Several nursing moms staged a protest at a Beverly Hills area Anthropologie store on Wednesday after a shopper says a store manager asked her to breastfeed her child in the bathroom. In the latest installment of what’s becoming a growing movement of so-called “nurse-ins,” several mothers gathered at the store to feed their babies at once, hoping to send a public message that businesses shouldn’t stop women from nursing.
Ingrid Wiese-Hesson told local outlets that she was asked to finish feeding her six-week-old in the clothing store’s bathroom, which didn’t have anywhere to sit except for the toilet. She said she felt uncomfortable and judged. “When I sat down in the car, I thought, ‘Is this what it means to be a mom?'” Wiese-Hesson told ABC7.
California is one of 46 states that protects women’s right to breastfeed in public. Even in places where it’s legal, however, women are often asked to cover up or step inside a bathroom while they’re nursing. “I would never eat a meal in a bathroom, and I would never force a child to,” one of protesters who attended Wedsnesday’s nurse-in pointed out.
The Anthropologie incident came at an inopportune time for the high-end retailer, which largely caters to women. August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, intended to highlight the numerous health benefits of breastfeeding children during the first year of their life. Government agencies have been attempting to boost rates of breastfeeding, particularly among low-income and non-white women, and the national rate of women who choose to nurse has been on the rise. Nonetheless, women still come up against the societal assumption that it’s not appropriate to feed their children in public.
“Nurse-ins” have become a popular method of pushing back. Just a few days ago, dozens of Oregon moms staged this type of protest at a restaurant where a breastfeeding woman was asked to cover herself up. Earlier this month, a group of mothers in Oklahoma made a statement by breastfeeding together in a public park. A mother who was was asked by a middle school principal to more “discretely” feed her baby in the cafeteria responded by staging a nurse-in the next week. There was a nurse-in at an American Airlines terminal last year and in Target stores across the country three years ago. Women in Detroit organized something similar in 2011 after a nursing mother was kicked off a bus.
This fight has even been taken to the internet, where Facebook and Instagram have repeatedly flagged images of nursing mothers as “graphic” or “obscene” and removed them from their sites. That’s spurred women to create online groups to share photos of breastfeeding more widely.
Protesters across states all have the same message: Women shouldn’t be ashamed of taking care of their children, and breastfeeding should be normalized as something that isn’t considered to be inappropriate or sexual.
Obamacare took some steps forward in this area by requiring all U.S. employers to provide their workers with “reasonable break time” to pump breast milk. Under the law, women must have access to a private and sanitary space for that activity. Advocates praised health reform for “bringing breastfeeding out of the bathroom.”
Wiese-Hesson says she received a personal apology from Anthropologie about the incident. The store also posted a response on Facebook addressing the issue. “As a company comprised of hundreds of mothers, which seeks to put the customer first, we celebrate women in all of their life stages,” the statement reads. “Given our staff’s dedication to providing exceptional customer service, we welcome this as an opportunity to enhance our customer experience by providing further training and education for our staff.”