For the last 4 weeks my children have been in swimming lessons through the YMCA. On Monday we started a new session at a different pool than the one we had previously attended. This pool has a zero-depth entry area and a small step in the pool where I can sit and watch Libby swim.
While Seth and Amelia were swimming I was sitting on the step with my rear and feet in the water, watching Libby, when Elliott needed to nurse.
Now, I would have preferred to sit in a comfy lounge chair but that would have required getting Libby out of the pool. So, since I can nurse discreetly, and my torso wasn't in the water, I decided to sit on the step and nurse him. Full disclosure - I had on a Maternity Tankini, so everything but a part of my side were covered. There was no breast showing at all. In fact, some Moms were showing more skin than I was.
I sat there watching my kids, talking to another Mom for about 5 minutes when the Swim Lesson Coordinator approached me. She informed me that I couldn't nurse in the pool. When I asked her why she said it was because it was making other people uncomfortable and children were around and could see it.
I looked at her, wondering if she really had just said that to me, and said, "So? Then it can be a teaching moment for those children. They can learn what breasts are intended for." I say this because I think there is nothing traumatic or pornographic about breasts. There were other Mothers there showing more of their breasts than I was. Again, I was showing my SIDE BELLY FAT. And while I agree my side belly fat isn't pretty, the only person it is traumatic for is me.
She also told me I was welcome to nurse on the deck of the pool or in the bathroom. I asked if she wanted to eat in the bathroom.
She then said, "Well, it is making other people uncomfortable. They didn't want to come tell you, and I can't tell you who it is to protect their privacy."
I replied, "Well, I'm sorry they are uncomfortable, but that is their issue not mine. The law states that I have the right to breastfeed anywhere I have the right to be. So, I am going to nurse my baby".
She then looked at me (I could tell she was not sure what to do since I wasn't ashamed and was not apologizing to her for doing with my breasts what nature intended) and said, "Ma'am, you need to leave the pool because it is against pool policy to have bodily fluids in the pool. If you got milk in the pool we would have to clear everyone out and decontaminate the pool."
Yes she just said that. Decontaminate the pool.
I looked at her, stifled a laugh, and said, "Then you really should ban all pregnant and nursing Mother's from the pool because milk leaks all the time."
I got up, knowing I could get more flies with honey than vinegar, took Libby by the hand and told her we had to get out of the pool so her brother could eat. She burst into tears, and my heart just broke.
I sat down, took advantage of the free WiFi at the Y and sent out this tweet:
Then, I posted the same thing on Facebook. Within minutes, I had over 40 replies in both places.
The responses were generally of this variety:
By now it was time for Amelia's swim lessons. Other Moms were sitting around me and just couldn't believe what was going on. They were appalled just like me.
After I got Amelia into her lesson, I spoke with the pool Director. She reiterated what the other employee had said about the whole bodily fluid thing. She said she didn't know of anyone complaining, it was just not clean. I said, "I can assure you my breastmilk is a lot cleaner than the pee that hundreds of kids do in this pool everyday. It is also safer than the chlorine that is in the pool." She told me she understood where I was coming from, as she has a 1 year old herself. I assured her that I would rather be in the comfy lounge chair nursing, but was watching my toddler at the same time.
After a short discussion, she said it was fine to breastfeed in the pool. She said that her employees were just following the guidelines for bodily fluids, but that it was okay. I thanked her and asked that she please be sure to inform all of the employees about this situation. She said I was the first woman ever to breastfeed in the pool at the YMCA, so they had never had this situation before.
I have been breastfeeding for 8 1/2 years. I have breastfed in many different public locations; the cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, walking through the streets of Philadelphia, on several airplanes, in airports, in Church, at the park, the Children's Museum, the mall, the grocery store...the list goes on and on and on.
|Can you even tell he is nursing?|
Every State but 3 (Nebraska, West Virginia and Idaho) have laws protecting the rights of breastfeeding Mothers. Some States have better laws than others and it is always good to know the laws where you live.
The Texas Law states:
The legislature finds that breastfeeding a baby is an important and basic act of nurture that must be encouraged in the interests of maternal and child health and family values. In compliance with the breastfeeding promotion program established under the federal Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 U.S.C. Section 1771 et seq.), the legislature recognizes breastfeeding as the best method of
A mother is entitled to breastfeed her baby in any location in which the mother
is authorized to be.
is authorized to be.
Though these laws are on the books at the state level, there is still an incredible lack of education at the local level and in many places of business.
So now I call for change. I want for there to be more than just a public outcry when a Mother is asked to stop nursing in a public place. All establishments where mothers may frequent should be educated and have policies in place to protect nursing mothers in keeping with state laws.
I want the YMCA to make a universal breastfeeding policy for all of their locations. I want them to educate their staff about the OSHA guidelines that reinforce the fact that breastmilk is not a hazardous bodily fluid.
I want a place where a Mom can go to nurse her baby when the baby is in the childcare area. Currently, all the YMCA's I know of, don't have anywhere for a Mom to nurse her baby other than in the hall or bathroom. This is surprising, especially when the focus of the YMCA is Youth Development, Healthy Living and Social Responsibility. Isn't breastfeeding part of all three of those?
If the Texas law specifically states that "breastfeeding a baby is an important and basic act of nurture and must be encouraged in the interest of maternal and child heath and family values" shouldn't employees of any establishment where breastfeeding Mothers may frequent be educated about this?
I have stopped asking why people are so uncomfortable with breastfeeding. This is an answer I will never fully receive. I know people are uncomfortable, but that is their issue, not mine.
My issue is feeding my 11 week old baby and keeping my 2 1/2 year old safe in the pool. My issue is nursing my baby and hoping that I am not going to be asked to leave.
My issue now is the anxiety I have wondering if every time I sit down to nurse someone is going to come and tell me I am making them uncomfortable.
My issue is that I didn't want to be an activist, but now it is my responsibility to speak up for those Mamas who can't and won't.
So that is what I am doing. I am writing letters to the Twin Lakes YMCA where this occurred. I am also writing a letter to the Greater Williamson County YMCA and all Austin Area YMCA's. After I have done that, I will write to the national YMCA headquarters.
If I don't speak up, who will? Honestly, I am glad this happened to me. I am the type of person who will question, know my rights, and not back down. I am the type of person who will advocate for myself, my children, and others when I know there is a need. I am glad this happened to me so that I can help.
If you want to help too, here are addresses of who you can contact. Please be kind and remember we are trying to educate not inflame. Together we can peacefully make a change for the better.
YMCA of the USA
101 N Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606
YMCA of Greater Williamson County
1812 N. Mays Street
Round Rock, TX 78664
*disclaimer - it is not Mormon Church policy to ask me to stop breastfeeding in public. It was a couple of people in my congregation who were not comfortable with it and I took the opportunity to educate them :)
I have tried to leave comments up, but civilized conversation has gone out the door. I really had hoped we could be adults about this, but apparently that is not possible. So for that reason, comments have been closed.
Tahirih wrote a fabulous sample letter. I want to share it with any of you who want to use your voice for good.
To Whom it May Concern:
As an advocate of breastfeeding and of women's rights in general, I am dismayed to hear of recent events both locally and nationally (Caldwell, Idaho and Twin Lakes, Texas, respectively) where women were asked to refrain from discreetly feeding their young infants in the pool while supervising their older children.
In both instances the employees were grossly mis- or under-informed about public health and safety regarding breast milk, both in relation to the spread of disease via breast milk and the nutritional importance of breast feeding. In the Twin Lakes situation, the employee was also uninformed about the legally protected rights of nursing mothers.
The CDC states that: "HIV and other serious infectious diseases can be transmitted through breast milk. However, the risk of infection from a single bottle of breast milk, even if the mother is HIV positive, is extremely small. For women who do not have HIV or other serious infectious diseases, there is little risk to the child who receives her breast milk." Taking into consideration that a significantly smaller amount of milk would have potential to enter the water, and that aquatics staff take great care to maintain chlorine levels in the water, it can safely be surmised that small amounts of breast milk pose no health risk to other swimmers. It should also be noted that any woman who is pregnant or nursing can still potentially leak milk into the pool and it would be absurd to ask them to refrain from enjoying the facility simply because they are lactating, so it is equally absurd to ask a mother to refrain from feeding her infant while simultaneously keeping her other children closely supervised.
As a family advocate and a member of a community enriched by a YMCA , I am also dismayed by the clear lack of support for such a vital foundation of the families you advocate for. I find it negligent of all three of "[Y]our Areas of Focus" to either actively or passively permit an environment that does not openly facilitate such a basic and important act. Breastfeeding is the first way to nurture the potential of every child. Breastfeeding is the first step to improve the nation's health and well-being. Breastfeeding is socially responsible, and breastfeeding mothers and their children deserve the utmost support from their neighbors.
Lastly, I can't help but note the irony of the Y's efforts to fight child hunger and obesity while all but ignoring the cheapest and healthiest source of nutrition for children; and also at the wellness programs in place to deal with cancer, when breastfeeding is known to offer protection to both mothers and children from several types of cancer. From the American Institute for Cancer Research: "According to Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, published by the American Institute for Cancer Research, the evidence that breastfeeding protects women against both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer is convincing. Protection against ovarian cancer is suggested as well, but that evidence is currently limited. Hormonal changes associated with lactation – those that delay the return of a new mother’s menstrual periods– reduce a woman’s lifetime hormone exposure. According to experts, this seems to be the main reason that women who breastfeed have a lower risk. The AICR report also notes that physical changes that occur in breast cells while lactating may provide some protection as well. [...] The AICR cancer prevention report notes that babies are likely to receive cancer protection from breastfeeding, too. The evidence shows that breastfeeding probably reduces the chances that a child will be overweight for at least the early years of childhood. This is an important finding as childhood overweight tends to carry over into adulthood, and increased body fat clearly increases risk of at least six different types of cancer."
If the YMCA is serious about building strong kids, strong families, and strong communities, then this first vital building block should not be overlooked, but strongly reinforced. A few small changes could make all the difference in the world. A few suggestions would be to:
-Begin with staff training on the importance of breastfeeding, and how to help protect the rights of breastfeeding mothers and their children;
-Use signs to indicate that your facilities are breastfeeding friendly (one suggestion is the International Breastfeeding Symbol found at breastfeedingsymbol.org);
-Provide discreet and comfortable areas (not restrooms or locker rooms) for nursing mothers, including in the childcare facilities;
-Offer wellness programs designed to support nursing mothers.
I truly hope that the YMCA will take steps to live up to its own standards. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.