Debate puts breast-feeding in the spotlight - East Valley Tribune: News

Debate puts breast-feeding in the spotlight

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Posted: Saturday, August 13, 2005 5:41 am | Updated: 7:46 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Four-month-old Aiden Milliron may be horrified in a few years to realize he was at the center of so much fuss about breasts.

But his mother’s insistence that she be allowed to breastfeed him in public has galvanized support among nursing mothers and could very well change state law.

By thrusting breast-feeding into the public spotlight, Aiden’s hungry tummy is causing people to examine their views about the practice and setting up an emotionally charged debate encompassing motherhood, public health, indecent exposure, private property and family values.

And it’s revealed more stories of nursing mothers being asked to leave department stores, ballfields and other public places.

"I am one of many, many moms," Amy Milliron said. "I’m just the only one who said something."

Milliron isn’t really a "lactivist," as some women are calling themselves. She never expected to be the subject of talk radio. The former fourthgrade teacher and Tempe mother of two just wanted to understand why a Chandler public pool lifeguard in June asked her to nurse Aiden in the bathroom.

So she asked the Chandler City Council, which sent the matter to its staff for further study.

"I was never exposed at all. I was completely covered. It was the fact that I was breastfeeding that bothered people," Milliron said. "I know that I have the right to breast-feed in public."

The policy directive that followed earlier this week — allowing nursing mothers to be criminally charged if they refused to cover up or leave — quickly spread from outraged constituents across the country via the Internet.

Council members were flooded with hundreds of emails and phone calls, and Councilwoman Donna Wallace put the issue on Thursday’s agenda.

The council faced a roomful of families who spoke passionately about their need to feed their children whenever and wherever they are hungry, and provided documentation about the widespread health benefits to both mother and child.

Moms rocked babies on their hips. Children fidgeted, cried and nursed, as mothers, fathers and grandparents implored the council to do away with the directive. Mark Atencio of Chandler showed photos of nursing women while he spoke.

"Look at these pictures. Someone could find these women offensive," said Atencio, father of four breast-fed children. "You have an opportunity to promote breastfeeding anytime and anywhere."

Milliron and other mothers said later they were pleased at the council’s decision to set aside the directive and form a task force to consider a city ordinance. Wallace said she plans to attend the meetings. The group is to report back by Sept. 29.

"It’s about a mother feeding her child. That’s all it’s about," Wallace said Friday. "Women do not feed their children to flash their breasts. There’s nothing sexual about it."

In addition to the sexual side of breasts, some oppose public breast-feeding because they are uncomfortable with the practice, preferring that babies be nursed in private. Mothers should be discreet, they argue.

But mothers say they are being discreet.

"If I’m nursing my child, I’m not reckless with my nipple," said Deahdra-Lynn Atencio. "My intent is to get it into their mouth as quickly as possible."

Beyond the Chandler controversy, mothers are pushing for two key changes to state law: Specifying that breastfeeding does not constitute indecent exposure under the criminal code, and making clear that women have the right to breast-feed anywhere they may legally be.

Thirty-seven states have similar laws. The country’s first breast-feeding legislation, enacted in New York in 1984, was prompted by a woman who was kicked out of a public pool when she refused to nurse her 2-month-old in the bathroom.

Indeed, most state laws and local ordinances have followed similar incidents.

"I see it more as my child’s right to be fed rather than my right to breast-feed," said Christia Bridges-Jones of Chandler, who said a clerk asked her to leave a Superstition Springs Mall department store when she was nursing her son.

Sandy Pace of Gilbert said she was asked to leave a local ballfield last month when she was nursing her baby, and has sent a letter to the Town Council in protest.

"I’m asking you to be a leader," she told the Chandler council. "And show Gilbert what can be done."

Bridges-Jones was among four women who met earlier this week with Sens. Ken Cheuvront and Tim Bee to gauge interest in breastfeeding legislation. Other legislators, including East Valley Republicans, have been contacted and are open to the idea of exempting breast-feeding as indecent exposure, but lukewarm to broader language that could be construed as regulating private business, Bridges-Jones said.

Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, said much depends on how well the women organize and how hard they lobby.

"I told the mothers it’s really up to them to show the Legislature how important of an issue this is to them," he said. "The more of them that become engaged in this issue and stand up for this right, the more likelihood you’re going to see action on this issue."

No one group is behind the Arizona breast-feeding movement. Most mothers learned about Milliron’s pool confrontation through play groups and word of mouth. La Leche League members spread the word further and eventually a mailing list server was launched under the moniker "AZlactivists."

The message board was buzzing this week as mothers shared news of the City Council’s actions and the meeting with legislators. Friday, members exchanged congratulations and giddy encouragement over the council’s turnaround and the prospect for larger victories at the Legislature.

Mothers united

What: Arizona Breastfeeding Coalition meeting

When: 8:30 a.m. Monday

Where: Maricopa County Office of Nutrition Services, 1414 W. Broadway Road, Suite 220, Tempe

Information: (602) 364-2466

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