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on the subject of breastfeeding and represents hostility to mothers and babies in our culture based on archaic and outdated moral taboo, and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.