Seattle City Council considers public breastfeeding ordinance

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on April 4, 2012 at 6:34 AM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 4 at 5:22 PM

SEATTLE -- Is it okay to breastfeed in public? The City of Seattle is considering new legislation to protect nursing moms, making it an act of discrimination to ask a woman to move or leave a location if they're breast feeding.

City council member Bruce Harrell says the law could help eliminate stigma, and encourage minority moms, who statistically breastfeed less.

"If we change cultural norms, that people realize it's important to have a healthy Seattle, that people will breastfeed in public areas, it begins the conversation as to why."

As Harrell points out, the health benefits for baby and mom are irrefutable. And many moms can attest to the difficulties of doing what's best for their babies in a world that's not always so accepting.

"Who wants to feed their child in a bathroom stall?" asked Leticia Brooks, a nursing mom. "Would you want to bring your lunch to a bathroom stall?"

The city's Office of Women’s Rights reports many complaints from nursing mothers about discrimination in the workplace, stores, restaurants and public areas.

Under the proposal, it would be against the law to tell a mother to cover-up, move or leave an establishment when she's breastfeeding in public.

If a woman believes she's been discriminated against, she could file a claim with the city's Office of Civil Rights, which would investigate the claim. A person found guilty would have to pay a fine or take a class.

Supporters hope if passed, the law changes the stigma associated with breastfeeding in public and gives mothers some kind of recourse.

"I would rather nurse in my car, not in public establishment just 'cause I didn't want to deal with onlookers. I've had friends say that were asked to leave establishments. I personally felt I had to justify breastfeeding in public," said Leanne Brock, a mom who's now a breastfeeding peer counselor for King and Snohomish counties.

But not everyone supports the proposed ordinance.

"I think it's a private issue and I think a parent should probably do it in a private location," said Larry Ogg. "I think the city council has better things to worry about."

John Schmidt, co-owner of the Neighborhood grill says women sometimes breast feed in his restaurant and he's fine with it. But what if it bothers his patrons? Would he want a city law to protect it?

"I support a women's right to breast feed her child," says Schmidt. "I have a problem with the city legislating how I run my business. We want to make a decision for my entire client base, not just one category."

There is already a state law offering nursing moms this protection but the city says with budget cuts, complaints made a the state level are not always pursued.

The council is expected to vote on the ordinance next Monday, April 9.

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