Breastfeeding English

Breastfeeding, the restaurant controversy and the law

I wasn’t going to write about breastfeeding. At least, not on my fifth post. I knew that sooner or later it would come up, as I have spent six and a half of my eight years of motherhood breastfeeding, and it’s still a big part of my daily life. But a story that erupted yesterday on Facebook made me change my mind.

In all these years breastfeeding, I have been very lucky. I haven’t encountered anyone, either in Chicago or in Spain, who opposed my breastfeeding in public. The closest experience I had was having my mother in law trying to convince me to go back home to breastfeed instead of doing it on the patio of a cafe in Spain. Her comments were dutifully ignored, and that was it. On the other hand, I have been complimented for breastfeeding my boys.

I still remember the first time I nursed in public, when my oldest was two weeks old. We were running errands with our postpartum doula, and went to Panera since everyone had to eat. She convinced me that nursing there was ok. I was a nervous and hormonal wreck trying to fight with a scarf to cover the baby and my breast. That very same week I breastfed in public in a hospital, at a Social Security office, and in a park. The more times I did it, the more at ease I felt, and I eventually stopped trying to cover at all. Which doesn’t mean I suddenly turned into an exhibitionist. It just means that I am comfortable with the fact that what I am doing is natural, and since I don’t cover my face while I eat, I think my baby should eat in the same conditions.

If you live in Chicago, and have been on Facebook or watched the news in the last couple of days, you have probably heard that a suburban restaurant shamed a mom until she felt she had to nurse in her van. The manager asked her to cover. When the mom informed them that the law protects her, they told her again to cover or feed her baby in the bathroom or in another dining room, because they had received complaints from other patrons. She left to feed her baby in her car. And she wrote a comment on their Facebook page the next day. The response from the restaurant was troubling at best, because instead of apologizing, the owner defended his actions, citing his right to please his customers and “maintain a certain decorum” (his words, not mine).

The problem here is that he actually doesn’t have that right. Instead, and per Illinois law, a mother has the right to breastfeed her baby, with or without a cover, anywhere she can be in public. Which means this mom had the right to breastfeed her baby at that table, and the restaurant manager and owner broke the law when they offered her a napkin to cover up, broke the law again when they asked her to go to the bathroom or to another dining room to feed her baby, and broke it one more time when they talked to her husband. Reading some online comments made my blood pressure raise.

Dear folks: it is completely irrelevant what was done in your day, what you did as a mom, what you think this mom should have done, how seeing her breastfeed made you feel, how you think you should please your other customers, etc. You know why? Because the law is clear. If a breastfed baby needs to eat, he/she can do so anywhere he/she is. Without being bothered by covers. Because… would you eat in a restroom? Do you put blankets over your heads when you have lunch? I didn’t think so. Next time you are uncomfortable around a breastfeeding mom, just look away. It’s not that hard. She is not going to breastfeed you. She is not going to make you breastfeed. She just wants for you to leave her alone and mind your own business. So do so, please. And to all you, breastfeeding mamas out there: do whatever you need to make your baby and yourself comfortable. You are the two only people that matter in this equation. And the law backs you up. As do many, many other Chicago moms.

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  1. Thank you!
    I’m that mom, from that restaurant. I’m just now seeing this post! Here it is 5y later, and reading this just brings on all the anxiety of that day, and I can’t understand how im not over it and still feeling that way. The physical vibrations of fight or flight are seeping from the scar I didn’t think is still with me. I don’t publicly share much of that time, especially that week of May in fb memories. Thank you for being supportive and using your voice to share ❤

    1. Kristal, I am so so sorry that my words may have brought you distress. If you want, I would be happy to take the post down. At the end of the day, it is your story. I am just one of the many people who got mad on your behalf. As I did again this week when I read about something very similar happening to another mom
      in a pool. For as long as moms and babies are harassed, I will keep using my words, to support, to inform, and to denounce. I am on baby number four now, and it is moms like you who make it possible for all of us to breastfeed and keep going. Thank you for your comment. I am very happy that we have connected. ❤️

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