Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Breastfeeding Discrimination at Red Robin.

Let me start by saying that I chose to breastfeed all 3 of my children.
It was a rough road.
It took a lot of perseverance, strength, resolve, and more support than I ever thought I would need.
I nursed through inverted nipplescracked, bleeding, raw nipples, mastitis, plugged ducts, over active letdown, thrush, eczema on my nipples, contact dermatitis on my nipples, a tongue tied infant, emergency surgeries, plane trips both with my husband and alone, sleepless nights, teething, bad latches, nursing strikes and various other issues.

All that to say I KNOW IT'S HARD!!!  And I respect those who have tried and for what ever reason were unable to continue due any number of reasons.  However, Breastfeeding is the BIOLOGICAL NORM for humans.

What I do NOT respect though is our society's attitude about breastfeeding in public. Lack support from the community they live in is a primary reason women either choose not to breastfeed in the first place or give up and quit within the first few weeks or months. Support for the breastfeeding dyad is virtually non-existent in many areas of our country. Without that support it is very hard to be successful. Even though breastfeeding is the how our species is supposed to feed our young, it doesn't mean it comes naturally to every woman. Community support is vital to the successful breastfeeding and when the public and businesses discriminate against breastfeeding mothers, by segregating them, asking them to cover up, leave, move, or stop feeding their children that support is eroded.

Here is an example of someone being discriminated against just for feeding her child:

Recently a friend of mine, Krista, was on a date with her husband at the Kennewick, Washington Red Robin when her infant daughter needed to be fed. She was in a booth and had to lift baby up pretty high to accommodate her and be able to latch correctly.  She did not use a blanket or cover up and even though her baby was blocking nearly all of her breast from view, people in the restaurant evidently complained to the manager.  The manager came over to Krista and asked her to cover up saying repeatedly that they were in a "family restaurant".  Her husband explained to the manager the fact that what Krista was doing was protected by Washington state law. The manager did acknowledged that fact, but still insisted that she cover up even offering to bring her a shirt to use. What he didn't realize is that asking a woman to cover up while breastfeeding in the state of Washington is actually a violation of that woman's civil rights!  Rather than cause a scene my friends paid their bill and left cutting their evening short.  The whole situation didn't sit well with Krista or her husband.  She posted what happened on her Facebook page and sent an email to an email list we are both a part of.

The discussion on her Facebook status became really involved and heated. It quickly turned to a discussion about being discreet and modest vs what the law protects.  Modesty and discretion are hard to pin down. They are different for everyone.  In many cases no matter how little skin your showing the ACT of breastfeeding is still seen as immodest or disgusting in some way by someone.

This is why in 28 states (including Washington) breastfeeding is exempt from public indecency laws even if the breastfeeding mother has her entire breast and nipple showing during the process of feeding her child.

 Unfortunately the whole point of what happened was lost on many of the people commenting on this discussion.  The point is that the manager of Red Robin violated Washington law and Krista's civil rights.  When Krista contacted the corporate offices of Red Robin, her call was returned by a regional manager. This is what she told me happened.
"Their apology was (slightly paraphrased but true to feeling):
"We are so so sorry this happened, the Kennewick manager is going to be so embarrassed (I never got his name), and he'll know that's the law now"
BUT she also said (again, paraphrased but the feeling is correct):

"The manager's job is to make the majority comfortable, so if people are complaining about my nursing they're going to address me, and the managers won't always know what the law is."

She NEVER said they were going to implement a plan to educate all they're employees.
This in my opinion is inadequate.  Business in states where the laws protect women from discrimination or interference when breastfeeding should KNOW THE LAW and they should TRAIN THEIR EMPLOYEES.
It is incumbent on them not the mother to deal with those who complain and inform them of the laws in place that protect the mother's right to feed her child, however that mother needs to do so.

I've always been an advocate for a woman's right to feed her child however, whenever and where ever that child needs to be fed.  I don't discriminate against women who choose formula, or pump breast milk and feed their children from a bottle. Most businesses don't either, so why do they choose to single out and chastise women who are feeding their child the way nature intended? It is usually because another patron complained and they think that they are practicing good customer service by trying to fix the complaint.

The truth is that they are discriminating and judging one person's actions based on a the opinions of another.  It is because of the subjective nature of this whole argument that we need laws to protect our rights in the first place. And beyond the laws we as consumers need to DEMAND that the businesses we frequent know the laws, have a concrete policy in place for breastfeeding customers and employees, train every employee on those policies, and stop the discrimination.  If they don't then we have to let businesses know why we are choosing to end our patronage of their operation.

One way you can help is to contact Red Robin and ask them to create and implement a policy that follows the laws in the states where they operate their restaurants. Then ask them that they publish their breastfeeding policy, so we the consumers know that they are following the laws.

As of right now there isn't any plans for a 'nurse-in' as Krista isn't sure that's the right course of action.  Her desire is to make sure that the corporation is following the laws and not discriminating against other nursing mothers.  If any kind of protest is planned it will be a quiet presence to show Red Robin and their patrons that breastfeeding is NORMAL. No signs, No chants, No unruly conduct. Just a quiet show of support for a mom's right to feed her child.  If you are interested in knowing how things turn out or any plans follow me on Twitter @faedemere and as I will be updating everyone via tweets.


  1. Thanks for this blog post. Earlier this evening I was trying to find more information and ran across several breast feeding stories involving Red Robin thru a google search which was disappointing to me. It doesnt seem like this was a one time incident for Red Robin. I hope that they decide to make a change to their policies at all their locations across the country. What happened to your friend is not ok at all.

  2. Thanks for keeping us informed!

  3. I just wrote a comment to Red Robin on their site expressing my dismay at this situation and informing them of my decision to no longer patronize their establishment. I hope the rest of you will do the same. I hate to do it, but I have already boycotted Olive Garden for the same reasons... this might hurt me more. But I think it is important for them to know how important of an issue this is for mothers everywhere.

  4. Go read the update!! It is really good news I think you will all be please.