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Hope for the Breast

Nursing mothers protest the Social Security office.

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With their babies in tow, five mothers and one father staged a nurse-in, a collective breast-feeding protest, outside the Social Security Administration office on Players Club Parkway last Friday.

The protest was held in response to the office manager's treatment of a nursing mother earlier in the week.

On June 13th, Ashley Brown went to the Social Security office with her 8-month-old son Gavyn. After changing his diaper on the bathroom floor — no changing tables were provided — Brown returned to the waiting room and began to breast-feed her infant son.

"After about five minutes, the security guard came over and told me I wasn't allowed to do that," Brown said. "She was pointing at my boob."

Armed with the knowledge that both federal and state law protects the mother's right to nurse, Brown refused to move.

"She wanted me to go to the restroom, and I said no," Brown said. "She went to get the manager, and I'm thinking, Of course the manager is going to know the federal law. But the security guard came back and said, 'The manager is offering you a private conference room, but you can't nurse out here in the waiting room.'"

Brown stood her ground. After a few more minutes, the security guard told her she would have to leave.

"It was right at that point that they called my number," Brown said.

Brown went to the desk and asked to speak to manager Earl Young, who reiterated that she was not allowed to nurse in a public waiting room. Young said there were different rules in a government office, because it's federal property.

When she returned home, Brown filed a formal complaint with Esther Carpenter, the Social Security Administration area director in Nashville. Carpenter immediately sent an apology and affirmed Brown's right to nurse.

At Friday's nurse-in, which was organized on Facebook with the help of groups Alternamama and Cloth Diapers Memphis, mother Ericka Blaythe nurses her daughter Autumn under a breast-feeding cover that hooks around her neck. She stresses that breast-feeding is not an exhibitionist act.

"A lot of us cover up, but babies pull [the blankets] off," Blaythe said. "It's hot under there. I prefer to cover up, but it's not always an option."

"I don't even bother," said Stephanie Roy, with her 11-month-old son Peter. "It's impossible. He pulls the blanket off and waves it around, and it draws even more attention."

Someone in the group brings up designated breast-feeding areas, a proposed solution to the public nursing controversy.

"Designated breast-feeding areas?" Blaythe said. "How many of those do they think there are? I can't get a changing table let alone a breast-feeding area."

Throughout the protest, babies swing happily on their mother's hips or bounce in their carriers. As far as demonstrations go, this is a fairly peaceful one.

"We're not trying to make a big scene or offend anybody, but we want to make people aware that it's perfectly fine to nurse your baby in public," Brown said. "Cover or no cover, it does not matter."

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