Ignorant Victoria’s Secret Employee Told Mom She Had To Breastfeed In An Alley

Victoria's Secret Angel Photocall

After spending $150 at a Victoria’s Secret in Austin, Texas, Ashley Clawson asked to breastfeed her son in a dressing room at the store. She was denied and directed towards an alleyway where she could breastfeed because “no one really goes there.” An alleyway?!?! Jesus.

When she got home, Ashley posted a status on her Facebook page that read:

“I have to blast Victoria’s Secret at the Domain for telling me I wasn’t aloud to nurse my very hungry, fussy son in their fitting room after I spent a fair amount in their store. She actually told me to go outside and walk down an alley where no one ‘usually’ goes and nurse him. Seriously?!? Lost a customer for sure.”

She then filed two complaints with Victoria’s Secret and her story was picked up by her local Fox affiliate, Fox 7. Good for her for bringing some publicity to the rude, ignorant way she was treated.

Clearly, it’s beyond ironic that the most boobilicious store at the mall wouldn’t let a mother feed her baby in a dressing room. In a fucking dressing room! Ashley Clawson had the right to feed her baby right out in front beside the PINK underwear and ugly satin bras, under Texas law. But she was modest enough to want to breastfeed in a dressing room and she was still banished to a random alley by an employee.

It just really baffles me that this continues to happen to women all over the country, on military bases, at recreation centers, on airplanes, and on and on. I feel like I see a story like this every few weeks! Obviously, as someone who writes for Mommyish and as a doula, I’m extra-sensitive to the rights of breastfeeding women. But, tell me, do the store employees and public officials of the United States not read the news? Do they not ever see these stories, which pop up often local news stations and the Huffington Post? Do they know zero women who have ever breastfed a child? Do they not pay attention in their trainings, which must, at least a tiny bit, detail how to manage customers with these kinds of requests? How, in 2014, can anyone still think it’s appropriate to tell any woman where she can or cannot feed her baby? I just do not get it. I know I live in a mother/baby friendly bubble, but I still just DO NOT get it.

Thankfully, Victoria’s Secret has responded in a positive way to this incident, affirming that their associates will be fully informed about the right of mothers to breastfeed in their stores:

“We take this issue very seriously. We have a longstanding policy permitting mothers to nurse their children in our stores and we are sorry that it was not followed in this case. We have apologized to Ms. Clawson, and we are taking actions to ensure all associates understand our policy that welcomes mothers to breastfeed in our stores.”

But every time another incident of this kind happens, I’m reminded that education about breastfeeding rights needs to go beyond individual stores and individual policies. Apparently, there are still people out there who do not know that the vast majority of states support a woman’s right to nurse in any location.

Photo: WireImage via Getty Images

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  • Kay_Sue

    Didn’t Victoria’s Secret already make it into the news for this once already? Very nearly the same thing, but the staff told her to nurse in the restroom instead?? You would think they would learn…

    • A-nony-mous

      It wouldn’t surprise me. I have to wonder if this is anything to do with the fact that it’s basically a mall outlet store (in most places) and like most mall stores they basically hire teenagers or verrrrrrry young adults. Mostly people who are not parents, not necessarily very mature and really don’t have much life experience. I can just see some 17 or 18 year old cashier who really has zero baby experience suggesting this, not to be rude, but simply because the average 17 year old really is completely clueless about breastfeeding. I don’t think it was a malicious thing, I think it was pure ignorance.

  • Mel

    Telling anyone to go breastfeed in an alley is so absurd and outrageous, there’s just not much I can say. To be some sort of devil’s advocate, I also don’t think occupying a dressing room is the best solution. This is a store, and they exist to make money, and if their customers are forced to wait around b/c the dressing room is in use for long periods of time this could cost them money. CLEARLY, the alley is not the solution here! I know exactly zero things about breastfeeding, so I’m not going to act like I do know what the right solution was. I just don’t think it involves me waiting for (how long does breastfeeding take?) a long time to try on a bra just b/c your baby is eating. I also don’t think it involves you being shamed or banished just to b/c you want to feed your baby!

    The employee should have done a better job of being a human, but this mom should have made a better plan about a reasonable place to breastfeed as well. Let me put it this way: if you wanted to use a dressing room at a store to feed your toddler a PBJ sandwich, some chips, and a juice box, I guarantee people would be outraged! So, why is using a breast different? (That’s a real question, btw)

    • Momma425

      A dressing room is more than reasonable. It’s not like the mother just walked into the store and didn’t buy anything- she spent money at the store! She is a customer too! And hell- she probably could have gone ahead and breastfed her son while she was in the dressing room anyhow- and just not told anyone. She was more than polite to ask.

      If it was crowded and there was a line for the dressing rooms, I get it kind of. But there had to be another place they could have let her go, other than the suggestion they gave. Ridiculous!

    • Mel

      I will agree, as I stated above, suggesting the alley is outrageous. But, if you’re going to rant in support of breastfeeding in the dressing room, I’m going to need an answer to the question of whether it’s okay to set up a meal of sandwich, apples, drink or whatever for any other child? I think that’s the crux of the issue here. Was she discriminated against b/c of breastfeeding, or was she discriminated against b/c she tried to use a dressing room that others presumably wanted to use for it’s intended purpose.

    • EX

      I guess I see these as comparing apples and oranges. Yes, toddlers get hungry and can be impatient at times, but by the time a kid is old enough to eat apples and a PBJ he’s on a pretty predictable schedule where you could arrange your lingerie shopping around his meal times. Babies are different and breastfeeding moms are typically told to be feeding their babies on demand (their stomachs are small, breast milk is digested quickly). You can not always predict when your baby is going to want to nurse. And if a baby is hungry there is nothing you can do to get it to stop screaming besides feed it. That’s why moms end up nursing babies in unusual situations where they wouldn’t be feeding a toddler. For the record, if the store was busy I can see why they wouldn’t want her nursing in the dressing room, but they should’ve come up with a different solution than the alley.

    • Mel

      I think that’s completely fair. Now that I know more of the details and pitfalls of breastfeeding, so I can empathize more with the mom who’s juggling an unpredictable schedule. Still gonna disagree about using the dressing room, but am less likely to assume the mom is being selfish by trying to use it.

    • EX

      Glad I could help!

    • Momma425

      That is different. One doesn’t need to use a dressing room to feed a toddler. If the mom sat outside the store on a bench, or in the center of the mall-eating area and fed her toddler a sandwich and juice box, nobody would even give her a second look. If the mom wanted to breastfeed her baby in a public place- she would have people gawking and possibly telling her to leave. Therefore, she was looking for a private place to nurse her baby- where she wouldn’t have to deal with distractions (for the baby) and stares/glares from others.

      The restrooms in some of the larger department stores have a “lounge” area that have chairs/couches, and women can breastfeed there. Maybe VS should look into something like this for their customers since this seems to be a problem that they have had repeatedly.

    • Mel

      I guess breastfeeding moms want it both ways? They need privacy that stores should build special rooms to accommodate AND they should be able to openly breastfeed anywhere and everywhere and people should have no opinion on it? Obviously it’s a personal choice, but it seems like you’re advocating for all private companies to anticipate the desires of each individual mom.

    • doctor_spaceman

      I don’t think it’s the moms that want it both ways, but rather that people are all too frequently rude and judgmental when they see a woman breastfeeding in public. If a woman could breastfeed a baby with as little scrutiny as she could feed a toddler, then there’d be no need for private rooms to begin with. They wouldn’t need privacy if society didn’t sexualize breasts in every context and feel scandalized by the sight of a woman feeding her child.

    • Natalie A.

      Nursing a baby and setting out a full lunch for a toddler are two totally different animals. I totally understand her being told no if there was a line for the dressing rooms, however there are tactful ways to go about it. Telling her no flat out and then suggesting she go in an alley is outrageous, have she said I’m sorry but they are in use right now, perhaps you could try another store would have been more acceptable.

    • staferny

      I agree with the idea of breastfeeding where you would feed a toddler/you would eat. Not in a dressing room, a swimming pool (I think I remember something about this from a few years back), back alley or public washroom.

    • Mel

      Cool, thanks. Again, I don’t know anything about breastfeeding. I’m just trying to think logically. Of course, I’ve met enough kids to know that logic is not always the name of the game, and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

    • AP

      Agreed, too. Babies and children shouldn’t be fed where they could spill and damage merchandise, or otherwise make a mess that prevents others from using the space (ex: spitting up in the pool = a 30 minute closure for vomit.)

    • JLH1986

      I mean they could have pulled a chair out for her in a semi-private area or something. Our mall was recently renovated and they actually have “breastfeeding rooms” next to the restrooms. These rooms look similar to a restroom only a bit larger, all with a place to sit comfortably, put down your purchases etc. and of course lock the door. My understanding is the rooms are pretty sound proof so you don’t even know if other moms are there.

    • Mel

      I guess my point is that sending her into the alley is worse that wrong. But I’m just not going to concede that it’s the employees responsibility to loan out the dressing room, pull her out a chair, find her a semi-private area, or anything else. The employee’s only job is to treat her with respect and dignity. Obviously this employee failed. But those breastfeeding rooms sound like a fantastic solution!

    • JLH1986

      I was shocked they put them in because people here in the Midwest FREAK OUT over boobies. And it’s a mall so they have a lot of customers. I was pretty impressed with the mall. But I’m pretty sure NONE of the stores have a place to BF. I think it’s probably ok to ask for a place to sit to BF (if that’s how it’s done, I don’t know much about the actual BF) but outside of that I don’t think providing premium space for BF was appropriate either.

    • Jessica

      Living in the St. Louis area while breastfeeding was surprisingly convenient. Almost every mall here has something like a family room near the restrooms or food court They usually have several diaper changing areas on a countertop row. A few nursing rooms, almost exactly like a dressing room except with a comfy chair. They usually had a microwave & sink. Chairs outside the nursing room, lobby style, usually with a tv. & a family style bathroom with an adult size toilet & child sized, & an adult sink & child sink. It’s nice to have family friendly areas & I’m sure they help the malls make money. If your customers have a quiet area to recharge, they can continue shopping instead if heading home.

    • TwentiSomething Mom

      You can pretty much plop a 3 year old anywhere to eat a sandwich or a banana. Not as easy when you’re nursing. It is important for her to be comfortable and sitting in a BRA shop seemed to be a better idea to her than lets say breast feeding at the food court (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    • Mel

      But cant you always breastfeed anywhere, as you said there’s nothing wrong with it! I think you and I are on the same side on this one, so I’ll stop proposing nonsensical scenarios :)

  • doriangirl

    Seriously? I am all for breast feeding in public and such but she wanted to sit in a changing room and breastfeed. I’m sorry but that is not the purpose of a changing room. I remember a while ago there was a controversy at Holister where a woman was told she couldn’t sit in a chair and breastfeed and that’s completely different. Those chairs are designed for people to sit and rest. A changing room is for trying on clothes period.

    • SusannahJoy

      If the store was really busy and they needed the room, I could almost see that, but still. It’s one of those cases where good customer service should allow the woman to nurse in there.

    • Mel

      And it’s one of those times where respect for your fellow shopper should tell the woman to nurse in a more appropriate location. Spending money in the store does not entitle her to free occupation of the property for her personal use. Again, suggesting the alley was abhorrent and gross. Her belief that the store was hesr to do with as she saw fit simply b/c she spent money in there is silly and selfish.

    • SusannahJoy

      I get that. I guess most of the Vistoria’s Secrets that I’ve been in had multiple rooms, and every time I needed one, they were all empty, so it makes no sense to not let her breastfeed there. That is silly though, I shouldn’t expect my experience to be the norm everywhere. The problem is that she probably felt like she had to use the dressing room because otherwise she’d get the stink eye from everyone in the store. Although personally I’m impressed by any woman who manages to maintain any semblance of modesty after having a baby.

    • keelhaulrose

      Companies are obligated, under law, to allow you to breastfeed. They’re not required to give up a limited space, like a changing room, for you to do so.

  • keelhaulrose

    I’m sure I’ll get slammed for this, but I’d bet a box of wine that the reason you’re hearing about this “every week or so” is because everyone runs and updates their Facebook/Twitter/whatever with any and every complaint about a company nowadays, and many also run to the news because they were so horribly mistreated.
    I’m not saying an alleyway is the appropriate place to tell a woman to breastfeed, but whatever happened to talking a complaint up with a company in private and only making things public if you’re still being mistreated?

    • A-nony-mous

      I agree. But sometimes it seems like things get away from people without them intending to. People start “sharing” someone else’s status and all of a sudden the media finds out and then it’s out of your hand. The media doesn’t care if you don’t want the story aired, they’ll tell your own story without you if they think it’ll get them good ratings. :-/ Several of these anti-breastfeeding things have come about not because the original woman who was involved went to the media but because someone else around her did. A friend, another person at the store or mall, etc.

    • keelhaulrose

      I get what you’re saying, but five years ago if someone had been asked not to breastfeed in a business they didn’t go running to their social network of choice and vilify the store so it could be passed on so quickly. If they had a grievance and wanted any kind of satisfaction they asked for a manager, and if that didn’t help they went up the chain. Maybe at the next mommy meeting if someone mentioned they were going to go to said store they might say ‘oh, when I was there last week they told me not to breastfeed in their store’ and the mommy group would avoid them, but it wasn’t on the Channel 6 news the next day with someone getting fired for the sin of not knowing the laws regarding breastfeeding.
      And, more often than not, the mom who was wronged is on the news giving her side of the story. No one is forcing her to appear on camera.
      I think more things got done when people had to complain to the company directly. Whereas before a company might before hold a training session so their staff knows the law and what to do should the situation arise, now companies have to do something drastic, like fire the offending employee, to appease the sanctimommy masses who are threatening to boycott, and they more often than not hire someone else who doesn’t know what the law is so it really doesn’t help in the end.

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      I was so going to say this! I am kind of getting tired of this “let’s air our grievances through media” instead of actually trying to speak to a manager/higher up. Most of these stories lately they just leave the store in tears and go straight to Facebook.

  • Austinite

    The Domain in Austin where this happened is an outdoor shopping center and does not, to my knowledge, have breastfeeding areas. I have publicly breastfed at the Domain on multiple occasions, both in a store (not the dressing room, just in the shop) and on an outdoor walkway bench. Nobody gave me any trouble. Looks like the VS employee didn’t know what to do and lost a customer, but I’m glad the company responded and is promoting being breastfeeding-friendly.

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    The irony of a boob-centric store disallowing breastfeeding.
    I can see not allowing her to have the dressing room if the store was busy and customers needed it, but if there was free room, she should have been given the space. If it was too busy she could have been given a chair, or (if the VS was in a mall) directed to a nearby bench or nursing room, or something. Being told to go to an alleyway is icky and rude.

  • val97

    Maybe the store was really crowded and there was a line for the dressing room? That’s the only reasoning I can come up with. I guess she could have been directed to a bench or chair in the store (I used to breastfeed on benches in the mall, nbd). I don’t know, it still seems weird not to let someone breastfeed in the dressing room and even more bizarre to direct them to an alleyway.

    • Muggle

      I can understand not allowing her to use the dressing room, but surely there’s somewhere in the back of the store that is just as private and better than an alleyway?

    • Shelly Lloyd

      I too, am wondering if the store was busy that day and they needed the dressing rooms for other customers. I use to work in a portrait studio in the mall. We had a lobby, a long hall way, 2 studios and a walk in closet for props. We did not have bathrooms or an employee break area.
      Our corporate policy was that no shoot was to take longer than 20 mins. Our goals was to get the customer in the studio and take 8 to 12 shots in various poses in about 15 minutes and then send the customer out to the lobby and the last 5 minutes was to go through the shots and do a quick edit–crop, filter, boarder. Then the sales girl would take customer to the viewing area and sale the pictures. While they were doing that i was setting up the studio for the next shoot.
      It was very, very fast pace around the holidays esp with corporate double booking us (they would double book with the ideal that 15% of bookings will cancel. ) and also walk ins wanting their pictures done.
      So during this very, very busy holiday season with a fully booked day and several walks-ins I had just ushered into my studio a young family with a baby, and the mom asked if she could use the studio to nurse her baby. Right then and there. I could not say no, but it took her at least 15 minutes to feed her baby and then get ready for the shoot..
      I understand her reasoning, the baby would be less likely to be fussy if he was full. And I nursed both of my babies too; but because she wanted to use the actual camera room to nurse privately because she was too modest to nurse in the lobby, she put us way behind in our schedule and everyone one who had an appointment after her had to wait at least 20 to 30 minutes longer than they should.

  • Rachel Sea

    Sending her to an alley is just nuts, but I could totally see not wanting to have a dressing room occupied. Yes, she bought merchandise, but that doesn’t mean the store would be okay with cutting down sales for the half hour that the dressing room would be occupied. A sensible sales associate would have found her a chair and a discreet corner, and a sensible customer would have understood that the right to breastfeed in public does not give you the right to interrupt a business’ ability to do business.

  • TwentiSomething Mom

    I get if she walked in and said “hey can I breastfeed in your changing room?” and the store was very busy, they would have an issue giving up the space. Considering she was a paying customer I think they should have accommodated her.

  • Mikster

    I’m not sure they’d have permitted a formula-feeding Mom the time to put the dressing room out of commission either. And TBH, after raising 4 kids, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t shop around the feeding schedule of the baby. Mine always ate best in a nice cozy room at home in my arms without the distraction of a lot of people milling about.

  • MoD

    So I don’t feel that Victoria’s Secret really did anything wrong here. Businesses aren’t required to supply a customer a room or chair to breastfeed. However, they should not tell you to leave if you are breastfeeding (if you are walking around, for example, or sitting in a chair) or tell you to cover up. There is definitely a distinction here.

    As far as providing a good customer experience – absolutely allow her to breastfeed in a changing room if there is one available and no one is waiting. Direct her to a better place than an alley where she can comfortably feed her baby – but maybe they didn’t know of a place? It’s really not their job to find her a place to breastfeed. Its the mother’s responsibility to plan ahead. I would find it annoying if I was waiting in line for a dressing room in a busy store and I knew someone was sitting in there feeding a baby for twenty minutes. (I’m thinking of the the H&M at my mall – it always has crazy long waits for dressing rooms on the weekends.)

    Department stores are usually great places to find a place to breastfeed. They either have lounges in the restrooms, or rows of unused dressing rooms in the less busy departments.

  • guest

    Yet another media story about outrageous discrimination against breastfeeding that doesnt actually involve anyone discriminating against breastfeeding. Sigh. She asked a store employee if she could feed her child in a dressing room, I would assume they would tell any mother no- breast or bottle, its a store not an eatery. By alley Im assuming a side way of the outside mall? More than likely her question caught an employee off guard & they didnt know where to tell her to go, since it is kinda her choice where to go feed her kid, why is it the employees problem?

    They didnt kick her out of the store, did they say she couldnt feed the kid right there? They said she couldnt use a dressing room. And no store in their right mind is going to send a customer to the back of the store (employee areas I mean) it would be a huge lawsuit thing if she tripped & fell or something.

    I dont get the randomness of some breast feeders. Yes obviously your breasts are always with you so you can whip em out wherever you please but when Im out with my babe I always have a bottle with me,I could in fact whip it out wherever, I dont however have deep desires to feed my child in these weird places some breast feeders seem to prefer-bathrooms,dressing rooms, public swimming pools (ijustthrewupinmymouthalittleyuck), sitting cross legged in the middle of a dirty floor etc. None of those are places I would WANT to feed my baby in. I plan my day around a baby schedule & make sure Im in a comfortable non-gross place for my kid to eat when its time to feed them, if they get hungry before I expected I leave & take care of my baby. I just dont get the thinking that breastfeeding mothers require special accommodations from everyone else wherever they go.

  • gothicgaelicgirl

    Would that employee go have her lunch in a smelly alley?
    Didn’t think so…
    Plus the mother was decent to ask, I doubt anyone would have noticed or cared if she had gone ahead and slipped into the changing room and not gotten permission, but she did the right thing.

    Ridiculous how a human right, the baby’s need to feed, is so blatantly tossed aside by so many people.

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