A tale of a school, a teen, a baby, and a global community

baby breastfeeding

I can’t help but dream of the day when, of all the things to fight for, breastfeeding will no longer make the list.  Because it will just be.  Society will finally walk the talk and supporting breastfeeding will be as common place as supporting eating, sleeping, and other normal healthy lifestyle choices.  Accommodations for breastfeeding moms won’t be given a second thought, it will be accepted and encouraged without discrimination.

There are times when any glimmer of hope that one day this dream will be a reality is snuffed out by organizations handling a woman breastfeeding her child in their space badly.  Hollister Co. not only harassed a breastfeeding mother but refused to apologize or otherwise make amends for their illegal and hostile actions toward breastfeeding mothers and their families.  When given the chance to correct their response when hundreds of women around the country staged a nurse-in, they still refused to engage in a lawful and respectful manner, driving the wedge deeper.  Then things became even more volatile with Facebook nastiness, mall security harassed even more mothers, and further silence from Hollister.  At these times I shake my head and wonder if there is any chance my grandchildren will be able to eat normally without managers yelling at their mothers.

Then there are times when I’m encouraged and the glimmer of hope is fanned into a full fledged flame and I know that though the steps along the way have been, at times, tedious, they have also been worth it.  When the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Vegas responded to a disappointing misstep in asking a breastfeeding mother (yours truly) to cover while feeding her baby in one of their cafes by issuing an apology, immediately educating their staff on breastfeeding laws, and asking how they could better serve families, I thought if it can happen there then it can happen anywhere and we are well on our way!  (Read that story here.)

Society is well aware that breastfeeding is exactly what human infants need.  Most would say it’s “best.”  Unfortunately though, the walk still struggles to line up to the lip service being given.

Apparently, even within our educational centers.

When 15 year old Jaielyn Belong prepared to return to high school in the Lake Forest School District after the birth of her son, she was hoping all the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics would be supported by the very institution where she received the education that led her to think critically enough to understand the importance of applying these recommendations in caring for her son.  Unfortunately, the initial reaction from the school was to discourage her breastfeeding as there would be no place for her to pump, no time allotted for her to have pumping breaks, and nowhere to store her breastmilk for her infant son.  This recommendation came from the school nurse, the very person on staff at the school who should have been most supportive and understanding of Jaielyn’s desire to provide breastmilk for her son.  There was even a claim made that the noise of the breastpump would be a potential distraction to other students, that it was time consuming, and that they wouldn’t be sure she was even actually pumping milk when she claimed to be doing so.  The school nurse also expressed concern that Jaielyn could be teased.  Something the teen mom has surely already faced and is equipped to handle.  Jaielyn wasn’t choosing the easiest path, she was choosing the path she felt is right for her son, accepting the sacrifices required of her.  As any good mother would do.

As mommatraumablog.com pointed out, prohibiting Jaielyn from breastfeeding or pumping her milk was in violation of Delaware law which reads:

31 Del. C. § 310

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, a mother shall be entitled to breast-feed her baby in any location of a place of public accommodation, wherein the mother is otherwise permitted.

 

And if a teenager’s “job” is to apply themselves to receiving an education through schooling, then it is violating yet another law providing reasonable breaks to breastfeeding mothers:

SEC. 4207. REASONABLE BREAK TIME FOR NURSING MOTHERS.

Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 19384 (29 U.S.C. 207) is amended by adding at the end the following: 

‘‘An employer shall provide a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk; and a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

 

Unfortunately, I hear on a regular basis from breastfeeding moms that teach that there is a real struggle to find time and space to pump and store their milk.  Many report having no support from their administration to have “reasonable break times.”   This concerned me that if adult employees receiving a pay check struggle with this, what are the implications for a student?

As I watched this story unfold via social media and then mainstream media, I wondered where this was heading.  The community of breastfeeding moms and the people that support them that I have come to know so well, rallied to surround Jaielyn, her son, and her mom Betty to offer their support and to lend their voice to making sure we, as a society, walk the talk and help this little boy receive the breastmilk his mother wants for him even as she receives the education to be the best she can be for her son.  Both of their futures depended on it.  As the Breastfeeding Coalition of Delaware expressed in their letter to the school district: “No mother should ever be made to feel that expressing milk for her child is unusual, unnatural, or that requesting reasonable accommodations is an inconvenience to others.” The whole situation could have gone any number of directions.  Ugly and depressing, involving protests with harassment from officials like the situation with Hollister Co. and by extension some malls (ironically, some in Delaware).  Or beautiful and encouraging, involving education opportunities and an official change to better support families and breastfeeding mothers much like the case with Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Nurse-ins have their place and can be used well to effect positive change and to give a show of peaceful solidarity amongst mothers.  Something the world needs to see in a culture that exploits “mommy wars” for entertainment.  But as La Leche League Leader Heather Felker points out, “{there} is no problem with nurse-ins once all ‘peaceful’ routes have failed.”  As much as I love hanging out with likeminded moms that understand how breastfeeding has impacted my life and my family, the truth is, I’d rather it be “just because” than to make a statement.  So I hoped that this situation with Lake Forest School District would be resolved without the peaceful protest of a nurse-in.

Thankfully, it appears that our peaceful solidarity as a community of mothers doesn’t require a nurse-in event to bring about change.  Via Facebook, twitter, emails, and phone calls, supporters for not only Jaiylen and her son but for the rights of all mothers and their breastfeeding children utilized their voice to see that we do indeed walk the talk.  As a result the school district has changed directions.  They’ve pulled a Flamingo, not a Hollister.  And Jaielyn will have space within which to pump her milk for her little boy and, thanks to the efforts of local mom supporters, a small refrigerator is being donated so Jaiylen and other breastfeeding students can store milk for their babies during their school day.  Heather Felker says: “In this case we had a great deal of powerful support, newspaper, radio, breastfeeding coalition, LLL, and it turned around quite quickly.”

It may be tempting to make a statement and stage a nurse-in anyway.  There were some rumblings of something like that with the Flamingo case but there was no need because the company self-corrected and learned from their mistake.  If we want to be taken seriously then we must know when to utilize the tools available for maximum impact, including when not to.  A nurse-in at the Lake Forest School District would distract from the progress that has been made and could potentially lead to issues for the very student we desire to support.  If there was a risk of the teen mom being teased before, a nurse-in in her honor would more than likely provide enough fuel for teasing and isolating bullying until her graduation.  We don’t actually have to go fight this one because we used appropriate peaceful routes and have already seen the desired results.  And if it can be achieved without such measures as a nurse-in then we are moving ever closer to the dream that one day breastfeeding won’t even be on the list of things we fight for within society.

I’m grateful to see the community of breastfeeding supporters come together to directly benefit one mother and the school district taking steps that will benefit even more.  Proud to see that our voice of influence is helping a young mom to reach her breastfeeding goal.  Excited to see that yet another organization has been willing to learn from us and change in order to offer support that puts action to the lip service given.  So now we ask how can we celebrate these steps?  How can we applaud the organizations that learn from their mistakes and make appropriate changes?

__________________________

How can we better help teen moms successfully breastfeed?  What roadblocks can we work to remove to encourage these moms?  Have you experienced or seen someone experience lack of support or even hostility towards breastfeeding pairs?  Were peaceful paths used to change support and reach a resolution?  

 

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Comments

  1. One statement I personally disagree with, I think it’s more likely that this smart young woman learned to think critically in spite of, not because of, her school.

  2. Pat Young says:

    As a pediatric APN, I have had the opportunity several times to call a school nurse and make arrangements for a teen mom to come to nurse’s office and express milk for her baby. I’m happy to say I always received cooperation from the school nurses and teen moms got the support they needed at school. I guess planning ahead with a simple phone call would eliminate scenes like Jaielyn experienced.
    She’s one smart teen to persist> Pat in SNJ

  3. My best friend is a mother/baby nurse and lactation nurse at our local university hospital and has many, many teen patients. Most of them don’t even try to breastfeed in spite of her encouragement so when one of these young girls actually makes the effort to give their baby the best food she should be encouraged, applauded and helped in any way possible! The odds are already stacked against these girls and their babies. Breastfeeding gives their futures a boost and should be strongly encouraged. I will say that I would like to see more quality alternatives to the traditional high school offered to these girls so they can have more time to care for their babies. Both of my sisters teach at a charter school that offers independent study options to teen moms and other students that gives them much more flexibility while still allowing them to complete their education.

    • She was being encouraged by the nurse and principal to go to the special school they have for pregnant teens and teen moms. She went while pregnant but decided it was not the best option for her continued education.

  4. I basically begged for help breastfeeding when I gave birth at 16. I did not receive it. I am very proud of this young lady.

  5. It’s obvious the way we can support(or not support) business’es like hollister and so on, with social media and word of mouth. However, a school needs the kind of support like this school did. Not attacking, just support that shows there are a large number of us who support breastfeeding, whether we are breastfeeding ourselves or not, that are educated and powerful within our means and we will not stand for discrimination at the very least.

    I had my son when I was a senior in college, and had one last class to go. I was so fortunate that I had a professor that allowed me to nurse on DEMAND. My husband would sit outside the class for 3 hours and text me when the baby needed me. We had latch issues from the get go so giving a bottle wasn’t an option. I had missed class multiple times to see a lactation consultant(her hours were only 10-3) and this professor let me do anything I needed as long as I could keep my grades up with missing class time.

    If I had not been so lucky to have such amazing professor, I wouldn’t be still breastfeeding my 20 month old. I was so scared to even ask for a nursing break, I thought I was imposing and I figured formula feeding was the normal(I have learned a lot since then 😉 )

    My point is, support in schools/universities is so important. There are the moms that are first time moms, young moms, uneducated moms, and they WILL be molded to however they are treated.

  6. Genevieve Thomas Colvin says:

    I think the most critical law that we have that protects pregnant and parenting students is TITLE IX of the Civil Rights Act. In California, our Education Code 200-201 calls for an “affirmative obligation” to prevent this type of sex discrimination to be in compliance with Title IX. Although schools are public places, there are restrictions in terms of who can be on campus. And pumping breast milk is not the same as direct breastfeeding. The public accommodation law only applies if the baby is allowed to be on campus. The lactation accommodation law applies to situations where there is an employer/employee relationship. However, Title IX violations are rampant in our schools, not just for pregnant and parenting students but for any situation in which young women may be at risk of sexual harassment and discrimination. In my opinion the better strategy would be to go to the Board of Education meetings and make public comments, highlight what went right (they complied with Title IX!) Encourage them to create parity by encouraging the young men who parenting to be counted in all teen pregnancy research. And most importantly, consider the young girls in foster care as being at critical risk for graduation failure, teen pregnancy and human trafficking and taking steps to prevent their exploitation by failing them in the school system. Thank you so much for highlighting this beautiful success story!

  7. I am glad the school was willing to help the student. teen mothers have so much difficulty, it is good that they are willing to support her in her desire to breastfeed, even though it means work to accommodate her.

  8. Laura Ivansons says:

    I am quite proud to say I was actively involved in helping Jaelyn! I was the first to post on the facebook page for the school…and we took that down in a few hours. At that point they knew that this wonderful momma was not going to give up. In 8 hours, they were already working on getting a solution to the problem. Social media can be used for good! It really can. That is why I love Facebook. I choose to use it to help others instead of tear them down. I am now tandem nursing my 7th and 8th children and I know that breast is best and the right of every baby and momma!