Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Georgia attempts to be least breastfeeding-friendly state...

At least, that is how it would appear. There have been two recent cases in which breastfeeding in Georgia has been restricted. One is by a public school system, Dougherty County, in which they have enacted a policy stating that babies are not allowed to breastfed in any of the schools. The second is the city council of the city of Forest Park, which has passed an ordinance which they hope will end "public nudity." Their law says that mothers may not nurse anyone over the age of two in public. Apparently they believe that breastfeeding in public is nudity - in fact, that it becomes nudity once the child is a certain age, whereas prior to that, it is somehow not nudity... ? How does breastfeeding suddenly become nudity based on the age of the baby? I thought nudity was defined by how much of one's clothing has been removed, and surely one doesn't disrobe to nurse an older child while staying clothed to nurse a younger one? This story has been explored on This Daddy's Blog here. Apparently these stories are being picked up nationwide, too: here's an article on The Stir.

Anyway, here are my letters to both the superintendent of Doughery County schools (joshua.murfree@docoschools.org) and the city council of Forest park, particularly City Manager John Parker (jparker@forestparkga.org). Here is his phone number: 404-366-4720. I called today and left a voice mail - he had already gone home... well, wouldn't you too, the day after passing unpopular policy which is being talked about across the country? ;) I would encourage anyone who feels that this is wrong to contact them yourselves to express your concerns.

To the Dougherty County Schools:


I was recently made aware of a new policy in your public school system disallowing babies to be breastfed within any of your school buildings. As a mother myself and a volunteer breastfeeding counselor, I was surprised to hear of this. The state of Georgia has a law which protects the rights of mothers to breastfeed their babies anywhere that both mother and child have a right to be. If I am understanding your new policy correctly, this means that breastfed babies no longer have the right to be in your school buildings, at least not when they are hungry.

It appears that this policy was enacted because of a teacher's request that her baby be allowed to be brought to her during her breaks so that she could nurse the baby. Many moms who work like to find a daycare provider who is willing to do this. I understand that you wish to disallow this in favor of having any breastfeeding employees pump their milk instead. While this seems like a simple solution on the surface, it does not take into account the fact that for many mothers, their bodies don't respond as well to a pump as to their baby. A breastfeeding baby can always nurse more effectively than a pump. Allowing mothers access to their nursing babies if they so choose can help them to establish a better nursing relationship and may enable them to breastfeed longer, reducing illnesses in their babies and thus the number of sick days they would have to take themselves. A mother who cannot pump very effectively will be more likely to wean her baby earlier. A teacher on a break should be able to nurse her baby then, because she is not actually working with students at that time. Mothers who have access to their babies may be more relaxed and therefore be more productive during their working hours of the school day.

The most concerning thing to me regarding this policy is that it distances breastfeeding mothers from the schools. If a mother who has a breastfeeding baby wants to come to the school where her older children attend, then this policy makes her feel unwelcome. Mothers may want to come to the school for any number of reasons: to volunteer in their children's classrooms, to view a performance or assembly, to have a conference with a teacher, or to have lunch with their children. As a former teacher myself, I was always grateful for the presence of mom volunteers, and seeing parents involved in the school made me know that they truly cared about the education of their children. A mother who is breastfeeding may find that she is unable to pump milk and bring a bottle with her to the school: first, it costs money to invest in a pump and bottles, and it takes time to pump. A stay-at-home mother may not have the extra money to spend on a pump simply so she can visit her older children at school. As mentioned before, many moms do not respond well to a pump in the first place. A breastfeeding baby is a quiet, happy baby. A baby who is hungry because his mother could not pump enough milk and is not allowed to breastfeed him is going to cause a disturbance in a meeting or school performance! Many babies will not even take a bottle from their mothers because they expect their mothers to nurse them at the breast as this is their normal experience. It may also be reasoned that if the mother nurses the baby before she comes to the school, then he shouldn't need to nurse in the time she is there. This sounds good in theory, but breastmilk is digested very quickly and some babies take in small quantities more frequently, so it is quite possible for a baby who nursed an hour ago to be hungry again.

Surely the Dougherty County Schools do not want to isolate and exclude some mothers from being free to come onto school property with their babies who might need to nurse. Surely the schools don't want these moms to avoid parent-teacher conferences, PTA meetings, and award ceremonies for their older children because their baby may get hungry. Surely the schools do not want for a mother who has come to eat lunch with her child to end up having to leave the school instead to nurse her baby, while a formula-feeding mother may stay in the lunchroom with her school-aged child since her baby is eating from a bottle. Surely the schools don't want mothers to wean their babies prematurely because they feel that they must do so in order to be involved in the local schools. Surely the schools don't want to contribute to decreasing the breastfeeding rates even further (they are pretty low in Georgia), which adds to increased illnesses and more medical expenses for the taxpayers.

I ask that you reconsider this policy so that all mothers are able to take care of their babies in the best way they can while being an involved part of your school system, and I hope that the state law which protects breastfeeding has some bearing on this policy.

Thank you,

To the City of Forest Park:


I was recently made aware that the city of Forest Park has passed a law making it illegal for mothers to breastfeed their children beyond the age of two in public within your city. As a mother and breastfeeding support counselor myself, I am aware of the Georgia state law which says that a mother may breastfeed her child anywhere that she and her child have the right to be. This state law has no restriction on age. I am unsure of how this will work for the city of Forest Park, given the state law. When I travel to another state with a nursing baby or toddler, I check out the state's breastfeeding laws ahead of time. I would never think to check the ordinances in each individual town that I may pass through on a trip. How will this affect mothers who maybe don't even live in the state of Georgia and are arrested for breastfeeding their 3 year old in the city of Forest Park? They may have informed themselves of the state law ahead of time and found that they were within their rights according to the state of Georgia.

The main issue I see here is that limiting breastfeeding to a certain age in an attempt to control public nudity does not make sense. How is a mother any more "nude" when breastfeeding a 3 year old than she is when breastfeeding a 6 month old in public? A mother nursing an older child will probably show less skin because her child covers up more of her body, and she has likely gotten the hang of breastfeeding and will therefore show less skin because of her experience. Breastfeeding a 3 year old should not count as nudity if breastfeeding a 1 year old does not. There is a problem in associating breastfeeding with nudity in the first place: most women show less skin while nursing than does a girl in a halter top or a low-cut shirt. If public nudity is a problem in the city of Forest Park, then it certainly isn't because there are hundreds of mothers removing their clothing to nurse 3 year olds. Are bare midriffs and low-cut tops going to be outlawed as a part of this attempt to control public nudity? If not, then think of what kind of message is being sent: that it is okay to show skin because you want to, but it is not okay to do when feeding/comforting your child. It tells young girls that we only want to see their bodies as sexual and not for their biologically intended purposes.

Forest Park needs to rethink this law, and quickly. Nursing mothers are not a nudity problem. They are just feeding and comforting their children.



Carrie said...

I hope they BOTH actually read the letters!
And..NO baby yet! This waiting on nature is really starting to be not so fun. :(

Anonymous said...

Very well said!!! Hope they do read them and take the message into account!

Unrefined Mommy said...

I don't understand this country's intolerance for breastfeeding! And I don't just mean breastfeeding in public. I mean breastfeeding period. My son is 10 months old, and people are shocked when they find out that I am still breastfeeding. Why wouldn't I still be breastfeeding him??????

Kris said...

There was an article in the AJC today about the Forest Park ruling. There is a "nurse in" in front of the city hall today.