There are 49 states with some kind of law on the books that protects a mother’s right to breastfeed in public, so unless you live in Idaho — the only state without — you’d expect to be able to breastfeed at your own child support hearing in a courtroom that’s supposed to uphold those laws. At least, that’s what a breastfeeding Michigan mom thought until she was asked stop feeding her baby or leave.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Kylee Dickinson was breastfeeding her fussy six-month-old during a child support hearing last week when a Friend Of The Court referee, Dean Winnie, told her she couldn’t do that in the courtroom and had to leave if she wanted to continue nursing. Dickinson stopped, which made her baby cry, so she was then ordered to leave anyway because of her fussy baby.
Unsure of what to do, Dickinson turned to her breastfeeding support group and together they staged a nurse-in at the Friend Of The Court offices in Lansing, Michigan. A spokesperson for the group said the point of the nurse-in was to raise awareness about the laws in Michigan that protect breastfeeding moms, since obviously not everyone is aware, but a court representative said the whole thing boils down to a simple misunderstanding:
Court administrator Shauna Dunnings said the incident amounted to “poor word choice,” and said Winnie meant to ask Dickinson to leave because of the noise her infant was making.
“We acknowledge after listening to the sequence of events that Mr. Winnie could have handled it differently,” Dunnings said, referencing a recording of the hearing. “It is very unfortunate that this isolated incident has projected the impression that we are not breastfeeding-friendly, because that is not the case at all.”
What happened to Dickinson highlights a disconnect between policy and reality that exists almost everywhere for breastfeeding moms. Michigan has both a law preventing breastfeeding discrimination and a resolution supporting breastfeeding rights in county buildings, but this mom was still told to stop what she was doing. We can have all the right laws and guidelines in place, but none of it matters if we fail to educate people and inform them of the rules.
It’s unfortunate, but many people do not support breastfeeding moms when left to their own devices. They shame them, ask them to cover up, and kick them out of places. It’s up to the rest of us to educate and call out wrongs, and it needs to be a part of basic training to inform employees of the laws and policies that relate to breastfeeding. It shouldn’t take a controversy and a nurse-in for employers to start this conversation, particularly for people who work in the courts.