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Health & Baby

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Breastfeeding Goes Public

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WebMD Health News

April 9, 2001 (Washington) -- There's a new civil rights movement underway, and it focuses on one of nature's most basic functions -- breastfeeding. From "nurse-in" protests at state capitols to demands for "lactation stations" on the job, women are lifting their blouses while, in some cases, bystanders are raising their eyebrows in disdain.

Why has this become such a hot topic? Consider the following events: A mother in Washington state was fired for wanting to breastfeed in her van on her lunch break. An employee of an all-news TV network was booed while people leered at her for breastfeeding at work. A Maryland woman was asked to leave a Toys R Us store for having the temerity to breastfeed in front of other tots.

"Unfortunately, because some people see breasts as purely sexual things, they [can't] understand that you would have a right to feed your child and to nurse them anywhere you would have a right to give them a bottle," Cecilia Magalhaes, mother of two, tells WebMD.

Magalhaes, who lives in a Chicago suburb, has done extended breastfeeding for her two girls, 6-year-old Gabriela and Juliana, age 3. She says she's never had a problem, even in church. But she still believes moms need legal protection to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding proponents insist babies can drink their milk discretely by doing something as simple as draping a shawl over one's shoulder.

"Should a mother have to alter her entire parenting style, and possibly jeopardize the breastfeeding relationship, [and] give her baby bottles in public?" Elizabeth Baldwin, Esq., legal adviser to the breastfeeding advocacy group La Leche League International, tells WebMD.

Just last month, a group of about one dozen breastfeeding moms camped in front of the Maryland House of Delegates while a bill that would guarantee their right to breastfeed in public was being debated.

"I know [breastfeeding] is the best thing in the world for babies. It's what the good Lord wanted for kids. But it's already the law. ... Why do we need another one?" the Washington Post quoted Maryland Del. Robert Baldwin (R) as asking about the proposal.

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