You would think that a nursing mom would be able to feed her baby when she went to pick up her three children at the YMCA day care in Woburn, Massachusetts.
When Elizabeth Gomez saw that it was time for her youngest, 3-month-old Christian, to eat, she sat down in a section of the Child Watch area to breastfeed him.
She was told by the staff that she could not nurse there.
Apparently there is a "no eating within Child Watch" policy and the staff at the Y said this included breastfeeding. They also told her that she would be "exposing [her]self" and the "kids would see it."
Elizabeth told them she was protected by Massachusetts law that she can breastfeed her child there. That's when they told her to breastfeed in the hall.
So now you have a stressed out mom, ready to pick up her kids from day care, and one hungry baby who needs to eat in the hall. I'm not sure if there were chairs in the hall, but why or rather HOW could the staff at the Y be that insensitive? Couldn't they offer up an office or somewhere that the mother could be comfortable if they were so concerned of her "exposing [her]self"?
The mom spoke to the Y's director, who seemed to be concerned about what had taken place, but then the director reminded her that her Y "membership can be terminated at any time, for any reason."
Was that a threat?
On the heels of World Breastfeeding Week (August 1 - 7) and because I am a huge breastfeeding whenever and wherever your baby is hungry advocate, I am outraged.
Here is the mom's open letter to the Y in Woburn. Let's circulate!
To Whom it May Concern,
I am writing this letter to follow up on a conversation I had yesterday with Amy Turner regarding my legal right to breastfeed in the Child Watch daycare portion of the North Suburban YMCA in Woburn, MA. My overall goal in addressing this issue is a peaceful resolution, but staff education on the local level, and attention brought to this issue within the regional/national structure of the YMCA, are also extremely important to me. Upon researching this issue over the last day, I have come across numerous incidents that have made the news regarding the YMCA and breastfeeding in recent years. It is clear to me that a national policy needs to be established. Though I am aware that this is not within your control on the local level, it is within your power to educate your own employees, and to post signs within your establishment that support and encourage breastfeeding in all areas where mothers and children are otherwise allowed to be.
To restate the chain of events yesterday for anyone other than Amy who may read this letter:
I returned to child watch to pick up my three children, Ricky, 5, Caroline, 2, and Christian, 3 months old. Christian was hungry so I sat down to nurse him in the Child Watch area. I was told in no uncertain terms that I could not feed him there. I informed the workers that what they were telling me was illegal, and that I am allowed to breastfeed wherever I am able to be lawfully present. They insisted that the "no eating within Child Watch" policy included breastfeeding. She also stated that I would be "exposing myself" and the "kids would see it." I again told them that they were being discriminatory and that my right to breastfeed is protected by law. At this point the other childcare worker stepped in and agreed with her coworker, and they both told me that I must go into the hall in order to breastfeed, and that I needed to take it up with the director if I had an issue with this policy. At that point I left with my hungry baby to find another place to nurse. It was safer to leave my two year old daughter screaming in Child Watch than to try to chase her around the Y while nursing my baby. She was obviously upset by this turn of events and was crying as I left.
When I spoke to the director about this issue, Amy Turner, she assured me she would look into the issue for me, and she seemed to take my complaint seriously. During our initial conversation, when I informed her that the YMCA's actions were illegal, she also made it a point to tell me that my "membership can be terminated at any time, for any reason." This statement concerns me very much, because I value my YMCA membership, and do not want my membership terminated. On the other hand, I do not want to be pressured by the threat of losing my membership to not follow up on this violation of my legal rights, and I feel strongly that staff education on this matter is of the utmost importance.
The law that I referred to yesterday in my conversations with various YMCA employees was passed recently in Massachusetts. It is MGL chapter 111, section 221, and it states, "A mother may breastfeed her child in any public place or establishment or place which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public* and where the mother and child may otherwise be lawfully present. No person or entity shall "restrict, harass, or penalize a mother" who is breastfeeding her child. *with the exception of houses of worship or places of religious instruction." In my conversation with Amy yesterday, I read the law to her, and she expressed that it was possible the YMCA was covered under the religious exemption. However, since no religious classes happen at the Woburn YMCA, and certainly not in the Child Watch area, and it also cannot be considered a "place of worship," the religious exemption under the law does not apply in this case.
Any private establishment that invites patronage, like the YMCA, is included under this law. It is my greatest hope that this mistake can be rectified by the YMCA, by first and foremost changing the policy on a local level in the Child Watch center, by finding ways to educate all current and future employees on the legality of this issue, and by posting signs which reassure and encourage breastfeeding mothers so that they know the YMCA supports breastfeeding within their establishment. On a national YMCA level, I would like attention brought to this issue and my complaint copied and sent to all relevant parties, so that the YMCA can work on its overall policies in order to avoid this kind of situation in future interactions with mothers and their children.