Breastfeeding moms protest at mall after woman is kicked out of store

Two weeks after Shannon Smith, a 36-year-old mother of three, was asked to leave a children's clothing store for discreetly nursing her 5-month-old in an out-of-the way corner, about a hundred people gathered to protest at the mall, many of them with babies in tow.

At 1 p.m. on January 19, the group-which had assembled in front of the same store in the Complexe les Ailes in downtown Montreal-settled down to business: Feeding their babies lunch in the most natural way possible.

"I think that, basically, you should be able to do it anytime and anywhere," said Frances Moxant, 40, told AOL as she fed the youngest of her four children. "Even my parish priest tells us to go ahead and do it in church. Jesus was breast-fed-he wasn't bottle-fed. So it's definitely all right."

The mall does have two dedicated rooms for nursing moms which are very popular with shoppers, though some parents say that not always possible or comfortable to haul a screaming baby through the mall just to feed him. Unlike the United States, most Canadian provinces do not have laws that specifically allow nursing moms to breastfeed in "any public space" and protect them public indecency laws. (The only U.S. states that don't are Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia; details are at the National Conference of State Legislatures website.)

In spite of the laws on the books, women in the U.S. are still asked to leave a pubic place because they are breastfeeding, even when their infant is covered with a blanket or the mother's breast isn't fully exposed.

Mother of three Mary Martinez was ousted from a Target store in Michigan in December 2009 after she began breastfeeding her hungry 4-week-old daughter in the electronics section. Though there were few other shoppers in the area, Target security approached Martinez and her husband, Jose, and told them to leave. "He said, 'It's against the law. You have to go,'" Jose Martinez told Fox News. Store employees called the police, and even after an officer admitted that breastfeeding in public was not illegal, the family was escorted out of the store.

The store later insisted that Martinez's breastfeeding had escalated into a "safety issue." Which… well, how, exactly, is that even possible? It's more likely that the store employee was one of the 57 percent of Americans who, according to a survey by the American Dietetic Association, disapprove of breastfeeding in public. In May, ABC News ran a "What Would You Do?" segment to gauge how people would react to a mom being berated for breastfeeding in public. More than one witness, not knowing that the new mom was actually an actress and the baby a realistic-looking doll, joined in on the abuse; one female patron telling her, "I have two small kids and I wouldn't do that out in public."

It's not as if moms in more cosmopolitan areas can avoid the disapproval, either. On a New York Post story about two women who were kicked out of a New York Cafe for breastfeeding in August, one commenter wrote: "Pigs expose themselves not decent women." Another added: "Seriously, why must anybody breastfeed in public when there are plenty of more private places in which to feed the child. I mean, it's not some sort of emergency which requires a stat response." (Except, you know, it is. Hungry infant = stat response required.) A third person seemed to support the idea of breasts being exposed for sexual gratification and condemned women who bared them in order to feed a baby. "If it were Alicia Keys breastfeeding, I'd say let her be," the commenter quipped. "But come on, nobody wants to see the nature channel live in action while eating a snack."

Why is it so upsetting to see someone breastfeeding in a coffee shop when, two blocks away in Times Square, breasts are routinely plastered all over billboards?

Have you ever been told to stop breastfeeding your baby in a public place? Have you ever felt like asking someone else to take her infant elsewhere?

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