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?

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?

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela