After being told to cover up while breastfeeding her infant at a public indoor pool, a mother of five posted a less-than-favorable review of the space to its Facebook page, generating local support and anger from fellow moms — and an apology from the pool’s director.
“While swimming today with my five children, I was harassed by two lifeguards about nursing my 5-month-old baby! They told me I needed to cover up with a towel. It’s actually very warm in there and I cannot do that to my baby,” wrote Amy Metzger, of Sioux Falls, S.D., on the Facebook page for Midco Aquatic Center.
She continued: “The law states that I may in fact nurse my baby anywhere I am legally allowed to be! I’m very disappointed and upset that the lifeguards are not properly trained in this area. I am going to do everything I can to make sure no other moms will be harassed for nourishing their children at your pool. Very disappointed.”
Her April 19 post generated a slew of reactions and comments from mothers who rallied around her on the Midco page. “This woman’s rights were violated. Public shaming of breastfeeding needs to stop!” one declared, with another chiming in, “That’s good to know, I won’t be bringing my business to an establishment that shames parenting (because that’s what breastfeeding is — parenting).”
Someone who witnessed the situation weighed in with, “I am truly disappointed and disgusted that it took two lifeguards to come and talk to this lady. I was there and saw it all. This is a family place for families.” Another commented: “Wow!! I’m so sorry you had to deal with this mama! I would have thrown the towel over their head and told them to cover up if they don’t want to see me feed my child!”
A small minority believed the aquatic center was justified. “Did anyone ever think that was would make other people uncomfortable?” noted one self-identified grandmother. “I am all for breastfeeding, but why is it so difficult to throw a towel over yourself? And why would you feel you were being harassed?”
Despite the opinions of others, however, South Dakota, as of 2015, is one of 49 states with laws specifically allowing women to breastfeed in any public or private location — and one of 29 states that specifically exempts public breastfeeding from public indecency laws. (Even further, it’s one of 17 states that exempts breastfeeding mothers from jury duty or allows them to postpone.)
But at the time of the incident, Metzger admitted to KSFY that she herself wasn’t certain of the laws. That said, “it’s a place for families,” she noted. “I think you know everybody should be able to go there regardless how they feed their baby. Because I didn’t know exactly what [the law] was for sure, and then it was confirmed that, yeah, I was actually in the right.”
The employees at Midco were also unaware of women’s breastfeeding rights, admitted Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation director Don Kearney. “We apologize for the inconvenience,” he told KSFY. “We just didn’t know that that happened to be the state law, but certainly we’re going to train our staff up and then all the other city employees; [we] want to make them aware of it too, whether it’s at the Midco or anywhere else it still applies.”
Despite the many legal protections that exist, women who breastfeed in public regularly headlines because some people around them are uncomfortable with the practice. Earlier this month, for example, a mom in Virginia was asked to stop feeding her 8-month-old daughter by a security guard while they waiting to see the Easter Bunny at an outdoor mall. “I was completely stunned,” the mom, Ashley Cooper, told Yahoo Beauty at the time, “but I told her, ‘In the state of Virginia, I can breastfeed anywhere I’m legally allowed to be.’”
And even celebrities are not immune to the judgment — including Victoria’s Secret model Candice Swanepoel, who spoke out on Instagram about her experiences in late 2016, noting, “I have been made to feel the need to cover up and somewhat shy to feed my baby in public places but strangely feel nothing for the topless editorials I’ve done in the name of art?”
Meanwhile, in London, a public breastfeeding advocacy group aiming to end the stigma made a loud and cheeky public statement recently, as it unveiled a giant blow-up breast, perky nipple and all, atop a building in the Shoreditch neighborhood. “It’s hard to believe that in 2017, U.K. mothers still feel watched and judged when feeding in public, by bottle or breast,” stated the sponsors.
Obviously, the same can be said for moms on this side of the pond. Although for Metzger, learning that the law was on her side — and hearing it acknowledged by Midco management — brought her some relief. “I’m really excited about that,” she said. “I’m glad that the light has been shed on the subject, and it will be well-known now that it’s acceptable.”
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