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A Poolside Debate Over Breast-Feeding Etiquette

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New York Times: Breast-feeding babies alfresco has, over the years, become as routine at the Maplewood, NJ, town pool as swimming and sunbathing.

woman breastfeeding
And, with apologies, town leaders issued a policy statement yesterday saying it was welcome, even encouraged. Period. Just, kindly, be discreet, they asked.

The invitation, they hope, is the last word in a nursing-in-public debate that has spiced the lazy languishing at the pool these late summer days and left some mothers -- nursing and otherwise -- feeling like second-class citizens.

The problem started over the weekend. It seems that a nursing mother became a bit too obvious near the wading pool. A pool patron complained. And a member of the pool staff said over the loudspeaker that nursing was restricted to the women's locker room. An uproar ensued.

"It seems we as a society have more of a problem with a nursing mother than with violence on TV," said Carolyn Heymann as she lugged 8-month-old Andrew into the pool. Her friend, Nancy Overheim, mother of a 2-year-old son, Don, said most nursing mothers she knows cover themselves with a towel at the pool. "They're not exposing themselves in any way," she said. "Most people with a problem with it haven't been a mother, aren't nursing or are in the older generation."

Anne Beane said she nursed her son Paul, now 3, in his infancy when she want to the pool. "You just put a towel over yourself," she said. "No one ever said anything to me."

Susan Walker, mother of Lucas, 7, and Michael, 4, said she welcomed the flap. The nation's Surgeon General, she said, recently recommended that children be breast-fed until age 2.

"The only way our society will reach this goal is by accepting it," Ms. Walker said. "I like seeing breast-feeding in public. I want my children to be exposed to breast-feeding in public. I want them to know it's the normal, healthy way of mothering children and raising children."

One elderly lady who asked to remain anonymous disagreed. "I still don't think it looks right," she said as she walked to her car. "I don't think it would be proper. They have a ladies' room here and they could go there."

Joann Chierico, mother of Gregory, 2, thought that exiling nursing mothers to the locker room was a bit too much. But, she said, they should not be allowed to nurse openly in the sitting pool or by the snack bar.

"It shouldn't be in an obvious place where kids of all ages are running around," she said.

Hogwash, argued Minnie Berman, 80 years old. "It's the natural thing. It's nothing."

Another mother who asked to remain anonymous suggested that there were troubling sights at the pool. "They should complain about guys in bathing suits," brief, tight ones, "who are disgusting," she said.

Yesterday, Maplewood's Mayor, Robert H. Grasmere, interceded on the side of the nursing mothers. In a statement that he drafted, with the concurrence of the five-member township committee, Mayor Grasmere said Maplewood's government, as well as its Board of Health, "encourages" nursing in public, as long as it is discreet.

He noted that the committee and the pool's advisory committee had never established any rules or restrictions regarding breast-feeding.

"We are quite content to rely upon the good sense and propriety of mothers," Mayor Grasmere said.

Maplewood, a well-to-do suburb just west of Newark, prides itself on its 27-year-old pool complex, which has 8,000 members, all Maplewood residents.

Besides its baby pool, training pool, Olympic-sized swimming pool, the eight-acre complex boasts one of the few 10-meter diving towers in the metropolitan region. Olympic diving hopefuls regularly train there.

Pool officials who asked to remain anonymous say this is not the first summer there have been complaints about public nursing at the pool. But they have been handled individually and quietly, without the sort of open announcement of last weekend.

Mayor Grasmere declined to go into any details about the announcement, other than to say it should not have been made. More appropriately, he said, a female staff member should have been instructed to tell the woman privately that she had disturbed another patron.

The Mayor declined to say who made the announcement, and the pool's director, Ronald Sansone, declined to discuss the issue.

But the Mayor made it clear he was putting distance between town officials and Mr. Sansone and his staff.

The weekend announcement "is not reflective of any rule or attitude or stricture," the Mayor said. "There isn't any."

Read more hot stories Moms Are Talking About.


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21 comments so far | Post a comment now
PlumbLucky September 23, 2009, 7:40 AM

re: “Go to the restroom/lockerroom”.

Only if you go prepare and eat every bit of your meal there should all nursing mothers be required to in the same setting.

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