Breastfeeding and the Law in New York – Another News Report that Misses the Point

Last year Julia Acevedo-Taylor claimed she was rudely asked to leave a Manhattan chocolate shop because she was breastfeeding her five month old. Last month, she filed a lawsuit against the shop. I’ll be following that case – the first suit filed under the 1994 New York State public breastfeeding law – but watching a recent news report on the case I am struck most by the lack of discussion of the law.

Instead, there is a painful debate between a purported etiquette expert and a La Leche League Leader. Neither is talking about the law: what a woman is legally allowed to do. The debate is what she should do, followed up by a poll about whether women should be allowed to breastfeed in public. So did I miss something? Is the New York State legislature considering a bill to rescind current civil rights law that states a right to breastfeed in public? If not, why are these people having this discussion? If Julia Acevedo-Taylor has a legal right to breastfeed in public accommodations in New York State (which she does), why is there a “news” story about whether she should?

What other civil rights are people asked to forego to make restaurant patrons more comfortable? If Acevedo-Taylor were a man, would there be public debate about whether exercising her civil right is rude?

So have a look at this “news” story and tell me what you think. The beginning is a report on the original incident. It will probably make you really really angry. The owner denies Acevedo-Taylor was kicked out but said women could not breastfeed in his establishment without being “discreet” and covering up.

But then comes the “what should she do” discussion. The Countess of Etiquette thinks it is impolite to make people uncomfortable by feeding your baby with your breasts in public. And, by the way, her 13 year old son is very upset seeing breasts. Hmm. The La Leche League Leader is trying to avoid the question by saying breastfeeding isn’t actually disruptive. Nice try but not the reason she was there. Were I interviewed on this question (and I have been many times, even by Fox News), I would insist on discussing the real issue. When you have a legal right, you can exercise it regardless of whether it makes people uncomfortable. What you should do is whatever legal act you feel comfortable doing. Those made uncomfortable by seeing breastfeeding are free to retreat to private space.

Please let me know what you think about how this news story is presented? Should we even be talking about nursing “discreetly”?


  • Elita @ Blacktating
    Twitter: blacktating
    September 13, 2010 I KNEW I shouldn’t have watched that, but I did. First of all, the fact that Luanne DeLesepps was the “etiquette” expert is just a joke. Anyone who has seen her behavior on the Real Housewives of NYC knows that she had some of the worst manners of anyone on the show. I guffawed out loud when she said her 13-year-old son gets “very upset” when he sees breasts. Yeah, OK, Luanne. And what was that crap about taking “one on one” time for your baby? You’re out in public, why would you want to retreat somewhere private, away from your partner, friends, other children for 20-40 minutes when you can just feed your baby at the damn table. And where exactly is this “quiet place” where you’re expected to go at say, the grocery store, when your baby is hungry? If idiots are going to suggest these “accommodations” they need to be more explicit about what they mean.I say it all the time, but “discreet” is bullshit. I’m sick of hearing that word. Any time a mother is asked to cover up or leave, you hear how her “whole breast was out” and it just makes no sense. It’s always obvious these people have never breastfed and don’t even understand how breastfeeding works. The shop owner says that although he wasn’t there, he heard this woman’s entire nipple was “completely exposed” for several minutes and lots of people came up to complain. How is this even possible? Did she just pull her breast out and wait for the baby to decide she was hungry? I’d really like for someone to explain these logistics to me.I felt bad for the rep for LLL because she just couldn’t win. But you’re right, she should’ve insisted that we talk about the real issue. Why are we even discussing this? As the bubble-headed anchor said, the law is cut and dry and on the side of the mother. So really, what more is there to say?
    Elita @ Blacktating´s last blog post .. New NY Breastfeeding Campaign- Effective or Obnoxious reply
    • Jake
      Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
      replied: September 13, 2010 Seems we had similar reactions. Despite having been briefly sucked into “Bethanny Geting Married” when she was breastfeeding (“sucked in” – get it?), I don’t know these Housewives people. But what she was saying was patently absurd.I am so tired of “discretion” talk. Time to end it. reply
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  • Jennifer
    Twitter: JenniferLettner
    September 13, 2010 I think the fact that they had the Countess on is so ridiculous! She breastfed her children, but she didn’t say how long (probably not more than a couple months), and who is she to say whether or not we should breastfeed. Most people probably don’t care if you are breastfeeding, since most moms are discreet about it anyway. My take is to do what you have to do, and stop caring about what others say. I breastfeed my eight-month-old daughter, and I am respectful in the best way that I can, but in the end, it doesn’t matter what others say or think. I will feed her in the best way that I can, and if I flash you while breastfeeding, it was on accident and you can go elsewhere.reply
  • Peggy O’Mara
    September 13, 2010 Thank you, Jake, for continuing to elucidate the important issue of breastfeeding in public. This TV presentation on “Fock’s” Five News is right out of the 50s! Really, etiquette? What about rights? This is media made-up controversy as most people support public breastfeeding. Clearly the store is lying and trying to cover their tracks The owner says it is a store frequented by women and then says that it was men who were complaining. Not! It was the now gone employee messing up and being stupid. It’s always the position that somehow the woman was just not being discreet. “Here whole breast was hanging out.” Liar. What if some big breasted movie star came in with her breast hanging out just for the hell of it. No offense there. No offense when woman show their cleavage all over the place. This is encouraged. Don’t even get me started on what a sick society we have. “Very sensitive issue.” Only because the store is being sued. Too bad I can’t use some profanity; it’s definitely appropriate. But, oh my, I might offend someone. As you say, the law is the conversation. This woman’s rights were clearly violated. She was clearly being discreet, but as you say, that isn’t what gives her a civil right. She has it even if she’s an idiot, just like freedom of speech. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Go Breastfeeding Mama!! reply
    • Jake
      Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
      replied:September 13, 2010 You can use profanity if you really wanna, Thanks for the passionate comment!reply
  • Sara Dodder Furr September 13, 2010 I’ve met Helen (sat next to her at a LLL Conference luncheon) and think she is fantastic. She answered the question. Unfortunately, the question was asked on Fox “news” and that is what makes it so screwed up. Fox is not really interested (for the most part) in informing the public, but rather is interested in creating or stirring up controversy. You are so right, Jake, that the law was not discussed in a meaningful way. This whole segment was infuriating. I am sitting here trying to imagine the thousands of men who are offended by bare breasts (which are not seen when a baby is breastfeeding well and yes, I realize this is a sexist remark but I can’t help it.) If I am offended by someone bringing a therapy dog into a restaurant because I had a bad experience with a dog, does that mean I should request that the patron move to a private quiet place while dining? Of course not! I am the one who would need to move or just stop looking. People see more visible breast showing on non-lactating women than on women who are breastfeeding their babies.reply
    • Jake
      Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
      replied:September 13, 2010I know LLL Leaders don’t think they should say discretion isn’t necessary. But they can. And I would really like to see a LLL Leader say “I am not going to talk about discretion because discretiont is not the issue.” It is the firmer ground on which to stand.reply
      • Casey
        Twitter: CBerbs
        replied:September 13, 2010 Talk to me. I’m happy to say those things. reply
  • Rachel Valley September 13, 2010 All this coming from a state who not only has public breastfeeding laws in place, but also where a woman is legally allowed to be top free in public? I see the Fox grabbing at straws (ratings), and making mothers out to be thoughtless and classless hussies.One day, hopefully, women who boldly breastfeed in public today, will become feminine heros of tomorrow. reply
  • melissa September 13, 2010 I’m so sick of people making a huge deal of briefly seeing a woman’s breast while nursing, yet those same people don’t have a problem with patrons who are scantily clad. Would a woman wearing a revealing top be asked to cover up and/or leave the same shop? Probably not. Breastfeeding is in the best interest of my child, and I am so tired of the uneducated masses creating such a big deal about nursing in public. Don’t watch me feed my child if it makes you that uncomfortable.reply
  • Tracy September 13, 2010 How can we make breastfeeding the “norm” if nursing mothers are tucked “discreetly” away in a corner? I nursed my two children anywhere and everywhere. They are now 18 and 22 and I sure hope seeing a nursing dyad brings back warm memories and not embarrassment. The non-nursing public needs to see, everywhere and often, nursing mothers providing the best they can in nutrition and nurturing for their little ones. reply
  • Heather September 13, 2010 This is horrible. The law is on her side…the discussion is moot. I do want to point out that this is not Fox News…this is the regular NY Fox 5 channel which to my knowledge is not considered conservative leaning at all. It’s the same as NBC or ABC. I wouldn’t put it past any network channel to hold these views. People are okay with scantily clad women as sex objects (say on a public billboard or shown on tv any time of day) but the glimpse of a mom feeding her child, that’s not okay. Insane. reply
  • Lizzie September 13, 2010 Thank goodness for people who understand that one of the privileges (and prices, if you have that attitude) of living in a democracy is that you do not have the right not to be offended by my words or actions. We cannot legislate according to people’s feelings, and neither should we (excepting, obviously, those instances of discriminatory/violent behaviour). Clearly the legislators understand the importance of this (even down here in Louisiana where we – somewhat surprisingly – have a similar breastfeeding-in-public protection) and have ensured that we are protected, as breastfeeding mothers, in the act of nourishing our child whenever and wherever is needed.
    Thank you, Jake, for pointing up the relevant issue. It’s just a shame that reasonable and intelligent people are so rarely given the platform to discuss these topics. I despair of the media. reply
  • Judy@MommyNewsBlog
    Twitter: MommyNews
    September 13, 2010 WOW – this story is scary! Just the title of it made you know it was going to be – why on earth are they debating whether or not a mother should be discrete. I really think that LLL leader did way too much tip-toeing around the issues – and rather than saying “nothing is exposed” she should have stood her ground and said “that isn’t the issue” We need to be firm about what the real issue is – and the real issue isn’t whether or not she was discreet or should have been discrete – but whether or not her rights were violated – which they were. Jake – I wish you had been the one they interviewed!!
    Judy@MommyNewsBlog´s last blog post ..Never Judge A Book By It’s Cover reply
  • Adrienne Uphoff, IBCLC
    Twitter: adrienneEliza
    September 13, 2010 Jake, I love your (appropriate) focus on the fact that breastfeeding in public is legal in NY. End of story. No one is debating whether or not people should “legally” be allowed to wear low-rise jeans with a thong or if men with “breasts” should have to wear shirts on beaches. Those acts may be a little gross, but they are legal. Breastfeeding in public is seen by some individuals as unseemly–but it’s still legal. It’s officially not obscene.
    They can debate their little misogynistic selves silly about whether or not they think Miss Manners would be okay with nursing in public. But that’s about all they can do.reply
  • Steve Cipolla September 13, 2010 I agree with everybody’s comments above. BUT, La Leche League people need serious media training before they allow themselves to be at the mercy of the broadcast media. There was absolutely no basis for Helen to talk about balancing the discomfort of bystanders with the discomfort of moms and their hungry babies. That buys into the “appropriate” versus “inappropriate” bullshit that the Countess was spewing. She had an opportunity to say, plainly and simply, discretion has nothing to do with this because the law protects all Moms in New York from this kind of discrimination, regardless of whether their behavior comports with some presumptive middle class behavioral norm. The law doesn’t say discreet, so your exercise of the right is not premised upon your discretion. She didn’t have to buy in to the discourse of the idiotic interviewer or the Countess. The way to deal with this is never to let the questioner control the discourse. You answer the question that they should be asking, you don’t ever capitulate to what the questioner wants the discussion to focus upon.The fact that La Leche League people don’t know how to handle the handler in interviews means that they should not accept invitations from the media. If LLL doesn’t can’t advocate for enforcement of an established legal right to breastfeed when given an opportunity to do so in a gigantic media venue and if LLL can’t drop “discretion discourse,” then LLL should just stay home. It was a perfect educational opportunity to demand that the rights of breastfeeding women be vindicated without regard to the discomfort of others, to SEIZE CONTROL OF THE DISCOURSE, to be a bitch if necessary, and rebuke Ms Manners every time she offered opinions about how people should exercise a legal right, and Helen BLEW IT. There is really no excuse for that. It’s a betrayal.But, I don’t have really strong feelings about it.reply
    • Jake
      Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
      replied:September 14, 2010 Controlling the interview is hard and definitely a learned skill. LLL is constantly under attack so I get why they work so hard at avoiding controversy. Just today the CEO of described breastfeeding advocates generally as “the leech league community.”But, having done it many times, it isn’t hard to stand your ground and answer the question that *should* have been asked. It is time spokespeople for breastfeeding did that more often.reply
      • Kate replied: September 15, 2010 Yikes. Babble isn’t doing to well these days, what with their list of the top Twitter mommies and their partnering with Similac to give out breastfeeding advice. ::rolleyes:: reply
  • Norma Ritter, IBCLC, RLC September 14, 2010I said exactly the same thing on my Facebook page when the story first broke. In New York State it is a woman’s right to breastfeed wherever she is legally entitled to be. It has nothing to do with being *discreet.* reply
  • Penny in TX September 14, 2010 Every time a NIP story comes out–regardless of the location of the incident–local media inevitably include a “should mothers be allowed to breastfeed in public” poll on their websites. And equally inevitably, most of the time the state in question has some sort of law indicating that mothers can breastfeed wherever they have the right to be, so the very fact that the media frame the debate that way irritates me to no end. (As do the inevitable comment threads that spring up around these stories on media websites.) Oh no, but we don’t live in a bottle-feeding culture, do we? reply
  • Steve Cipolla September 14, 2010 To quote Robert Deniro in RONIN, you’re either part of the problem, part of the solution or part of the landscape. If LLL is a breastfeeding support organization then it cannot be effective if its practice is avoiding controversy. For a variety of reasons involving terrain LLL assiduously avoids, like socio-economic class, race, gender, cultural norms, mysogyny and politics, breastfeeding simply IS controversial. For years. LLL has wanted to be part of the landscape, and stay out of the fray. By avoiding conflict in situations like this one, LLL has become part of the problem.reply
    • Jake
      Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
      replied: September 14, 2010 Ouch. Unduly harsh I think. I don’t think LLL is part of the problem. Perhaps sometimes it is merely part of the landscape. But, no, not part of the problem. reply
  • Tracy September 14, 2010 La Leche League’s Mission Statement:“Our Mission is to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.”“Mother-to-mother support” – everything else has always come second to that. La Leche League was a part of helping to get the legislation passed that guarantees this and other mothers’ right to breastfeed in public. They are NOT part of the problem. reply
  • Steve Cipolla September 14, 2010 Mission statements are easy. Living up to them in the real world, and in the public eye is the hard part. If LLL helped to get that legislation passed, then why wasn’t that the very first thing out of Helen’s mouth. Like I said, it was a huge opportunity to educate one of the largest media markets in the world. LLL not only missed the opportunity, it avoided it. That’s an abject failure to live up to the very mission statement described above, which is all about providing education and information.My god, this is unduly harsh?? How often does somebody at LLL get this kind of big media opportunity to get the message out?reply
    • Jake
      Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
      replied: September 14, 2010 “Mother-to-Mother support” has historically, I think, meant direct relationship between mothers – not media. And I think particularly in the NYC area, these t.v. gigs are not that uncommon for Leaders.Better media training for LLL Leaders would be a great thing. But it has never been the first priority for LLL nor should it be. A well-trained media rep for LLL would be ideal but to my knowledge that has never been in the budget.While I wish this Leader had handled that interview differently, she put herself in the hot seat and did her best. Not many volunteers would do that.Point the ire concerning the content of this “news” report where it belongs. The reporter and segment producer. The LLL Leader didn’t create this, she just survived it. reply
  • Jeannette September 15, 2010 Any problem someone has with seeing a breast is their own. They are breasts, big deal. ANd babies need to eat when they need to eat. Get over it.reply
  • Sangeetha September 21, 2010 Yeah! It is ok to sexualize breasts, but not to use them for what they were made for? Own up, it isn’t the breast that you have a problem with. You have a problem with it being covered up by a baby’s head. Who, incidentally, sees it like it is. Nourishment. Also, incidentally, is unaware that something as basic as eating (oh oh, isn’t that what all of you adults do in restaurants? Ones who should be better able to control your hunger and wait for the privacy of your own bathrooms to eat? Or even better, the mall’s bathroom?) is even up for discussion.reply
  • Deborah September 24, 2010 As an attorney and former state prosecutor, and former breastfeeding mom of a daughter until she was 4-1/2 years old, I am VERY upset that some VERY important, clear, and unambigulous language in the New York State breastfeeding law was ignored in both the television interview and here. So, I’m posting it now. I quote New York Civil Rights Law, Article 7, section 79-E, which provides, in its entirety:§ 79-e. Right to breast feed. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast feed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breast feeding.Did you all read that last part???? There is NO LEGAL OBLIGATION, and/or requirement, or whatever you want to call it, on a breast feeding mother to even attempt to be discrete. To the contrary; the legislature has FREED breast feeding moms of any such responsibility. Discretion, therefore, is completely LEGALLY IRRELEVANT to the discussion and I haven’t a clue as to why we have let it continue to be part of the discussion. If the breast feeding mom is self-conscious in and of herself and feels more comfortable covering herself up, that is her choice. But the law does not impose that obligation on her and, therefore, NO ONE else may.In addition, New York Penal Law § 245.01 et seq. (that’s the criminal code, for those of you “non-lawyers”) EXCLUDES “breastfeeding of infants” from public exposure offenses. So not only is a woman legally permitted to breastfeed in public, she can do so without fear of both civil AND criminal penalty for any breast exposure. Now, we obviously have some advocacy work ahead of us… because women breast feed toddlers and preschoolers, etc., as well as infants. But, in the meantime, this is good stuff…. Let’s not forget about it and/or waste it.And as for the etiquette expert… me thinks she has violated the public exposure/indecency laws far more than an breast feeding mom I have ever seen! What’s more, ignorance is not a defense to violating the law! reply
    • Jake
      Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
      replied:September 24, 2010Completely agree. “Discretion” talk makes my head explode. reply
  • Deborah September 24, 2010 An additional thought, which I posted in a similar discussion group. I have been trying to wrap my brain around, and come to terms with, some of the bizarre and misogynistic comments I have encountered on the subject. Bottle nipples and pacifiers, etc., are made (wonder why?!) to mimic human nipples — both in terms of shape and function and, dare I say, “feel” (copied but NEVER duplicated!!!). And no one, and I do mean NO ONE, can rationally dispute those facts. To my eye, these plastic “nipples,” used so freely and so openly and so obviously in public, are FAR larger than any human nipple I’ve ever seen. Some of those plastic things out there are so large, they actually scare me! (And let’s not forget about the health and choking hazards some of them pose — not to mention horrible teeth. Ah, but that’s another topic for another blog! Check out the Federal Consumer Products Safety Commission’s wesite, among others.) Those huge plastic things are in FULL, unobstructed view whenever a child takes a bottle or pacifier in public — not only do you get to see the child voraciously sucking away, you get the added bonus of seeing ALL of the nipple… especially when the bottle or pacifier comes out of the child’s mouth and falls to the floor/ground (talk about yuck) and/or gets plopped onto a table! And talk about lack of discretion!Come to think of it, given such an unabashed public display of such a large nipple, with NO attempt at modesty or discretion, shouldn’t the etiquette “experts” spend their time berating those plastic-nipple-using moms — AND/OR DADS — who make no attempt to cover them up? I mean, really. Do they think I want to see their plastic nipples while I am eating??? reply
  • Sara Dodder Furr September 24, 2010 Excellent points, Deborah. I agree that shifting the focus to discretion is missing the point entirely. As for those plastic nipples, the thing that grosses me out is when the mom puts the pacifier in her own mouth to clean it (?? is that what she’s doing? I don’t know). That always makes me feel nauseous. And it should be forbidden! reply
  • Marly Hornik December 11, 2010 hello,I am wondering what is happening with this case. I was just informed today while starting to nurse at Olana State Historic Site that nursing is not allowed in the house as there is no food and drink allowed. I have just finished preparing my letters, based on the NYACLU form, to send to Olana and the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. I ask for an apology, a new written policy clearly stating the right by law to breastfeed, which all employees are informed of, and that the international breastfeeding symbol be posted at Olana and all NYSOPR&HP sites (!!).So I am wondering how this case is coming along, if at all yet. reply
    • Jake
      Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
      replied: December 11, 2010 I haven’t heard anything but I am going to see if I can find something. The lawyer in this case won’t return my calls so I need to get all my info from court records, which is not so easy. I will keep at it, though. reply
  • lumina January 31, 2011 Jeez, doesn’t this bring back memories.When I chose to breastfeed my son my family was aghast. They were embarrassed and couldn’t cope with the idea (even though I was a certified breastfeeding coach and had prepped them for what was coming). They made me so uncomfortable by their own discomfort.Once, while in a restaurant, the baby started fussing, so I tossed a blanket over my shoulder and started to feed him. My father became unglued. Even though all he could see was a lump under a blanket (the baby) he insisted that just KNOWING what the baby was doing was turning him off his own meal. He suggested I take it to the bathroom, so I flipped it on him, “You’re the one with the problem so why don’t you take your plate into the bathroom?” He said it was ridiculous to expect him to eat in the bathroom so I reminded him, “Just as it’s ridiculous to expect your grandson to eat in the bathroom.”A few years later my sister-in-law had a baby and wanted to try breastfeeding. She gave it up after only two weeks. I asked her why and her response was, “I just kept thinking of it sexually and it made me very uncomfortable. How can you not think of sex when you’re breastfeeding?” I didn’t know what to say to her: “stop objectifying your body according to mainstream media brainwashing”?Sigh . . . and so the battle wages on.
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