Wednesday, May 19, 2010

School Board Consensus: A Principal Can Authorize Where a Woman Can and Can Not Breastfeed.

I wanted to give everyone an update on the school board meeting yesterday and to respond to a few comments. First, I would like to thank all the mothers and fathers who supported me. I really appreciate the mothers and babies who came to the meeting to offer their support. I thank those who spoke on my behalf. I also thank those who were there supporting us in spirit.

We were able to address the school board and finally get a response from them. Here is a copy of what I read to the school board:

Thank you for allowing me to speak to you today. My name is Melissa Taylor and you’re probably aware of my story already, but I was asked not to breastfeed in the lobby of Bellamy Elementary school. Contrary to what Mr. Hegarty said, I was not merely offered a private place for my comfort. I was called into the principal’s office and told by Ms. Rattray that it was not appropriate for me to nurse my daughter in the school’s lobby. I reminded Ms. Rattray that Florida law protects my right to breastfeed in any location public or private, but she said that it didn’t matter because it was not appropriate.

I was upset by this encounter and contacted Lisa Yost, the area director, for help with this matter. Ms. Yost told me that she spoke to the school’s attorney and that Ms. Rattray could restrict where I was able to breastfeed.

The Florida law I mentioned was enacted to encourage breastfeeding and to authorize breastfeeding in public. Part of the preamble states:

WHEREAS, the promotion of family values and infant health demand putting an end to the vicious cycle of embarrassment and ignorance that constricts women and men alike on the subject of breastfeeding and represents hostility to mothers and babies in our culture based on archaic and outdated moral taboo, and
WHEREAS, any genuine promotion of family values should encourage public acceptance of this most basic act of nurture between mother and baby, and no mother should be made to feel incriminated or socially ostracized for breastfeeding her baby,

And then the law states: A mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.

I feel that what happened to me is exactly what the law was trying to prevent. My goal here today is to prevent another mother from being asked not to breastfeed.

Mr. Hegarty said that the school board does not think that breastfeeding is inappropriate. I feel that right now you have an amazing opportunity to prove that. I am asking for Hillsborough County Schools to adopt an official policy that mothers may breastfeed on school property without interference. And by “without interference” I mean that they aren’t asked to cover up or go in a private location. I feel this is a policy the school board could be proud of. Breastfeeding is important for the health of mothers and babies, and having such a policy would show that the school board wants to protect breastfeeding for its employees, for parents of students, and even for young mothers who are students of Hillsborough County schools. Thank you for your time.

There were some mothers and teachers from Bellamy who turned out to speak who were in agreement with the principal. Ultimately, the school board suggested that we get together and work it out on our own, but was in agreement that the principal could authorize where a mother breastfeeds and said they had no plans to adopt a policy on breastfeeding in schools. I was disappointed by the school board’s response, but I was not surprised. Even though this was not the outcome we hoped for, I think speaking out and bringing this issue to the public’s attention can be a small step towards normalizing breastfeeding. Speaking out also served to make people aware of the breastfeeding law.

A few of the women from Bellamy spoke about how non-discreet I was. I don’t know what I looked like when I was nursing, but it is never my intention to expose myself to others. I nurse as discreetly as Addison allows me to, and I feel a quietly nursing child is much less disruptive that one who is crying because she’s hurt or upset, or is mad because she wants to nurse and is being denied something she has always had ready access to.

Another woman from Bellamy said she teaches Health and there is nothing in the curriculum about breastfeeding. She said this as if to say, “it’s not in the curriculum, it’s clear this is something we shouldn’t be talking about in school.” She did not seem to realize that breastfeeding being absent from the curriculum is part of the problem.

It’s clear from the responses from Bellamy that they all equate breastfeeding to a sexual act. One mother said that if her daughter saw someone breastfeeding, she would want to be the one there to explain what was happening. But I’m wondering, what’s to explain? It’s breastfeeding, the mother is feeding her baby, it’s that simple. The fact that they feel it’s something that should be talked about at home suggests it is something dirty or sexual. Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s both have showed breastfeeding mothers on one or more episode, obviously the producers of these shows did not feel it was something that should only be discussed in private. Why do people react so strongly to breastfeeding but not to bottle-feeding?

The school’s attorney said that rights are subject to restrictions. He gave the example first that the first amendment protects freedom of speech but we can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. He then gave the example that I can’t breastfeed in a crosswalk. I’d certainly disagree here. I can nurse my child while walking, and I could nurse and walk through a cross walk. I certainly couldn’t pull up a chair in the middle of the cross walk and nurse my child, but I couldn’t pull up a chair in the middle of a cross walk anyway. This bad analogy among other things has left me to conclude the school’s attorney knows nothing about breastfeeding.

So why did I do this? Why did I press this issue? Some people have been asking me this… Contrary to what some have suggested, I am not doing this for fame or fortune. It’s been a stressful journey and I would much prefer it never happened to me in the first place. I’m not trying to detract from Bellamy’s school spirit; I think it’s great that families and staff are proud of their school and I’m sure the school has many good things to offer its students. We have been nothing but thrilled with Lily’s speech therapist. I also have no ill wishes towards Ms. Rattray; a reporter asked if I wanted her fired or wanted disciplinary action against her, I have absolutely no wish for either of these things. They never even crossed my mind.

I teach breastfeeding and we talk about nursing in public in my class. I read the law and tell students that it’s very unlikely that anyone will ever ask them not to breastfeed, but if they do, just show them a copy of the law. I can’t ask my students to speak up and protect their rights to breastfeed if I’m not willing to do so myself. I don’t want another woman to be asked not to breastfeed at a Hillsborough County school. I don’t want my daughters or my future daughter-in-law to be asked not to breastfeed. That is why I am speaking up about this.

There has also been a lot of negativity surrounding the age of my daughter. Yes, she is 2-years old and we are still nursing. I nurse her because it’s excellent nutrition. The nutrients in human milk absorb very easily so I know she’s getting good supplemental nutrients to the solid foods she is eating. I nurse because it provides her with medicine. If we’re exposed to a cold, my body starts making immunities to that specific cold. Those immunities pass directly to her through my milk so she is less likely to get sick and if she does get sick, she’s more likely to get better sooner. I nurse because it’s a source of comfort. If she’s hurt, like when she cut her forehead and needed stitches, or cranky, like when she’s overdue for a nap, nursing immediately calms her down. (Nursing also proved to be quite useful when Addison got a popcorn kernel stuck up her nose. She was able to nurse and remain calm during the extraction process.)

Here are a couple great articles on nursing a toddler:

An article from Dr. Sears - here is a quote from the article on nursing a two-year old: “Science is on your side. I have read many medical journals with articles proving the long-term health benefits of breastfeeding. The incidence of many illnesses, both childhood and adult, are lowered by breastfeeding -- diabetes, heart disease, and central nervous system degenerative disorders (such as multiple sclerosis) to name a few. The most fascinating studies show that the longer and more frequently a mom nurses her baby, the smarter her child is likely to become. "

An aritlce from Dr. Jack Newan - here is quote from this article: “It is said that breastmilk has no value after six months. Perhaps this is said, but it is patently wrong. That anyone (including paediatricians) can say such a thing only shows how ill-informed so many people in our society are about breastfeeding. Breastmilk is, after all, milk. Even after six months, it still contains protein, fat, and other nutritionally important and appropriate elements which babies and children need. Breastmilk still contains immunologic factors that help protect the child even if he is 2 or older. In fact, some immune factors in breastmilk that protect the baby against infection are present in greater amounts in the second year of life than in the first.”

Again, I really want to thank everyone for all the positive support I have received. This has been a stressful process and I can’t express how much all the support means to me.


  1. Thank you for going through the whole ordeal for all the rest of us. I saw the video and thought you spoke very well. I particularly love this post in which you make clear your motives and agenda, which are so worthwhile.

    I think you're right that this exposure is just one more step towards normalizing nursing, and not a loss for us at all!

  2. Melissa,
    I applaud your courage to make breastfeeding normal and to encourage a policy to protect future nursing moms in public schools. What a feat to undertake in a bottle-feeding culture!
    Michelle :)

  3. I'm sorry you had to go through all of this. Maybe you can stage a nurse-in? They tend to work pretty well:)

  4. Great post Melissa. Im so sorry this has happened to you, but you have done a great job of advocating for us moms that want to not feel uncomfortable breastfeeding our children in public.

  5. Well said. I am so proud of you for not backing down. You are doing a great service to all women and all babies.


  6. Thanks for taking a stand on breastfeeding in public! You're doing an amazing job raising 4 great kids! I am also a mom, and I breastfeed my 2 and 3 year old. Breastfeeding feels right for us!

  7. I'm sorry I couldn't be there yesterday, I think you're doing the right thing. You are 100% right. I got a response from SDHC's attorney, and they seem to have an incorrect interpretation of the law. I would hate to see the School Board wasting precious tax dollars that could be spent on my kid's education on lousy legal advice. To me, this posture is a gaping legal exposure. Why don't they see it and rectify it?? The line for me is: If bottle-feeding was appropriate, then breastfeeding is too. Americans have a very prudish mindset on this issue.

    Watching the Fox clip, I was impressed how you carried yourself before the board, and even more so when the anchor began his ridiculous questioning. I'd have shot my mouth off. :) You did well!
    --Christine in Riverview

  8. I am so sorry you had to go through this! I did write a letter to the board and when I got their BS letter back I wrote another one to them. I am SO sorry that I am not closer to you so that I could visit the school myself and nurse there! I would VERY much like to help you fight the fight!! Good luck love! I wish you only the best in this fight!

  9. I think you are courageous to stand up and speak up for what you believe in. I also think what you had to say at the School Board meeting was well written and demonstrates your desire to educate the uneducated. Bravo! You may not have achieved the result you were looking for, but at least you got people talking about the subject.

    I still nurse my nearly 2-year-old daughter and have no plans of deciding for her when to stop. We are taking a child-led weaning approach. I can only hope she sees a nursing mom one day and wants to act it out with her baby doll. :)

  10. Melissa,
    You are a fantastic advocate. I think you are just the right person to have taken this to the media and beyond. The way you just summed everything up and responded to critical comments was so well articulated without the emotion and jabs that others resort to in order to get their point across. I am sure you have made a difference. Thank you.

  11. Thank you for standing up for babies, toddlers and moms everywhere in their right to nurse. I wish I could have been there to support you. I will continue to nurse in public not only for my and my childs convenience but also to help the public see nursing as much as possible so it becomes more and more the norm. My breastfed kids think that all kids are nursed and that bottlefed babies are all drinking random bottles of pumped milk!

  12. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I think a peaceful nurse-in would be a good idea. Perhaps at the school board building or a grassy area near the school? Let your readers know, so we can travel.

  13. I have been following your story. I wrote a letter to the school board and never heard back from them (I would have attended the meeting, but I am in AZ). I am sorry that we did not get the response from them that we were all hoping for, but I too am not surprised. Thank you so much for your courage! This sets a great example! Thank you for not failing to do the right thing!

  14. I live in Missouri where we have a similar law. I work at a public library, and had an opportunity to educate a gentleman who wanted me to ask a mother to stop nursing. He didn't know I'd nursed my own kids through toddlerhood, of course. I showed him the law, marked it on our stats as a reference question and allowed the mother and child to continue unbothered.
    Good for you for taking a stand for the needs of families.

  15. Could someone please post contact info for the Bellamy school district. Folks need to politely but firmly let them know that they are unarguably incorrect.

  16. You fully have my support. I'm sorry that you are going through this and I hate how the school administration has treated you. I admire your strength and courage to speak out for other moms who may not be as confident as you are.

  17. While I think it is great to be able to breastfeed in public and even better that a law protects it I have to ask if this is a battle for rights or just for the sake of a battle? There are varying degrees of what people find appropriate and while I think it is ludicrous to consider breastfeeding a sexual act to be shunned, I do think there is a call for all humanity to be polite to eachother. Of someone were bothered by something I felt comfortable with (and/or had a legal right to do) I would still consider modifying my behavior out of courtesy, especially if the person asking was politely making the request. Just a thought on how we all may live politely and peacefully.

  18. Thanks for the updates Mel! It sounds as if the school board is not taking a stand at all. Anyway, the law is on your side and you don't need their permission, though it would have been nice for them to acknowledge they made a mistake and give you their blessing. I would continue to breastfeed in the lobby though, Mel, there is nothing they can do about it but give you dirty looks. And as many people who are against it there is an increasing number of people for it. It's the adults who need explaining, children are very accepting and usually don't even notice what you are doing. And if they do ask, they understand right away, don't judge, don't stare, and carry on as they were.

    Saw your story clip for the upcoming abc nightly news while I was watching Lost between commercials, LOL. Your story is certainly being heard and if anything, at least people are now aware of the law - whether they accept it or not.

    ~Mel Sharma

  19. Personally I think its great that you have chosen not only to breastfeed but to stand up for what you believe in. Reading what you have to say under the assumption that the child is an infant is one thing, but KNOWING that your child is 2 is a different story.

    Studies have shown no significant advantage to breastfeeding for that long.

    Also I've never understood the thing that propels a woman to chase around a child who can walk and talk, to have them feed. I understand there's good stuff in breast milk... But doing it at a school is just being an exhibitionist. Could you not have waited until you got into the confines of a bathroom or your home? Its really creepy to see a woman with a toddler attached to her breast. Plus you were around young children who had quite possibly not seen that and it could have damaged them emotionally or mentally.

    I understand you have your rights to breastfeed where you want, but after a certain point it needs to not be so blatantly in everyone's face. Maybe use a pump and give the child a bottle. They still get the same nutritional advantages without creeping out the general public.

  20. It seems the people from the school are having a hard time understanding the phrases "in ANY LOCATION" and "OTHERWISE AUTHORIZED TO BE."
    You were completely 100% authorized to be exactly where you were in the lobby. Exactly in that chair in that exact spot in the lobby. That is the location where you were authorized to be. For them to ask you to leave that location solely because of breastfeeding is clearly a violation of the state law. I cannot see how it could be any more clear! The law was made specifically to protect mothers and children from being discriminated against by people who mistakenly think that breastfeeding is "inappropriate" in certain locations.

    and to "Anonymous" from May 20, 12:30 PM: What if you were African American and a restaurant manager asked you (very politely!) to please stop holding hands with your Caucasian spouse across the table because seeing interracial couples may make some of their other patrons very uncomfortable? Of course YOU feel comfortable holding hands with your different-race spouse, and of course you have a legal right to, and of course most people do not find hand-holding to be offensive; however people do have different degrees of what they find appropriate and some are bothered by the interracial hand-holding, hence the manager's request that you modify your behavior so that the other customers can feel comfortable. And he did ask politely. So, in this situation, would you then modify your behavior in the interest of living politely and peacefully?
    If you were offended by the request and did not comply, would you feel you were standing up for your rights (and the rights of any other interracial couples who may go to that place), or would you just be trying to get attention and cause trouble?
    I hope this will be food for thought for you.

  21. You have my support! The principle and the teacher in the Health field along with the other moms who disagree with you are totally wrong. I hope that one day the law can intervene so that we have less troublmakers like the principal and those other people. She is a sad invidual who knows nothing about true love for a child and that is what breastfeeding is all about, it is an intimate love bond between mother and infant, that NO ONE, NO ONE EVEN THE LAW, PRINCIPAL OR OTHER WOMEN WHO TOOK HER SIDE CAN TAKE AWAY!! These students need to know about this so they can have the freedom to choose what they want and not what anyone else wants yet still be able to follow the rules. Breastfeeding still rules!! So to the principal and the other women, I feel sorry for you! You don't know what loving a child really is all about and that is why we have people like you today doing what you do to cause trouble for this woman here who was only trying to nurse her sweet toddler. I can only pray for you all! I just pray I never meet such people who are disrespectful towards breastfeeing!!

  22. "This bad analogy among other things has left me to conclude the school’s attorney knows nothing about breastfeeding." It sounds like he knows nothing about argumentation as well.

    Not only are our courageous but you had the patience of Job with that newsanchor the other night. Good luck with your efforts. I'm sending lots of support from Missouri!


  23. Melissa,
    I so applaud you and the stand you have taken to benefit so many.
    I happened to see your live interview with John Wilson on Fox 13 and you spoke so well - very appropriatly with the FACTS. His view was so wrong!
    Good for you and good for mothers and babies. I hope you are finding rest and peace . . .

  24. In response to Jen Petrus...

    I completely understand your point, which is why I said I would only *consider* modifying my behavior. When it is all said and done it is a two way street on what we all find appropriate balanced with tolerance for others who may have a different opinion of "appropriate". It seems that much polarization arises from the combination of those that feel that an injustice has occurred if anything or anybody offends them (such as those offended by handholding or breast feeding) and those that flaunt their rights, not in an effort to carry out their lives in the way they please, which is truly what the law is intended to protect, but instead do so in an effort to create strife. I believe both are selfish and/or narcissistic. I would have to say that it comes down to motivation and intent, which unfortunately is difficult to quantify or put a law around.

    I'm not sure what the case is here, but I think we can all be more careful in checking our own intentions. If your intentions are solely to live out your life in a humble and honest way... if it is the only convenient time, way and place to breast feed... then by all means, let people deal with their own discomfort-- something I think we all can get better at in this PC era. (As a side note, it is difficult to know someone is uncomfortable or displeased with our behavior as well, but a law is not going to change their opinion.) But if there is another time, place, or way, that may be slightly less convenient but could be a way to act as a humble servant to others, I think that is the route we should all strive for. I think if we are honest with ourselves we will be able to recognize which case we are in with each situation we face.

  25. Luckily for me, my sons' nursery school has breastfeeding mums in on a regular basis as part of their development and growth learning. My son knows what breasts are for, and thinks bottles are strange. More of this please!

  26. Melissa, I am on your side! I was a nursing Mommy for almost 6 years. Tandem nursed for almost 2 yrs. Nursing my 15 to 24 month old during pregnancy in public always drew some odd looks and a few curious comments. Thank goodness I was never asked to NOT breastfeed in public.
    Thank you for starting this blog. I will be a loyal follower.

  27. I'm sorry the meeting didn't result in a better outcome. I think you are in the right here - keep up the good work, and keep up nursing your little one!!

  28. What I would love to see is a breastfeeding mom in that school lobby everyday, politely saying "no thank you" to the request to move until this comes to the only reasonable solution!

    Thank you so much for taking this on...from a Canadian mom it makes all the difference to me to hear of the strength of moms like you (currently breastfeeding a 1 and 3.5 yr old!)