Since starting The Leaky Boob 2.5 years ago I have said and photographed things I would never have imagined doing before. I’ve said things such as “breastfeeding is not about sex, it’s about feeding a baby.” Nothing like stating the obvious. Most recently was texting my husband “do you know where that nudie card is I brought back from Vegas? I need it.” Yep, I brought a nudie card home from Vegas.
Say “Las Vegas” and most of us conjure up images of slot machines, black jack tables, show girls, stripers, booze, and buffets with obscene quantities of food. Sex and money seem to flow freely. Clothing requirements are little more than sequins, triangles, stars, and stilettos for women, the range is a little more diverse for men.
Say “mommy conference” and you probably picture babies in strollers or carriers, baby toys, tennis shoes, snack cups, and a chatty group of women. Breastmilk and cheerios seem to flow freely. Clothing requirements range from diapers and onesies or soft outfits in bright colors for the smaller ones in the crowd and something comfortable covered in spit up for the adults.
Say “mommy conference in Las Vegas” and you might get a little confused.
However, as much as it may seem like a collision of 2 very different worlds, the MommyCon conference in Las Vegas hosted at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino was anything but confused. It was fun, vibrant, and sometimes a little comical (I doubt Vegas has ever seen so many babies in carriers going through their casinos). The Flamingo Hotel did a great job securing extra cribs for the influx of young guests and the conference area hosted workshops like dancing with your baby and it didn’t even involve a pole. While there was room for improvement, the host hotel handled the influx of moms and dads with babies and young children well and the juxtaposition wasn’t as weird as I anticipated. I was thrilled to be there as a speaker and enjoyed my first ever trip to Las Vegas. It seemed appropriate that I was in Vegas speaking about Sex, Lies, Parenting, and the Rest. I had a great time with my fellow speakers and meeting the attendees of the event.
I have breastfed 6 children now, in all different settings, sometimes covered and sometimes not. Over time, however, I stopped covering completely thanks to babies that fought the cover, me realizing that I don’t show much when I feed my baby, and eventually a belief that covering was actually hindering breastfeeding for some women either because they didn’t see others doing it or because they couldn’t navigate breastfeeding in public with a cover. In all my breastfeeding in public experience, I have never, not once, been asked to cover or leave. There have been times I thought I received disapproving looks or was shunned for feeding but I’ve never experienced any kind of real negativity about my feeding my baby. Actually, I’ve experienced several positive and affirming exchanges as I fed my babies in public, more people expressing support than disapproval. Today I’m experienced and confident when I feed my babies, well practiced and well informed about my baby’s right to eat. Even now though, when I need to feed my baby in a public setting I will have a moment of anticipatory nervousness as though I expect something to happen.
Except in Vegas at a mommy conference that highlighted breastfeeding and where I was speaking because I created “The Leaky Boob.” It didn’t even occur to me that someone could have a problem with me breastfeeding there, of all places.
Following my first talk in the morning of Friday, January 4, 2013, I met up with my friend, Sue, who was helping take care of my 8 month old daughter, who I call Sugarbaby, while I spoke. We decided to have lunch in the Flamingo’s Tropical Breeze Cafe so I could feed my baby and myself before speaking at another session after the break. Wearing a simple button up shirt and a Rumina Nursingwear tank with Bamboobies breastpads (I may be The Leaky Boob but I didn’t want to leak during my talks), I fed my hungry baby shortly after we were seated while we skimmed the menu. She was hungry and had missed me so she got down to business pretty quickly and stayed focused. Our server brought us our drinks and a random cup of coffee neither of us ordered and took our food order. As we sat joking about the random cup of coffee and waiting for our food (I think he thought I looked like I could use some caffeine), a lovely woman in a suit approached us. She smiled and asked us how we were then very politely requested that I use a cover, nodding in the general direction of my baby at my breast.
People, I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I laughed and asked her to repeat herself.
After confirming that she was indeed asking me to cover while I fed my baby I returned her smile, barely suppressed my laughter, and informed her of my legal right to breastfeed my baby anywhere my baby and I have the right to be, covered or not. (Do you know the laws where you are? This helpful resource compiled by You Can Breastfeed Here is a great place to start to find out.) Her smile waining ever so slightly and her eyes widening ever so noticeably, she gently, though firmly, informed me that I could do whatever I wanted to do but that if I covered I would be making others feel more comfortable as there had been four tables that complained about what I was doing.
I laughed again. Harder. “They do know they are in Vegas, right?” I asked her through my laughter. Because this is what is on the sidewalks and shoved into the hands of those walking on the strip:
She looked around and I kept looking at her, still chuckling at the irony of this situation. She knows that just before walking into her cafe I walked past a platform where that very evening, like every night, a woman exposing far more than I was while feeding my baby, dances with moves intending to sexually entice. She knows that the sidewalks in front of the hotel are littered with photo cards of naked women with tiny stars on their nipples. She knows that this very hotel advertises a burlesque show featuring breasts (bare), butts, and spread eagle moves on a video that loops endlessly in each guest elevator. She knows that the very people that complained have seen all that and probably more in the 10 minutes before they sat at their table. I know she was just trying to do her job. I know she had no idea that there was actually a law stating I had the right to breastfeed anywhere my baby and I were legally permitted to be. I know that in her line of work making the customer happy is a delicate balance when one customer may be making another uncomfortable. I know that in that moment she was wishing I had never walked into her cafe. I wondered if news coverage of irate breastfeeding moms flashed through her mind.
When she looked back at me I felt sorry for her. She was probably a mom, I don’t know, but she wasn’t trying to make my life hard, nor was I trying to complicate her job. In her mind it was simple, I could cover. In my mind it was simple as well, putting the comfort of others over my child’s right to eat without a blanket on her head just wasn’t ok. Her smile gone but her face still pleasant she stated again that I could do what I want but it would really help if I covered. I thanked her and kindly told her that I would continue feeding my baby as I was.
Note that she didn’t yell at me, she never touched my baby or me, she did not call me names, she did not go over to the tables that complained and loudly inform them that I wouldn’t comply, she didn’t ask me to leave, and she didn’t threaten me in any way.
My friend and I laughed once she walked away, we could hardly talk as we shook with laughter. Jamie Greyson, TheBabyGuyNYC, joined us for lunch and we all talked about what had just happened. This was a big deal but I didn’t want to do much about it before giving the hotel and casino the opportunity to make things right. As I had another session coming up there wasn’t much I could do in the moment but finish feeding my daughter, eat my lunch, and tweet about the irony of the situation. Jamie and I both shared the story on Twitter, tagged Flamingo, ordered our food, and discussed the entire situation over our meal before heading to my next session. We all agreed that how I was feeding Sugarbaby at the moment showed far less than the poster outside the cafe and the cards handed out on the Vegas streets.
Here’s where it gets most interesting. In the 2.5 years I’ve been running The Leaky Boob I have watched how companies handle such fumbles when they receive public scrutiny for harassing a breastfeeding mothers and precious few navigate the rocky terrain well. That very weekend Hollister Co was facing a national nurse-in protesting their handling of one of their store managers humiliating a Houston woman for breastfeeding in their Galleria store. Over a week later and the company still hasn’t responded adequately. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Las Vegas hotel and casino but was pleasantly surprised to discover tweets from them responding not only to mine and Jamie’s tweets regarding the situation but individual responses to each of our followers that tweeted Flamingo about the situation as well. It wasn’t long before I had a direct exchange with Flamingo on Twitter, in direct message, over emails, and then a phone call. The representatives of the Flamingo asked if they could meet with me before I left and they publicly informed Twitter that they would be working with me to make it right.
My day was full of events and meetings so I was unavailable until Saturday, just before I had to leave. It would have been easy to brush me off on a Saturday but instead Scott Farber Director of Food Operations, met with me personally Saturday morning to apologize, let me know that he had a meeting with his staff on Friday and informed them of Nevada state law permitting a woman to breastfeed her child where ever she has the legal right to be, and instructing his staff that should customers complain about a woman breastfeeding again they would not address the mother but would work with the customers that complained. Kind and genuine, Scott laughed with me at the irony of being in Vegas and asked to cover. Scott offered to make it up to me with a free meal and more and was genuinely concerned about how I was after the experience. He shared that Estella, the manager, was horrified that she had misstepped in saying anything to me and he extended her apology as well as I didn’t have time to meet with her. We discussed how the Flamingo could better welcome families and some changes that could be made to do so well. The possibility of me returning to train their staff and sister hotels to consult with them on how to be set apart in Las Vegas as a family friendly destination came up. These weren’t the actions of a company that wanted to embarrass their customer families, these were the actions of a company that cared to stand apart and understands the value of doing things right.
Yes, the cafe manager should have been aware of the law prior to asking me to cover but it isn’t a well-known law and probably not something they would have even anticipated needing to know. Now that they are aware, however, they are responding and preparing to not make the same mistake again. Instead of ignoring or responding heatedly to the situation, the Flamingo has become a model for other companies that find themselves in what could be a PR disaster. A company that will receive my repeat business because of how well they handled their mistake.
The problem is a simple fix for the historic Las Vegas hotel and casino and they are well on their way to making it right. The experience reflects more on society as a whole though. That the most scandalous sight for some Las Vegas visitors was a baby eating is a little mind boggling. Thankfully, I’m not easily intimidated, am informed on the law, am more than happy to help educate, and in the end I’m glad this experience happened to me because I believe through it The Leaky Boob and the Flamingo hotel and casino can work together to better support breastfeeding moms be they in Las Vegas or on the other side of the world. If it happened to someone else it could have greatly damaged their breastfeeding relationship or intimidated them to not risk leaving their home setting them up for postpartum depression and extreme isolation. Hopefully, by raising awareness others can become informed of the laws and their right to feed their baby and more companies will work to educate their employees on how to better support breastfeeding mothers and more and more mothers won’t have to be afraid to breastfeed their babies in Vegas or anywhere else.
The Flamingo Hotel and Casino has asked me for tips and suggestions as to how their staff could handle breastfeeding situations in the future in a way that would be supportive and informed.
What would be your suggestions?
What tips would you give the employees that may encounter a breastfeeding pair and possible complaints from other guests?