Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Approximately 300 people from across metropolitan Atlanta, mostly mothers and their young children, converged on Forest Park City Hall on Monday and began chanting "Breast is best" to protest new restrictions on breast-feeding in the city.
The Forest Park City Council passed an ordinance last week that is designed to ban public nudity, including in bars and strip clubs, but the ordinance includes an exemption that allows mothers to breast feed in public, but only if the children are under 2 years of age.
Mothers who attended the protest said it should be up to them and their children -- not city leaders -- to decide when and where to breast-feed. The mothers sat on blankets in front of the city government building, with some of them breast-feeding their children, from time to time. The protesters also waived signs and sang chants for a little over two hours to show their opposition to the ordinance.
"That's what boobs are made for," said Acworth mother, Leah Ashe, as she breast-fed her 2-month old twins, Emily and Xander. "They are not made to be looked at, or played with. They're made to feed babies."
The resistance of breast-feeding supporters to the ordinance is already having some impact on city officials. In a written release issued by the city, during the protest, officials left open the possibility of making changes to the law. They also let the mothers hold their protest, peacefully, and even provided them with bottled water to keep them from getting dehydrated.
"The 'Public Indecency' ordinance in question is sound and Constitutional," the city said in its news release. "The areas of concern expressed to us were only in regards to the 'exemptions' to the ordinance that were carved out. Each exemption to the 'Public Indecency' ordinance has been reviewed and is under consideration for revision at the next regular council meeting."
The mothers are not giving up their fight over the age limit placed on public breast-feeding, however. Many were calling on others to come back out to the city council meeting, on June 6, to press city leaders, face-to-face, to remove the age limit.
"I think it's an outrage, it's ridiculous," said McDonough mother, Masina McDaniel, who still breast-feeds her 2-year-old daughter, Anna. "How long before they tell us we can't nurse our 1-year-old in public, or our infant, or newborn, in public? There's absolutely nothing wrong with breast-feeding a 2-yea-old in public, so who's to say that it won't get worse?"
As Conyers mother, Danielle Charles, held her 9-month-old daughter, Daniella, in her arms, she said part of the problem may be that people do not understand breast-feeding, and why some mothers chose to keep doing it for years after their child is born. She said she plans to let her daughter breast-feed until the youth decides to quit on her own.
"A lot of people don't understand breast-feeding, because they don't see our breasts made for feeding babies," Charles said. "They see it as more sexual."
Several mothers echoed Charles' plans for letting their children self-wean from breast milk. Griffin mother Jessica Lister, one of the organizers of Monday's protest, said children typically decide to quit taking their mother's milk when they are old enough to enter pre-kindergarten, and that the city should respect that.
"I personally believe in natural weaning, which allows the child to nurse as long as they wish to nurse," said Lister. "When a child is allowed to do that, the average of weaning is between ages 3 and 4, and so at ages above 2, they will be breast-feeding, and if we need to breast-feed in Forest Park, then, we need to breast-feed in Forest Park, and we should be protected by the law."
Several mothers said they choose to breast feed their children for several reasons, but many of them quickly said they do it to make sure their children are healthy.
Decatur mother, Nan Schivone, said she has breast-fed three children, and was glad that, at least her oldest son continued to breast-feed until he was 26 months old. "I was very happy that I was still nursing my 2-year-old, when he got a nasty G.I. [gastro-intestinal] bug," she said. "He couldn't hold down any fluids, except for my milk." She is currently breast-feeding her 16-month-old daughter.
Not everyone who showed up at city hall on Monday was in support of breast-feeding at any age, however.
Darnell Moore, the minister of Amazing Grace World Outreach Church, in Forest Park, said he supports the city's ordinance with an age limit on breast-feeding. Moore said that while he believes mothers should be allowed to breast-feed their children, he also feels there should be limits put in place for the community's sake.
"We don't need school-aged children being able to take their mother's breast out, and start feeding at any time they decide to," Moore said. "In the public, if a 2-year-old can do it, then what's to stop a wayward 15-year-old from running up to that same mother, who's not related to her, and saying 'I'm ready to eat, too,' and of course, then you have a police charge there ...
"It is not about mother's unable to nourish their children, but it is about modesty. It is about decency."