Breast of Intentions
There are two things Amy Milliron wants you to know: First of all, she did not expose herself while breast-feeding her baby in public recently. And secondly, the media have completely invented the part about public outcry against public nursing. According to Milliron, a 29-year-old Tempe mother who's lately become the unwitting spokesperson for nursing rights in Arizona, there just haven't been that many complaints about mothers who yank up their tops at grocery stores and in churches in order to feed their kids. The outcry, she says, has been largely created by news reporters who don't know the difference between an administrative directive and an ordinance. But Milliron, who's been working lately with a Chandler city task force to address the issue of public breast-feeding, is here to set the record straight.
New Times: What happened? You were asked to leave a public pool because you were breast-feeding?
Amy Milliron: I went to the pool with my husband and daughter and [baby and] some friends, and we found a ramada that was off to the side, and when it was time to feed my baby, I covered myself with a blanket. I had a bathing suit on, and out of respect to myself -- I wouldn't want to expose myself to people -- I had a friend hold a blanket up while I latched the baby on. While I was burping him, a lifeguard approached me and said, "In the future, we encourage breast-feeding moms to use the restroom to feed their babies."
NT: Filthy! Who eats in a bathroom?
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Milliron: I said that. "Would you want to eat in a bathroom? You may be comfortable with that, but other people find it offensive." I said, "I nurse him everywhere -- at restaurants, grocery stores, wherever I am."
NT: It's not like you were sitting on the edge of the pool and you just flopped out a hooter!
Milliron: True. But I was told that in the future, I needed to nurse in the restroom.
NT: Can they enforce a request like that?
Milliron: That's a much bigger issue. There are 40 states that either have a law or are in the process of enacting one that protects breast-feeding mothers.
NT: I'm guessing Arizona isn't one of them.
Milliron: We're not. We're a silent state on this issue. So there's nothing that protects or prohibits [breast-feeding moms]. If someone asks me to use the restroom and I refuse, I'm within my rights. But there are restaurants that say, "No shirt, no shoes, no service."
NT: Well, you're not planning to take your shirt off in a restaurant.
Milliron: No. It's just that there are people who aren't educated on breast-feeding. If people understood, they'd know that we have to feed our babies when we're out in public. If we don't, we risk engorgement, we risk infection, we also end up with a screaming child which we then get dirty looks for. If we don't feed a baby when they're hungry, we'll have to hold the baby off to feed it, which decreases milk supply.
NT: And so now you've become a one-woman La Leche League.
Milliron: Well, I called the aquatic superintendent, and she reiterated what the lifeguard said: "We encourage breast-feeding mothers to use the restroom." She told me they have a "family changing room," and I said, "What is that?" She described it: "It's a bigger room, it has a door that closes, and it has a toilet and a sink." That is a bathroom! I'm not going to feed my baby in a bathroom. She said they make this request because there are a lot of children -- teenagers in particular -- that come to the city pool, and they find breast-feeding offensive.
NT: Teenagers? But teenaged boys want to see exposed breasts!
Milliron: Well, I said, "I don't personally believe that's true. We need to do something about this." And she said, "It's not our job to educate people." So I took it to the city council to ask for clarification.
NT: And so it became your job to educate the public.
Milliron: I never thought I would wind up a breast-feeding activist. But it's worth it to protect the children. A lot of people forget that a child doesn't have a voice, that we have to speak for them. They can't say, "Look, we need to eat!"
NT: To which some people might say, "Then eat at home!"
Milliron: The alternatives that people have offered are, "Give your baby a bottle of breast milk that you've pumped." Okay. That would entail pumping every time you feed your baby; otherwise, your milk supply decreases. Nursing is much more discreet, and pumping requires taking all the equipment; keeping the bottles cool. Others have said, "Just give your baby formula." Well, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding your baby, because there's nothing that can match the benefits of breast milk. For me, I have a premature baby that my doctor told me the best thing I could do is breast-feed. How can I go against my doctor's recommendation?
NT: But there are places where it's inappropriate to nurse, don't you think? What about in church?
Milliron: I know a lot of churches that welcome breast-feeding mothers. Many also offer nursing rooms for mothers who aren't comfortable nursing in the pews.
NT: Is this anti-breast-feeding stand just some weird form of misogyny?
Milliron: I don't think so, because I haven't seen a lot of opposition. I have received 99.9 percent support -- e-mails, phone calls, meeting people out in public: "Hey, aren't you the . . ." And, "Boy, good for you." City council did receive some e-mails saying that public breast-feeding should not occur. They're not offering solutions, just "Don't breast-feed in public!"
NT: "You should stay locked in your house because you have a baby!"
Milliron: That's not possible, and here's why: If I were to stay in my house during all my nursing years, my older children would never get to play tee ball, have dance recitals, play soccer, because I'd never be able to leave the house so they could enjoy their life.
NT: Breast-feeding seems to be mixed up with something sexy in some people's minds. It's not like you're doing a pole dance!
Milliron: What's happening is that some people in the media have portrayed a huge opposition [to breast-feeding] when really I don't believe there's a lot of it out there. We haven't seen anybody who opposes breast-feeding come to a council meeting and speak. No one has come up to me to say, "Don't breast-feed in public."
NT: In that case, it should be easy for you to convince the Legislature to --
Milliron: But the Legislature is listening to the same media. And Arizona actually has a higher-than-average percentage of breast-feeding mothers.
NT: Which doesn't necessarily mean that you or others are going to be whipping your tops off in department stores.
Milliron: No. I don't personally know anybody who has nursed their child and exposed themselves.
NT: What's next? People with bad table manners being banned from restaurants?
Milliron: I don't know that that's a good analogy, because breast-feeding is so different. We have the La Leche League and other organizations saying we should breast-feed because of the health benefits. Bad table manners would be just disrespectful, not a health risk.
NT: I was very surprised to read that a woman can be charged with "criminal trespassing" if she's breast-feeding in public.
Milliron: That's actually not true. We went to the Chandler City Council meeting in June, and asked for a possible ordinance that would protect breast-feeding mothers citywide. We met with the Community Services Department, and they decided to put together a proposed administrative directive. Here's where it's been misconstrued. On August 8, the Community Services director gave the proposal to the city council, when in fact city council doesn't vote on directives. They only need to vote on proposed laws. It was really up to the city manager, and if the city manager wanted to put [the directive] into place, he had the choice to. By the next morning, they started receiving a flood of e-mails from people objecting to that administrative directive. And people have made the assumption that women would be charged criminally for breast-feeding, and that isn't the case. Actually, they would be cited for trespassing.
NT: What do people want you to do while you're breast-feeding in public -- wear a poncho?
Milliron: No! There's been a lot of discussion about what constitutes "reasonably covered," which is what the administrative directive said. Ten percent of the breast showing? Twenty percent showing? Who's going to get out there with a ruler?
NT: Not me.
Milliron: Who's going to decide how much is appropriate? What happened next was that the Chandler City Council put it on the agenda. They didn't put the directive in place. It never was enacted. Unfortunately, it wasn't portrayed that way in the media. The term "administrative directive" was actually confused with "ordinance" and "law" by the media, and the two are very different.
NT: On behalf of the media, I'm awful sorry. I'll say "administrative directive" in my column.
Milliron: Good. Because the media had portrayed that there was a new law that said you can't breast-feed in public, so a lot of very angry parents showed up [at that city council meeting]. Once it was explained that this wasn't the case, the meeting was great. And [council members] asked to put together a task force to discuss what we could do to create a city ordinance that protects breast-feeding mothers. It's what God intended for mothers to do, if they choose to.
NT: And that's where you're at now.
Milliron: Yes. I think it's important to educate yourself, and not to go on hearsay. And understand that nursing mothers aren't asking people to allow us to expose ourselves. We're asking to be allowed to breast-feed our children, just like a mother who's bottle-feeding would do. Please respect us. We're trying not to expose ourselves to you. So please respect our choice to breast-feed our child. Because our children don't have voices.
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