Photo by KCBD
“I’m so furious and upset. I just got thrown out of my ObyGyn/Pediatrician’s office for breastfeeding!”
Erin Peña posted those words on the Facebook wall of KCBD News Channel 11 in Lubbock, Texas, this week after she says she was asked to leave University Medical Center (UMC) for breastfeeding her 4-month-old child, which is completely within her rights. Not to mention a pediatrician’s office is certainly an unexpected place for such a request to be made of a new mom waiting for her baby’s vaccine appointment.
Peña tells Yahoo Parenting that if she’d been breastfeeding at a private business, like a restaurant, and been asked to leave, she would have (although he wouldn’t have to — Texas law states, “ A mother is entitled to breastfeed her baby in any location in which the mother is authorized to be”). “This, however, was a public hospital and a pediatrician and ObGyn office,” says Peña. “This is the last place I should be harassed and threatened for breastfeeding. They broke the law, violated my rights, and denied my baby necessary medical treatment. Even ignoring the law, simple human decency and common sense should have led them to behave differently.”
Peña’s full post tells her side of the story:
Photo via Facebook
UMC initially posted an apology on Facebook, but then removed it “after receiving numerous comments” and issued a statement saying that the hospital “regretfully acknowledges the situation” and had contacted Peña to apologize. Peña says that the hospital never informed her that they would be making a public apology. “An admin did tell me the physician would be sending me an apology in the mail, and I’m waiting to receive that,” she says.
Hospital Spokesperson Eric Finley told KCBD, “Unfortunately there were some other people in the waiting room who were uncomfortable with [Peña’s breastfeeding].”
Finley says Peña was asked to cover up, and when she refused, she went back to complain to the doctor and entered an area where she was not allowed to be — he says that is why she was asked to leave. “But still,” he acknowledges, “had we acted more appropriately this never would have happened.”
Meanwhile, Peña tells Yahoo Parenting that the hospital “definitely skewed why I was asked to leave. They made it look as if I was only asked to leave because I entered the doctor’s office. But, isn’t canceling my appointment because I refused to stop breastfeeding pretty much kicking me out?”
She says she approached the doctor because she was sure the issue would be corrected. “To my surprise, she also told me I could not breastfeed in the lobby,” says Peña. “When I insisted [that I could] she threatened me with arrest for being in her office, due to a HIPPA violation, so I moved into the hall. The receptionist had followed me back there and was yelling at me to leave and when I told her to get out of my face she called security on me.”
In Finley’s apology, he said, “UMC Health System supports breastfeeding as the best infant feeding option for moms and babies,” but that platitude isn’t cutting it for Peña, who told KCBD, “We’d been waiting for over an hour and of course [my son] got hungry, and I didn’t think anything of it — I just started breastfeeding him.” She calls the hospital’s actions “unacceptable” and says, “I’m just really heartbroken about it.”
She tells Yahoo Parenting that the public apology by UMC is an attempt to handle a PR issue they’re now facing. ”They know that canceling my appointment for an important vaccine because I was breastfeeding is illegal and they are in a serious situation, so they are trying to twist the accounts of why I had to leave,” she says, adding that she will be contacting the ACLU for “help and guidance on how to handle this serious discrimination… my rights and the rights of all women require me to take a stand.”
Peña’s Facebook post garnered mostly support.
"I didn’t realize I needed to worry about everyone’s feelings, when my baby shows he is hungry I feed him right then and there," wrote Karen Smith. "I know my legal rights. And the Dr office should educate themselves before trying to embarrass an innocent mother!!"
"Keep on nursing!" added Amber Barraclough. "I will nurse my son when ever where ever he is hungry and without a cover! #UMCHealthSystemRespectTheBreast"
But another woman, Juli Wyatt, said: “I personally don’t like it. But, that’s not saying it is wrong. I think if they ask you to stop, then you must. That’s what pumping is for. Not trying to cause a fight… Just my personal opinion. Sorry it happened.”
Kasi Tittle wrote that she didn’t have any problems with public breastfeeding, but “if a place wants you to go to a nice comfy room to do that in order to avoid possible drama amongst patients in a waiting room, that should be their prerogative.”
Peña says she’s “overwhelmed” by the support she’s received from her community and through social media. “I never expected to have so many people stick up for me,” she says. “I’m humbled and grateful for the encouragement.” She adds that this incident has “in no way” made her hesitant to breastfeed: “I will continue to breastfeed anywhere I choose too.”
This isn’t the first time breastfeeding has spurred heated conversations.
In August, women hosted a “nurse-in” at a Beverly Hills Anthropologie. In June, a group protested outside “The Wendy Williams Show” after the host said on air that she was “all for breastfeeding” but not “breastfeeding in public.” Shortly before that, a nurse-in was held at a Friendly’s restaurant in Connecticut. Karlesha Thurman also sparked debate for nursing her baby while wearing her cap and gown at her college graduation ceremony.