Woman says government worker halted breastfeeding
Senior Staff Writer
Local government workers’ reactions to a mother nourishing her child the natural way ranged from unease to downright hostility, a North San Juan woman said Thursday.
By coincidence, Melissa Crawford’s charges come in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week, prompting advocates and at least one county official to welcome the incidents as an opportunity to educate: Public breastfeeding is protected under state law.
“I moved here because it is considered an area that is tolerant. That’s why I was so surprised,” Crawford said. “I don’t believe in revenge. I just want (government workers) to know before the next nursing mother goes in there.”
The incidents occurred at Nevada County’s Rood Center and Grass Valley’s City Hall, she said.
Single mom Crawford was at the Rood Center’s Community Development Department counter on Tuesday filling out a form and breastfeeding 15-month-old Amrita when employee and code enforcer Shari Parker allegedly told her to go outside for her daughter’s meal.
When Crawford protested Parker’s demand, Parker threatened to have her arrested for indecent exposure, Crawford said.
Parker denied making the threat, and she referred all other questions to Gregory Shaffer, the county’s chief code enforcement officer.
Shaffer denied Crawford’s claim about the threat of arrest, but said he was using the situation to remind his code enforcement workers that California women have a legal right to nurse in public.
“It’s the county’s position that all women have the absolute right to breastfeed in our buildings, and we support the law,” Shaffer said. “It sounded like it was a misunderstanding, and if it was, we certainly regret it. We support her right to raise a healthy child.”
In Grass Valley that same day, Crawford arrived at City Hall 10 minutes before closing time. Her child was crying and squirming, making it hard for employee Steven Fawcett to conduct business with her at the counter, Community Development Director Joe Heckel said.
“There was a pretty substantial view of the whole breastfeeding process,” Heckel said. “It’s not something we encounter every day.”
Fawcett was respectful, Crawford said, but his apparent uneasiness caused her to turn her back and stop nursing her daughter.
Grass Valley has no established policy for nursing inside City Hall, Heckel said. Officials are pondering how workers should react in the future.
‘People aren’t aware’
Breastfeeding advocates said the incidents offer a timely reminder that women have a right to nurse publicly in California. The cause was embraced by Gov. Schwarzenegger, who declared August Breastfeeding Awareness Month.
World Breastfeeding Week is a product of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action.
The California law, under Civil Code section 43.3, reads:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and child are authorized to be present.”
Government employees involved in Crawford’s situation may not have been aware that state law allows public nursing, said Laurie Chamberlin of Nevada County, a private breastfeeding and child-raising coach.
“Now that they do, it’s better for everybody,” Chamberlin said. “We skipped a generation of breastfeeding, and it’s coming back, and people need to be respectful on both sides.”
Arly Helm, a breastfeeding consultant for the county and a principal player in the private Breastfeeding Coalition of Nevada County, also wrote the public breastfeeding law for the state of Utah.
“People aren’t aware” that public breastfeeding is legal, Helm said. “For a while, we were all offended by women wearing pants, but we’re past that. We’re past getting excited over biracial couples and biracial children, too.”
By going public with her complaint, she hoped to raise awareness, Crawford said.
“It doesn’t matter what I am or what I look like. The law protects my daughter’s right to nurse,” said Crawford, who sports dreadlocks. “I want the public to know: This is a civil rights issue.”
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4237.
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