A mom-on-mom skirmish over public breast-feeding erupted this week in the kiddie pool at the Mora Aquatic Center, sparking outrage on social media and a call for a “nurse-in” at the municipal pool.
“It was an absolute no-win” situation by the time the sheriff’s office was called and arrived on the scene, said Kanabec County Sheriff Brian Smith. Then it blew up when the tiff over breast-feeding dominated the aquatic center’s Facebook site.
It all began on Wednesday, a warm summer afternoon that drew a crowd to the city’s pool. Two women were in the kiddie pool breast-feeding their babies when another mother suggested the women be more discreet, Smith said. Apparently they declined. He said he doesn’t know how much of the women’s breasts were exposed but apparently there were other moms at the pool who agreed that it wasn’t appropriate behavior in the pool where children were playing.
“Breast-feeding at the Mora pool isn’t anything new. It’s been a normal thing for years. That’s what really makes this thing unusual,” Smith said, pointing out that it’s legal to breast-feed in public. Mothers often breast-feed on the pool deck, not in the kiddie pool, he said.
“My own kids were breast-fed at that pool,” Smith added. “It’s usually done discreetly — not out in the middle of the kiddie pool with little kids playing in the water. I think that’s what was going on here.”
Eventually, a complaint was made to the pool’s manager, who instructed a teen employee to ask the breast-feeding moms to move to the pool deck or the changing area, Smith said.
“They said they knew the law and they weren’t moving,” he said. That’s when things between the breast-feeding moms and other moms got heated.
“We were getting raised voices and shouting across the pool. … Now there’s a ruckus,” Smith said. So the manager called 911 for help.
By the time the officer arrived, the breast-feeding moms were packing up to leave, angry and embarrassed that someone had called the cops, Smith said. The officer didn’t ask them to leave but merely wanted to find a compromise to accommodate everyone, he explained.
“We’re leaving,” the moms told the officer.
Then tempers rose again as one of the breast-feeding moms shot cellphone video of those who complained. They in turn demanded the phone be confiscated, only to be told by the officer that there’s nothing illegal about taking a video or photo in a public place. Now those moms are angry at the officer, Smith said.
It seemed like that would be the end of it, Smith said.
Then a Facebook fury ignited.
One of the moms posted:
“Mora aquatic center lost my business forever, today. Today they called the police on me and my sister-in-law for nursing our babies in public. I wasn’t flashing them around, nobody saw any nipple, there were other moms there nursing their babies, and LOTS of other women showing more skin than me but because one woman saw me and complained, this establishment called the police. Minnesota state law protects mothers doing their natural God given right to feed their babies therefore I could not get charged with anything but the Mora pool said that if I was not going to feed my baby in the locker room, that as a private business they reserve the right to ask me to leave.”
Facebook users squared off. Some defended the pool’s staff; others defended the women’s right to breast-feed. And now breast-feeding proponents will stage a “nurse-in” at noon Saturday at the aquatic center.
Britany McIalwain of Ogilvie said she organized the event to educate people about breast-feeding. It’s not, she said, an attack on the pool, its staff or the police.
McIalwain, the mother of a 3-year-old boy and another who is nearly 6 months old, said she’s been asked to move to a corner or into a bathroom while breast-feeding. She once was verbally shamed by a man in his 30s as she breast-fed her son in a Mora coffee shop.
McIalwain said she prefers to be discreet as possible while nursing in public, wearing a nursing tank top under a shirt. “You can see nothing,” she said.
Two weeks ago, she moved the top of her one-piece bathing suit to the side and breast-fed her son while in the Mora kiddie pool as her 3-year-old son played there. A few people stared, but no one said anything.
“We should be able to nurse wherever and whenever,” McIalwain said. Women shouldn’t have to feed their babies in dirty bathrooms, slippery locker rooms or under blankets, she said.
“You can nurse in any way you want — whether your shirt is completely pulled down, pulled up, pulled to the side, you have a cover, you can’t cover. Breasts are intended to nourish children,” McIalwain said.
Shaming, particularly women shaming other women, needs to stop, she said.
“It shouldn’t matter whether our baby is formula-fed or breast-fed,” McIalwain said. “We’re all on the same team and we need to root each other on.”