Breastfeeding is a Human Right

by Ruth Long

Yesterday, a friend and neighbor told me that she was chastised for nursing her daughter in a DC public library.  She had placed herself in a discreet corner and covered herself and her child who was nursing, while she read a book to her older child.  The librarian then confronted this woman and told her to “cover up.”  At what point in human society did the notion of seeing a mother nursing her child become vulgar?  This is one of the most basic human rights that we are all entitled to.

According to the DC Code D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1402.81 et seq., “breastfeeding is part of the definition of discrimination on the basis of sex, to ensure a woman’s right to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where she has the right to be with her child.” (See the National Conference of State Legislatures site for more on breastfeeding laws in different states. )   Obviously the librarian did not know, understand, or care about the law protecting the women who are nursing their children. 

We have been bombarded for years about the importance of breastfeeding and how it benefits both mother and child.  (Refer to the World Health Organization’s website on breastfeeding for more information on why breastfeeding is essential, when it can be done safely, and how to create a safe and welcoming environment for the mother and child.)  Why are we still facing fear and ignorance in regard to breastfeeding?  Who is promoting the alternatives and why? 

My only hope is that enough people will speak to this librarian and/or her supervisor so that this scenario never happens again, at least in this venue.  We must stand up together to fight against discrimination and protect this basic human right.

Ruth Long, MPH, MA lives on Capitol Hill in DC with her husband and son. She is expecting her 2nd baby and is planning to breastfeed him or her on demand.

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