Thursday, December 31, 2009

Breastfeeding in public? Target says no, then backtracks

Mother of three Mary Martinez was ousted from a Target store in Michigan earlier this month, after she began breastfeeding her hungry 4-week-old daughter in the electronics section.

Though there were few other shoppers in the area, Target security approached Martinez and her husband, Jose, and told them to leave. "He said, 'It's against the law. You have to go,'" Jose Martinez told Fox News.

The police were called, and even after an officer admitted that breastfeeding in public was not, in fact, against the law, the family was escorted out of the store.

I'm not sure whether this smacks of ignorance or is indicative of a cultural issue. So threw it out to my readers at's Child Caring blog, and now I'm throwing it out to you: Do you think this happened because of our society considers breasts to be sexual objects? Or were the security guards just ignorant about the rights of a woman to breastfeed in public?

In an interview with Amy Gates at Crunchy Domestic Goddess, Mary Martinez insisted that she had been discreet and wasn't exposing herself in the store. "She’s my 3rd child and I breastfed the other 2 until they were 2, I know how to be discreet," she said. "If you can watch the news clip [which is here], I was nursing then and I imagine that’s as much skin as I showed in the store…none."

Martinez and her husband were certain that they weren't breaking any laws because Jose Martinez happens to be a Detroit police officer. Still, he says, he asked the local police who came to the scene, just to be sure. "I asked one of them if it was indeed illegal maybe in Harper Woods to breast-feed. He said, 'No.' And that was it. We got our stuff together and we left," he told Fox News.

"Forcing me out of the store. Two security guards, the manager or team leader, two officers, they just made a spectacle and a scene. I feel like I can't go to that specific Target anymore," Mary Martinez told the news station.

The store insists that the incident became a safety issue. "This specific situation escalated to a point where we were concerned for the safety of our guests, so law enforcement was called," the store management said in a statement. "We regret the incident in our store and will continue to provide a shopping environment that respects the needs of all guests, including nursing mothers."

I think that Kate Harding at Salon put it best when she asked: "Are you kidding me? How on earth does feeding a baby "escalate" to a safety issue for other customers?"

Some of the comments on my post at are pretty enlightening. Among the overwhelmingly supportive comments were several that that condemned the mom for breastfeeding at all, and many that suggested she was to blame for being indiscreet. Why the electronics department, several wondered. Why not find a fitting room, or go to the car?

For the record, breastfeeding in public is legal throughout the US. Forty-three states have laws on the books specifically protecting the practice, and 28 states have laws that specifically except breastfeeding from public indecency laws (you can find details at the National Conference of State Legislatures website).

The fact that we need laws about it at all, though, speaks to a larger problem. In other countries, breastfeeding is expected, even encouraged. Here, though? It's OK to wear a barely-there bikini on a crowded beach, but women are told to hide in a public restroom to feed their child?

Parents, please weigh in: How do you feel about breastfeeding in public? Moms, in particular: Did you or didn't you, and why?


Márcia said...

My son is 16-mo and I'm still breastfeed him against all culture and society disapproval. Even his ex-pediatrician (which explain the ex)is not supportive as I would like she was. However, in order to avoid public scene like Martinez mom was targeted, I try to be as much discrete as I can. Like you said, you can use a bikini in the beach, but have to be over-concerned about feed your baby in public. Weird world.

Anonymous said...

In actualty, the law says nothing about discrete! The latter is like sitting in the front of the bus with tape over your mouth. I personally think 'discrete is weakening the cause. Like it is something nasty that has to be hidden. I encourage my daughter to open up a little. So in very nice clothes, in nice restaurants, no one dares bother her. Don't look weak !

Anonymous said...

I am a grandmother now, but I did breast feed 2 of my children for several weeks. Back then it was not too common but I never had any problems. I would carry a blanket and just drape it over my shoulder and chest area. My daughter breast feed her youngest for 18 months. Sometimes the toddler would make a big fuss and try to pull on her shirt in public. Most people never cared or noticed.