'Nurse-in' at library promotes awareness of breast-feeding issues

A Friday "nurse-in" at the Columbus Public Library aimed to erase any social stigmas that surround breast-feeding in public.

About 15 women and their children attended the breast-feeding event, which took place in the children's section of the library. It was spurred by an experience one participant says she had while breast-feeding at the Macon Road library.

Stefanie Cruz of Phenix City says she was nursing her daughter Feb. 14 when a security guard at the library asked her to cover her breast. "I was very nervous to come back here," Cruz, 25, said during Friday's nurse-in.

Library officials say nobody wanted to make Cruz uncomfortable.

The female security guard merely asked Cruz "if she would like something to cover up (her breast)," according to Linda Hyles, marketing coordinator for the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries.

The guard "was very sorry" after learning the incident bothered Cruz, Hyles said. The guard still works at the library, which outsources its security guards.

"We are very supportive of parents. I have never heard of any other (similar) incident happening here," Hyles said.

But participants at Friday's nurse-in said they've heard stories of women being confronted while publicly breast-feeding at some places in Columbus and beyond.

"It goes beyond the library. We're trying to show the beauty of it and that it's natural," said Roslyn Bethea, who helped organize Friday's nurse-in. She owns Natural Generations, a Columbus store that specializes in cloth diapers and accessories.

Georgia Code "states that the breastfeeding of a baby is an important and basic act of nurture which should be encouraged in the interests of maternal and child health and allows a mother to breastfeed her baby in any location where the mother and baby are otherwise authorized to be," according to information posted online by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But activists say something's missing: an enforcement provision penalizing someone who harasses a woman for breast-feeding in a public place covered by the law.

"It's a human rights issue. We shouldn't have to live in fear just for raising our children," said Nirvana Jennette, president of Breastfeeding Peaches Of Georgia, a nonprofit grassroots movement that focuses on public health and human rights issues.

Jennette learned about Friday's Columbus nurse-in when someone reached out to her on Facebook.

As news of the nurse-in spread, Jennette said other women contacted her through the Breastfeeding Peaches Of Georgia Facebook page to report additional stories of breast-feeding discrimination in the Columbus area.

"It felt like it opened a whole can of worms," she said. She hasn't been contacted about any other incidents involving the Columbus Public Library.

Meanwhile, the library plans to mail a formal apology to Cruz, Hyles said.

"We're glad they're here," Hyles said while women breast-fed at the library during Friday's nurse-in. "We let them come in here, and we did not disturb them."

Bethea called the formal apology "a good start." She urges the library to display the International Breastfeeding Symbol on its property. The library currently has no plans to display the symbol, Hyles said.

Cruz said she had no bad experiences Friday at the library. "I'm amazed and overwhelmed," Cruz said of attendance at the nurse-in. "It's nice knowing that you're supported."