A breastfeeding mother reported an incident at a Wilmington, Illinois seafood restaurant in which the staff asked her to cover up with a napkin or suggested she leave her table and go feed her child in the bathroom due to customer complaints.
Kristal Snow Tomko shared her side of the story on Big Fish Bar & Grille’s Facebook page yesterday.
“I’ve been to this restaurant several times and the food is always great! Seriously, everything on the menu! I recommend it to everyone!
Sadly, I didn’t even get to eat at all, and my husband had my meal boxed, where it remains in my fridge.
Went there today to celebrate my baby brother taking a tech job in Denver, and won’t be seeing him again for quite some time. We were seated and ordered and sure enough, my 6 month old threw a tantrum and was ready to eat. Naturally, I began feeding my baby as I always do, everywhere. I breast feed.
Really not ever been an issue.
Until today. Your hostess came by and asked if i would like a napkin to cover up. I replied no thank you. She said ‘well we need you to cover up if you are going to do that here.’ I said thanks but we are OK. She then informed me its offending a customer. And again asked for me to cover up. (Mind you I am not a large busted ‘floppy’ woman, meaning I was discrete and mindful of my dreaded nipples- even so, should not matter.)
I informed her that there are laws in Illinois that I don’t have to cover. And she got snarkey and said please cover up. I said no. He will pull it off anyway.
Shortly after that the chef/manager/owner came out and addressed my husband, asking that I cover. My husband said I’m sorry she already said she’s not covering. Chef then recommended the empty banquet room or the bathroom.
**At no time was I told to stop nursing- or ‘told’ to go to the bathroom. It was however a poor suggestion.
All before the appetizers hit the table.
I was made to feel embarrassed and shamed, as if I were doing something wrong. I went quietly and quickly to my van where I cried and nursed.
My husband came out to see if we were leaving, and I said no, we are here for my brother. Although my stomach was so knotted up I couldn’t eat, so as I went back in again and dinner came. My baby was OK for a few minutes, but wanted to eat again. So, as my plate sat there in touched, again, I went outside.
I feed my baby as many do. Its not for attention. Not a ‘hey look @ me’.
A ‘cover’ in fact draws more attention, and is pulled down if baby isn’t a newborn, besides being hot. I do it to feed my baby. Any where. Any time.
Aside from that, the laws are clear.
The host and other staff need to be made aware and trained on how to handle future instances properly. To inform the ‘offended’ table of two, a simple ‘Illinois law prohibits asking a breastfeeding mother to cover or move, I can seat you differently if you’d like’ would be sufficient.
I understand you can’t please everyone, but I also wouldn’t think that risking losing a table of 7 for a table of two by abiding by laws would be good for business.
I truly hope that this is one area that can be put to rest and you can continue with the kind of service people look forward to, instead of the treatment my family received today.”
The restaurant responded to her:
They also responded to a concerned citizen, Sara, when she messaged them about the incident.
It is unfortunate that the business chose not to politely inform the offended customers that they will support breastfeeding families, the law, and ask the offended if they’d like to look the other way or move to a different table.
Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 740 § 137 (2004) creates the Right to Breastfeed Act. The law provides that a mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be.
2011 Ill. Senate Resolution 170 recognizes the unique health, economic, and societal benefits that breastfeeding provides to babies, mothers, families and the community and resolves the state of Illinois to work to ensure that barriers to initiation and continuation of breastfeeding are removed and that a women’s right to breastfeed is upheld.
Illinois also has an enforcement provision to protect the Right to Breastfeed Act.
Elizabeth Grattan responded to the incident, saying, “That’s the same argument used against homosexuals displaying affection and PoC sitting at a counter. No, businesses do not have a right to arbitrarily discriminate in violation of state statutes regarding public accommodation. The owner is mistaken.”
I have to agree with Elizabeth on this. It’s not okay to harass a mother and her family just because the restaurant is getting some heat from sadly uninformed patrons. The law is clear. And babies have the basic human right to eat as well, without something on their head or breathing in polluted water vapor with fecal matter while having some milk. The federal government deems a bathroom an unacceptable place to breastfeed or pump and no health department in the world would clear it as a safe place to consume food.
What do babies eat? And when?
Perhaps some people are wondering why Kristal needed to breastfeed at the restaurant. The norm for our species is this: Babies eat human breast milk from their mother’s breast on cue. It really is that simple. Babies do not eat at scheduled times and since breastfed babies process milk faster than formula fed infant, they need to eat more frequently. It makes perfect sense to feed a baby where others are eating and it shouldn’t be offensive at all. How long do babies breastfeed? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the about first six months of a baby’s life with no additional food or water or substitutes for the short and long term health of the baby and mother. The AAP, along with the World Health Organization and UNICEF, recommend breastfeeding for at least 12 months and then continuing breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby. The WHO and the AAFP recommend breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods for at least two years of age, and as long as the dyad feels appropriate.
As for those that say the mom should have had a bottle ready, not every baby takes bottles and frankly, they’re not necessary and can be damaging for the mother and child, interfering with her supply and the baby’s jaw development and bonding. Pumping also costs a significant amount of money and time and can be painful and sometimes leads to early weaning. Formula for an otherwise exclusively breastfed baby can cause health problems.
Why is supporting breastfeeding mothers so important?
Breastfeeding provides a protective effect for the child against respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases, and allergies including asthma, eczema and atopic dermatitis. The rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is reduced by over a third in breastfed babies, and there is a 15 percent to 30 percent reduction in adolescent and adult obesity in breastfed vs. non-breastfed infants. Not to mention the benefits for the mother. It is our basic human right to breastfeed and for our children to have their mother’s milk and comfort.
Kristal was doing exactly as she should as a responsible, caring mother, following the recommendations for her baby and meeting his needs. Yet she was asked to cover up and publicly shamed. It isn’t up to strangers to tell any mother how she can feed her baby, from bottle to breast.
How can you help?
I have asked Family Friendly Business to contact the restaurant. I sincerely hope Big Fish Bar & Grille’s management steps up and makes amends, as many restaurants in their position have done in the past. They could take a tip from the coffee shop in Austin that went above and beyond earlier this year. If you feel compelled to speak to restaurant, please keep your comments respectful. Write on their Facebook page wall or send them a message on their website.
If you’re outside of Illinois, please check to see if your state has an enforcement provision and if not, ask for one.
Take a stand
It’s up to everyone to help stop the mistreatment of women and children. If you see a woman breastfeeding in public, give her a thumbs up. If you see someone shaming a breastfeeding mom, making fun of her, asking her to cover up, move, or stop, stand up for what’s right and talk to them. Be respectful but honest. It’s not okay to harass moms for taking care of their children. It’s time to stand up for women, babies, our future.
How does this incident make you feel? Have you ever breastfed at a restaurant?
**Update 5.4.2015 1:29pm**
I have sent the restaurant this message and posted it on their Facebook page. I hope they do step up soon!
The public did not appreciate the owner’s lack of apology. Mike Martin said simply, ”A restaurant is where people eat. That human being was eating the only food it can eat. That simple, the end. Breastfeeding is only obscene if you are a weirdo, who wants to starve babies instead of risking seeing a nipple (which every human has by the way…).”
A nurse-in is set for Friday, May 8th at 6pm. Join the event page for details.
Kristal Snow Tomko responded to my post, to the thousands of comments supporting her and asking the business to support breastfeeding.
The Daily Journal reported on the incident. I found it disheartening that the owner, John Mathias, didn’t seem to understand how supporting breastfeeding would be important, even when others complained, instead of asking a mom to cover up or move. He said the backlash was getting out of hand and asked who the nurse-in on Friday was going to hurt. “My staff who are mostly single mothers trying to raise their kids.” My question is, who are his actions hurting? He can end it by making amends. A nurse-in isn’t going to hurt those mothers. Nurse-ins are peaceful protests, usually held outside and if they’re inside, the mothers usually order food. A nurse-in is held to raise awareness of the importance of supporting breastfeeding, in turn helping normalize the act for the community.
- Search my archives for breastfeeding support stories or recent nursing in public incidents.
- Mom surprised with “Thank you for breastfeeding in public” card – Paa.la
- Signs Show Support for Breastfeeding Moms - Paa.la
- My interview in TIME - Paa.la
- Video: “Everybody’s Gotta Eat” – Free The Nipple PSA - Paa.la
- My Photo Shared on Huffington Post, marking the change of Facebook’s breastfeeding photo policy – Paa.la
- Why I Share Breastfeeding Photos - Paa.la
- Why SEEING breastfeeding is important & Emma Kwasnica’s challenge to you - Paa.la