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:


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?