Utah needs to remove the stigma from breastfeeding in public

Wednesday , February 14, 2018 - 4:30 AM3 comments


You wouldn’t go out to eat and ask for a table in the bathroom.

But that’s where breastfeeding mothers sometimes find themselves relegated.

And occasionally, the prudes even find you there. About a year ago, a customer at Nordstrom Rack in Farmington complained that a woman was breastfeeding a baby in a restroom. An employee asked the mother to move to a dressing room.

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Rep. Justin Fawson believes Utah needs to remove the stigma from breastfeeding.

Fawson, a North Ogden Republican, sponsored a bill allowing women to breastfeed children in any place that accommodates the public. It passed a male-dominated subcommittee on a 6-5 vote Thursday, Feb. 8, and advanced to the House for a third reading.

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Only Utah and Idaho fail to protect the rights of nursing mothers.

Utah is the youngest state in the country, with a median age of 30.7. Those young Utahns produce a lot of babies. Nationally, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Utah’s 2015 birth rate — 78 per 1,000 women — trailed only South Dakota’s, and only by 0.2.

That adds up to a lot of young Utahns whose mothers breastfeed.

When a baby needs to eat, a baby needs to eat. Yet when mothers try to breastfeed their infants in a restaurant or store, they’re often asked to cover up or leave.

That’s a hardship on both mother and infant.

“My hope is we can normalize breastfeeding again, and moms don’t need to fear if they’ll be embarrassed if they go somewhere and have to feed their child,” Fawson said at Thursday’s hearing.

Yet some lawmakers struggled with the thought of an infant sucking on a nipple in public. They worry that some Utahns might consider it — well ... immodest.

“We’ve all become accustomed to mothers who breastfeed in public. It’s acceptable all the way around,” said Rep. Curt Webb, a Cache County Republican. “But it appears there is no standard of modesty at all built into this bill. This seems to say you don’t have to cover up at all. I’m not comfortable with that ... it’s really in your face.”

Republican Rep. Mike Schultz of Hooper agreed and tried to add a modesty amendment to HB 196, calling for women to cover themselves as their babies nursed.

A 1995 law already addresses modesty, Fawson argued — and it comes down on the side of nursing mothers, who aren’t required to conceal the babies at their breasts.

The last two decades didn’t result in “widespread pornographic feeding frenzies, if you will,” Fawson pointed out, arguing the amendment wasn’t necessary.

No, a baby at a mother’s breast isn’t pornographic. It isn’t immodest. It’s natural.

Utah mothers deserve to right to breastfeed their infants in public places — without being asked to leave or cover up.

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