Two dozen mothers staged a "nurse-in" outside an LA Fitness club to support a fellow mom who was recently asked to leave the women's locker room for breastfeeding her baby. It's just the latest example in a series of incidents where nursing mothers have been asked to leave public places despite laws (many of which are not enforced) that protect a woman's right to breastfeed in public.
According to a story published recently by San Diego local news station 10News, in late April, Monique Golueke of San Marcos, California, brought her 9-month-old and 2-year-old sons to the gym’s child care center (which LA Fitness calls its Kids Klub) to play while she exercised, but 45 minutes into her fitness class, a staff member approached Golueke to inform her that her children weren't settling down. So Golueke left class, brought them into the women’s locker room, and began to nurse her fussy baby.
Yahoo Shine could not reach Golueke for comment; however, she told 10News that another employee informed her that a member had complained about her children being in the locker room. “There was no sign telling me children were not allowed,” said Golueke. “I was just nourishing my baby in the locker room, an appropriate place — so I thought — and I was asked to leave."
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She then said the staff member escorted her out of the locker room and pointed her toward the bathroom in the child care room, where the only place to nurse was on a toilet. "If you're going to have an establishment that provides child care, you need to be accommodating to nursing mothers," Golueke told 10News.
“I decided to call corporate and notify them of what happened and also have my account deactivated, I also asked them to refund my money," Golueke wrote in a Facebook post on April 23, which also explained a confusing call that she got from the club's manager. "The manager called me and asked what had upset me, the fact that I was breastfeeding or the fact that the kids were in the locker room. I barely understood what he was asking. It was clear he didn't understand the legality of the situation. He told me that if I ever wanted to return to LA Fitness, I was welcome to nurse my baby in the restroom located in the Kid's Club.”
Golueke ended her post with "Please share my story so that other nursing mothers are not wrongly put to shame."
Yahoo Shine could not reach a representative from LA Fitness for comment; however, Jill Greuling, vice president of operations for LA Fitness, issued this statement to 10News:
"We support the right of women to breastfeed in our facilities. When Mrs. Golueke voiced her intention to do so to one of our staff, she was offered space in the Kids Klub or, as an option, the separate restroom within the Kids Klub and a chair if she wanted more privacy. The staff member initially spoke to Mrs. Golueke to let her know that children are not allowed in the locker room area. This conversation occurred because another member observed her in the locker room with small children and reported it to us.”
After Golueke posted about the incident, people expressed their support for the mother of two on the fitness club’s Facebook page. One commenter wrote, “So you will be asking all of your staff to eat in the toilet from now on I assume??? Shame on you!!” Another wrote, “We will be cancelling our membership, How sad you expect breastfeeding mothers to nurse on a toilet seat... as a breastfeeding mom with 2 kids i find this disgraceful.” After the word spread through social media, Golueke’s supporters organized a protest on April 25, during which mothers breastfed their babies outside the health club.
According to the California Department of Public Health, women are allowed to nurse their children in any location, public or private, where they are legally authorized to be. “It’s unfortunate that so many women are intimidated into leaving public places for breastfeeding, which is perfectly within their rights in many states,” Diana West, international board-certified lactation consultant and director of media relations at La Leche League International, a nonprofit breastfeeding support organization, tells Yahoo Shine. “You’re in a public place in a vulnerable position and a person, who is usually standing over you in a position of power, is telling you that you’re doing something wrong.”
Although it can be tough to advocate for oneself in the moment, West suggests that women get educated by visiting Breastfeedinglaw.com for information on laws in each state. “Another option is to visit your La Leche League local chapter and pick up cards — they look like business cards — that explain your legal rights in your state and hand them to anyone telling you that you can’t nurse in public,” she says. “If your local chapter doesn’t issue them, you can make your own.” Another option: After the incident, write the establishment in question a letter reinforcing your right to publicly nurse and garner support through social media, which can often evoke change.