which the exposure of bare skin is considered offensive to varying degrees.

    Which brings me right back to nursing. I have to confess, guys, that I don't quite understand why it causes offence. The nursing, that is.

    Is it possible that, rather than reacting to the actual feeding of the baby, the people who take offence are in reality reacting to the attitude of the mother?

  18. Anonymous Anonymous | 8:14 PM |  

    Jennifer and others, if a pregnant woman was swimming, would you say that she is not allowed to "feed" her baby by means of her placenta nourishing the child?

    If there is a rule against breastfeeding, then the rule is wrong. Wherever babies are allowed to be, breastfeeding should be allowed.

    If it is unsafe or somehow inappropriate to breastfeed, then it should probably not be open to babies in the first place. Anyway, what if the mother breast (or bottle) fed elsewhere and the baby possetted in the pool, as many babies do? What about the fact that many if not most children wee in the pool. And by the way those "swimming" diapers you see - they only hold the solids in. So if a baby has diarrhoea, yes there will be poo in the pool. That is why they use chlorine.

    So the hygiene argument is rubbish. The "is it food" argument is rubbish. And I don't think the "oh dear the lifeguards might get distracted" suggestion even merits consideration.

    The whole thing is just another attempt by the perverted breast fetishists to discourage women from using breasts for the purpose they were designed (or evolved) for. It's a bit like a foot fetishist saying it's rude to walk in public.

  19. Anonymous Anonymous | 9:39 AM |  

    I do not in any way feel that the mother is at all in the wrong. First, I was a lifeguard, and a trained swim instructor, and can tell you that the ONLY reason for a food and drink rule is that any food or drinks to end up in the water would be cause for the pool to be emptied and filtered. For instance if a glass were to break near the water, not in but near, the whole pool would need to be emptied, cleaned, and refilled before any swimming could resume. Seeing as most food and drink can be dropped in the pool, or even taken in the pool, that particular rule has a basis. However, in my lifetime I have yet to run across a woman who has a detachable breast that her child could potentially carry into the pool! Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that this is simply a case of "enforcing" the rules of the Y. People all over this puritanical country feel "uncomfortable" by breast feeding and that is the only reason for this situation to have arisen at all. When exactly did common sense go out the window? It is downright wrong to make a mother feel uncomfortable for breastfeeding. If the "rule" of the pool stated that the pool guidelines, which by law the Y would have to provide to the nursing mother upon request, and any other patron, clearly included breastfeeding as well as cans, bottles, or any other food product then I can see the aim, however guidelines were never mentioned. It sounds like a male lifeguard was either reacting to their own or another patrons discomfort, which is not just cause at all.

  20. Anonymous Anonymous | 11:14 PM |  

    i really get wound up when people think its ok to use breasts to advertise motorbikes etc, but its not ok to see women feeding discretely in public!!!!
    women who breastfeed - congratulations!!
    for those who cant or dont want to, fab, its everyones choice!
    for those who actively and loudly disapprove of it, get a life, get a grip, get lost if you must, but do NOT make a mother doing whats best and NATURAL and doing with her breasts what they are designed to do feel any guilt or shame, as there is none.

  21. Blogger Unknown | 3:27 PM |  

    I plan to breastfeed my infant when she's born in September. However, I have no intention of having my naked breasts out in public for the world to see. It would make others around me so much more comfortable if I would take advantage of the nice, peaceful, calm rooms provided in the Y specifically FOR nursing, or to do it in the privacy of the locker room. Also, I have a collection of sarongs that I've bought while on vacations, and those tie around the shoulders nicely, making it so easy for me to be discrete and modest, while allowing the baby adequate breathing and feeding. Yes, breastfeeding is a natural and good thing. That doesn't mean that it has to be done in a way that causes people to stare.

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