Here is another absurd story about mothers being asked to stop breasfeeding…
A mother who regularly volunteers at a Head Start program in Washington state was told she would no longer be able to breastfeed her 13-month toddler because it made some parents and staff uncomfortable.
There are so many things wrong with this story! Associated Content reports:
The teacher in this situation asked Knott to remove herself and her baby to one designated bathroom or the center’s conference room for breastfeeding and that only in these areas would they permit breastfeeding. She said this would apply to all breastfeeding mothers. When Knott asked, “Would you make a bottle feeding mom go to the bathroom to feed her baby?” the teacher said no.
Knott asked if this was an official Head Start policy. The teacher said that it’s to make other volunteers and staff feel comfortable and to prepare the children for public school, where breastfeeding won’t be allowed.
Before we examine how these actions contradict Head Start federal regulations, as well as Washington state’s laws on discrimination, I must address the teacher’s statements about public school.
I work at a public school. I have breastfed my babies at my school while attending meetings, teaching art, and volunteering. For eight years, I have run a school readiness preschool/playgroup in which teachers and mothers breastfeed. The whole goal of the program is school readiness. Breastfeeding in no way interferes with school readiness. It makes children feel secure, comfortable, and well-nourished all of which are necessary for school success.
The actions of this particular Head Start violates the very tenets the program is founded on to “provides education, health, and nutrition services to low-income children and their families”. Associated Content explains:
According to Head Start Regulation § 1304.40 (c)(3): “Grantee and delegate agencies must provide information on the benefits of breast feeding to all pregnant and nursing mothers. For those who choose to breast feed in center-based programs, arrangements must be provided as necessary.”
Furthermore, this breastfeeding mother’s rights under Washington law were violated.
According to the Washington State Human Rights Commission and the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington’s Guide to Breastfeeding and Washington State Nondiscrimination Laws (pdf): Under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, RCW 49.60, mothers can legally breastfeed their babies at a time, place, and manner of their choosing while in a place of public accommodation, which includes government buildings such as schools. Breastfeeding mothers do not have to go to a special area and they do not have to cover up.
Even though the Head Start regional supervisor is backing the local program’s request, I hope the state and federal representative will become involved. If there is any place where it is most appropriate that breastfeeding should be promoted and encouraged, it is an early childhood educational program.