Breastfeeding harassment in our own backyard

CORRECTION: Nurse-in at Toys ‘R Us Times Square will occur at 11:00 am on Thurs. 9/21, and not 10:30.

Breastfeeding harassment in the Big Apple, at a children’s store, no less. And how ironic that this should happen here, in NY State, where we have some of the most protective and progressive breastfeeding legislature of any of the 50 states, and Carolyn Maloney, sponsor of the Breastfeeding Promotion Act and one of the most outspoken advocates for women and women’s health in Congress, is our House Representative.

Here’s a letter posted by Chelsi Meyerson last Wendesday on the Flatbush Family Network board, after being unfairly harrassed for breastfeeding her child at the Times Square Toys ‘R Us on 42nd St on Monday.:

    Good morning. I wanted to write you all and tell you about the humiliating treatment that I recently received from one of our nation’s leading childrens’ stores. I am not one to usually vent publicly, but think that I have an obligation to share my situation with as many families as I can.

    On Monday, my family and I were wrapping up my 3 year old daughter’s birthday weekend by visiting the 42nd Street Time Square Toy’s R Us. As a trip to the store is always fun, she was incredibly excited and quickly busied herself playing. Soon after she began playing, my 7 month old son let me know that he was hungry. I found a quiet and out-of-the-way area and plopped down to breastfeed him. Not 2 minutes into it, I was approached by a sales woman who told me I had to move to the basement floor to breastfeed. When I wouldn’t move, she told me that I was not allowed to stay there and it was inappropriate because there were children around. When I still wouldn’t move, 4 other sales women harassed me about it – the original harasser told them not to worry, she had already called someone to “deal with me”. Security then arrived to “deal with me”. By this time I had finished and stood up. I demanded to speak with the top store manager. All I got was a floor manager who simply gave me a simple “Sorry” and who demanded no apology or accountability from his staff. After being harassed by 5 sales women and having security called to deal with me as though I was a criminal, this response is simply not sufficient.

    Today I contacted Toys ‘R Us headquarters to speak to someone there. All I got was “guest services”. They would not put me in to speak with any sort of manager or anyone with any authority, conveniently claiming that they were all “unavailable”. The representative that I spoke to also gave me a “sorry”. He said that he would pass it on the right “team” and I would be contacted in the next 7 to 10 business days. For so much harassing and the ruining of the birthday celebration for my daughter…..all they could do was say “sorry”. What they really need to do is educate their misguided staff on breastfeeding.

    Breastfeeding is not a crime. Breastfeeding in public is not even inappropriate behavior. Breastfeeding is fundamentally one of the most precious gifts that a mother can provide a child and has been proven to improve the health and emotional welfare of a child. And, regardless of what an individual’s personal opinion on breastfeeding is, my right to breastfeed in public, when and where I choose to should never be in question. After all, New York State has been a leader in breastfeeding legislation. In fact, legislation passed in New York in 1992 guarantees mothers the right to breastfeed in any location (public or private) where the mother is authorized to be. In other words: if Toy’s R Us allows me to enter their store to shop than they have to allow me to breastfeed. By limiting these rights, they have committed the criminal act. Not me.

    Regardless of my being able to claim the legal and scientific high-road, this situation was one that I will never forget in my entire life. I have never been more humiliated and dismayed. My mother was the head of the La Leche League many years ago, and she passed down to me a deep respect and passion for the importance of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding my child is simply not a right that I am willing to give up or to compromise on.

    Please pass this along to everyone you know, hopefully we can get the word out. If you know of anyone who can get this any other press or media attention – or legal action, please contact me directly or pass this note along. We can’t let Toys ‘R Us get away with this!

    Also, anyone up for a “nurse in” outside the 42nd Street Toys ‘R Us? Let me know!

    Thank you-
    Chelsi Meyerson – Mom of Olivia 3 and Mason 7 months.

Now, here’s what the actual legal language of NY State has to say about breastfeeding:

    NY CLS Civ R § 79-e (Article 7 Miscellaneous Provisions).
    1994 N.Y. ALS 98; 1994 N.Y. LAWS 98; 1994 N.Y. S.N. 3999
    § 79-E. Right To Breast Feed.
    Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast feed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breast feeding.

    As you will read, all mothers have the right to breastfeed anywhere that they are are allowed to be. Furthermore, there is no burden of “covering up” that the mother has to consider. Despite the sexual purpose of the breast, the State has determined that breastfeeding does not in any way fit into the category of indecent exposure. This is evident by New York State’s own Public Exposure laws. Please read below:

    § 245.01. Exposure of a person
    A person is guilty of exposure if he appears in a public place in such a manner that the private or intimate parts of his body are unclothed or exposed. For purposes of this section, the private or intimate parts of a female person shall include that portion of the breast which is below the top of the areola. This section shall not apply to the breastfeeding of infants or to any person entertaining or performing in a play, exhibition, show or entertainment.

Thankfully, Chelsi knew her rights, and is not one to back down. Since her degrading treatment at Toys ‘R Us, she’s been busy, contacting the local media and organizing a nurse-in outside the 42nd Street Toys ‘R Us for this coming Thursday (9/21) at 11:00.

It’s amazing to me that such a dual standard exists in our society right now. Images of breasts are plastered all over magazine covers and billboards, and are standard fare in movies and TV programs, yet when people actually see women using their breasts for the purpose for which they were designed, all kinds of puritanical hell is brought to bear upon the poor, offending woman who was just trying to feed her hungry child. I have heard people complain about breastfeeding in public, asking why can’t the woman just do it at home? Or in the bathroom? Or somewhere out of sight? Well, why don’t they just eat their lunch at home, or in that same dirty bathroom, or somewhere out of sight as well? Breastfeeding babies eat every 2 to 3 hours. If women can’t be seen while breastfeeding, and her baby needs to eat every 2 hours, then she is basically confined to the walls of her home. The lack of empathy inherent in a complaint like that implies that the person complaining has never once stopped to think about the demands placed on a mother trying to do the best thing for her baby by breastfeeding, but also survive as a member of our society, get the grocery shopping done, take care of her other children, and work and earn an income…just like the rest of us! And from a business perspective, this kind of attitude is just plain stupid. If you’re a children’s store catering to young children (and their breastfeeding mothers), discouraging breastfeeding in your store is the surely the best way to ensure that the breastfeeding woman doesn’t add her consumer dollar to your till. Basically, shooting yourself in the foot economically. This is not the way to encourage breastfeeding, especially when the number of women breastfeeding in the United States already ranks among the lowest in the world, and our Department of Health and Human Services, concerned by the health implications of such a low rate, is doing everything it can to encourage breastfeeding in the face of such public hostility.

If you’re as outraged as I am by this, here are some folks you can complain to:

Gerald L. Storch
Chairman and CEO
Toys “R” Us, Inc. Headquarters
One Geoffrey Way
Wayne, New Jersey

cc the letter to:
Dan Caspersen
Executive Vice President, Human Resources
Toys “R” Us, Inc.

You can also write to our enlightened Congresswoman:

Washington Office:
Congresswoman Maloney
2331 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515-3214
202.225.7944 phone
202.225.4709 fax

Manhattan Office:
Congresswoman Maloney
1651 3rd Avenue Suite 311
New York, NY 10128-3679
212-860-0606 phone
212-860-0704 fax

For women experiencing problems breastfeeding in public (harassment on the
train, by public officials, etc.), the BPLC (The New York City Breastfeeding
Promotion Leadership Committee) will take complaints, or you can contact Kate Sharp directly (

Thankfully, the media is also making a meal of this:

NY Daily News

NY Post

NY1 News

ABC local

The Gothamist

Letter from NYCLU to Gerald L. Storch, Chairman and CEO of Toys ‘R Us.

So, what are you doing this Thursday at 11:00?? Come to the Nurse-in at the Toys ‘R Us at 42nd Street, Times Square! (Sadly, I’ll be in class, otherwise I’d be there waving a banner around with all of my lactating sisters). Chelsi, thank you for your bravery and committment to this!

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