OLYMPIA – Washington is joining dozens of other states in protecting the rights of mothers who breast-feed their children in public places like movie theaters, parks and shopping malls.
The new law, which takes effect Sunday, builds on a 2001 law that exempted breast-feeding from public indecency laws. But until now, nothing prevented businesses from asking women to leave or to cover up while breast-feeding.
Kim Rechner, a 42-year-old mother of two, said she was breast-feeding while waiting for her car at a tire store when she was told by an employee that she needed to do it in the bathroom, an experience she said was humiliating.
“You certainly do not feel like you’re doing anything shameful by feeding your child, and yet you are made to feel as though what you are doing is inappropriate,” said Rechner, a registered nurse who lives in Olympia. “And that’s really sad.”
Rep. Tami Green, the Tacoma Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the new law will help “jump-start the culture of change.”
“Women should feel as comfortable to sit down and breast-feed their child as they would be pulling a bottle out of the diaper bag,” she said.
Kimberly Radtke, program coordinator for the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington, said she hopes the law educates people who feel uncomfortable when they see women nurse their children.
“The reality is young babies need to eat frequently, and you need to feed that baby when you’re out and about,” she said.
Laura Lindstrand, a civil rights specialist with the state’s Human Rights Commission, said the agency plans to make wallet cards with information on the new law that women can carry with them.
If a woman is asked to leave or cover up because she’s breast-feeding, Lindstrand said the expectation is that once a woman shows the card, “we’re hoping that will defuse the situation at that point.”
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