Rep. Tami Green
Even though Washington passed a law in 2009 guaranteeing a mother's right to breastfeed in public - declaring breastfeeding as a civil right protected by the state's anti-discrimination law - that doesn't mean it's always easy for moms to feed their children the way nature intended. Some folks (Enumclaw's Kasey Kahne, for instance) still find public breastfeeding gives them the willies -and occasionally they'll get so disturbed they ask moms to cover up or move when faced with the sight.
Rep. Tami Green
The Seattle City Council is scheduled to vote this afternoon on a measure that would make it illegal for anyone to ask or require a breastfeeding mother to move or cover up. To provide teeth, the measure would give moms the right to file a complaint with Seattle's Office of Civil Rights should they get any gruff when breastfeeding in public. A person found guilty would face the possibility of a fine or being forced to take a class.
(UPDATE: The Seattle Times reports the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to approve the measure today.)
The fact that breastfeeding is protected in Washington as a civil right, yet the Seattle City Council still feels compelled to take action, seems to indicate it's a necessary step.
Last week the council took testimony from mothers who attempted to drive this point home.
As MyNorthwest.com reported last week:
At a hearing on Wednesday, one mother spoke of the embarrassment that came after some suggested she feed her baby in a bathroom stall. "Would you bring your lunch to a bathroom stall?" the mother asked the council.
Mothers said that sometimes, suggestions from people to move other places can be so upsetting that it can effect the emotional component of breastfeeding. "It can make it so you don't have milk to give to your baby," a mother testified.
Yet another mother suggested that instead of requesting breastfeeding mothers to move somewhere seemingly more private, they should be congratulating that mother for making a 'healthy choice.'
Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, championed 2009's House Bill 1596, which made breastfeeding a civil right in our state. A registered nurse with experience working at Good Samaritan Behavioral Healthcare in Puyallup, Western State Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital, Greene says she support Seattle's proposed measure, but can't help being a little frustrated by the apparent need for it.
"It kind of makes me cranky, because I think that was the legislative intent [of House Bill 1596] the whole time - that you wouldn't ask people to move or cover. That was the whole idea," says Green." I'm glad they're doing it, but it does give me pause, to kind of wonder when we'll be able to put this issue to bed, so to speak."
"I'm very supportive of doing it," says Green of Seattle's pending measure, "it's just very frustrating that we would even have to do it."
Green says while House Bill 1596 may not have solved all of the state's issues with breastfeeding (as illustrated by today's Seattle City Council vote), it has been a step in the right direction, and one that has furthered the conversation.
"It's been a real catalyst, especially for having that conversation about workplaces, and having somewhere private to be able to pump," says Green, identifying creating and supporting breastfeeding options at work as the next step in the process.
"I really think we do need to address the workplace situation. Some employers are just not helpful with pumping, or having a quiet, private place for folks to breastfeed or pump," says Green.
"I would love to see us move forward there. The problem has been we've been so consumed with the budget and this economic downturn that we really haven't been able to move forward in some of those areas," Green continues. "But that would be, I think, the next step, is to make sure there's protection in the workplace for women and that there's an ability to support the choice to breastfeed."