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The Right to Breastfeed Bill

Mary Hurt
LLLI Public Relations Associate
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 5, October-November 2004, p. 114.

La Leche League International staff members and their families not only celebrated World Breastfeeding Week this year, but also the passage of a new Illinois law that reaffirms the right of women in Illinois to breastfeed their babies in public. Along with two state legislators and other breastfeeding families, Kasey Madden and her family were among the special guests who attended this celebration.

Kasey Madden didn’t realize it at the time, but her desire to spend 20 minutes on the treadmill at a local health club would set her on a course that would help breastfeeding mothers everywhere in Illinois. Kasey dropped her five-month-old and two-year-old children off at the child care section of the club and went to the workout room. Within a few minutes she was paged because her baby had become fussy and was hungry. She went to the child care area, sat on the floor, and begun nursing. A short time later, a manager came over and asked her to stop breastfeeding since it might seem offensive to others. She was directed to nurse her baby in an area of the club where her older child was not allowed.

The irony of being asked to leave an area of a health club where she was discreetly breastfeeding her child did not escape Kasey, but it was the anger at the incident, she says, that motivated her to take action. Kasey said that as soon as she got home, the first thing she did was call La Leche League International.

After speaking with the LLLI staff in Schaumburg, Illinois, USA, she felt reassured that she was doing the best for her baby by breastfeeding. She was also told that mothers in the US have a right to breastfeed their babies any place the mother and baby have a right to be. However, not every state has legislation that reaffirms this right. In Illinois, there was no legal recourse for a mother who was asked to stop breastfeeding her baby. Kasey was directed to the LLLI Web site, which has comprehensive information about breastfeeding and legislation in the US.

A stay-at-home mother, Kasey said that the Web site information made it easy for her to research on the computer in her recreation room while her children played nearby.

She compared the states that had legislation reaffirming the right of a mother to breastfeed in public with the states in which the health club had offices. When she wrote to the national headquarters of the health club, she pointed out the states in which they were in violation of the law by restricting a woman’s right to breastfeed. The health club did eventually change its policies, but even before that was done, Kasey was determined to help other breastfeeding mothers.

Kasey decided to pursue legislation in Illinois. Unfortunately, Kasey’s state senator was not willing to sponsor such legislation. Before her husband returned from work that day, Kasey had written a number of state senators asking them to sponsor a right to breastfeed bill. The very next day she heard from state Senator Don Harmon, whose wife was breastfeeding a new baby. Senator Harmon introduced the Illinois Right to Breastfeed Bill, which passed both houses almost unanimously and was just recently signed by the governor of Illinois.

Senator Harmon found a natural ally in Illinois Representative Paul Froehlich, who just happens to be the son of LLLI Founder, Edwina Froehlich. After Representative Froehlich heard about the bill, he contacted Senator Harmon and told him he would do all he could to help get the bill passed. State Representative Froehlich is now researching other areas of Illinois law and how they impact breastfeeding mothers.

When asked how she felt about her son’s role in passing this important bill, Edwina said that she was proud, but added that she would have been crushed if her son hadn’t enthusiastically supported the breastfeeding bill.

The LLLI office in Schaumburg averages one call a week from a mother in the US who has been asked to stop breastfeeding her child in public. Other areas of legislation that sometimes involve breastfeeding include jury duty, breastfeeding in the workplace, and breastfeeding in custody situations.

Leaven is planning a full length article on breastfeeding legislation in the future. We are especially interested in hearing about breastfeeding legislation in other countries. Please send information, stories, and ideas to Carole Wrede at EditorLV at llli.org (email).

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