Shelly Smith, Program Assistant at MotherWoman Advocates to Reverse Breastfeeding Policy at Play Place in South Hadley
Moms 'nurse in' at Play Date Place where apologetic owner Darlene Sattler welcomes customers to breastfeed
SOUTH HADLEY — Moms with babies and toddlers are not your stereotypical protesters. However, a number of them circulated throughout the Play Date Place Friday afternoon, quietly stopping to sit, as needed, to nurse their young ones.
Their presence was more an act of solidarity. It was undertaken in support of a woman's right to nurse in public spaces, after Play Date Place owner Darlene Sattler posted a Facebook notice earlier in the day about breastfeeding at her play venue for children six and under.
Sattler later reversed the policy that initially stated: "For the comfort and consideration of all our guests, uncovered breastfeeding will not be allowed in the play area."
Sattler said she was uneducated about the state law at the time she posted the policy, which she said was in response to "complaints from quite a few parents" not wanting to explain breastfeeding to their young children after "someone dropped their shirt completely."
Massachusetts is one of forty-six states that have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. It is also among the 29 states that exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. Massachusetts law on the subject of breastfeeding reads, in part: "A mother may breastfeed her child in any public place or establishment or place which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public and where the mother and her child may otherwise lawfully be present."
"I am now educated to the law that I was wrong in doing it and I apologize," said Sattler, a mother of four and grandmother of two. "I welcome customers to breastfeed, as they have done, for the last four months."
Marissa Potter, a 33-year-old child birth educator from Shelburne Falls, encouraged her Facebook network to engage in the "nurse in" at Play Date Place after she read Sattler's postings. She estimated some 26 families with 11 babies would participate.
"This is more about public education and the need to foster a culture that supports women," said Potter, who nursed her own two children over a period of five years. "The law protects breastfeeding in public in Massachusetts."
She added that "not all babies are willing to be covered" when breastfeeding. She also said that feeding in public has "nothing to do with a woman exposing her body."
"No woman wants to expose herself in public, and the amount of breast exposed is far less than shown by someone walking down a street in normal fashion," Potter said. "Breastfeeding is healthy for moms, and healthy for babies. It is very hard physically, and very demanding and the more support women have the better."
Potter's words were echoed by the nursing moms who paid the admission fee of either $6 or $8, depending on the age of their child, to enter the venue.
The nurse-in moms who sat in a comfortable play area behind the the entrance counter watched their children explore areas set up as buildings in a town, and quietly supported each other. Other customers voiced their support.
"I am happy to be here," said West Springfield resident Erica Batchelder, as she played with eight-month old daughter Juliet whom she nursed for as long as she was able after birth. Her five-year-old son was busy exploring another area.
"I see all these mothers who just want to feed their babies," she continued. "I breast fed for three months. I am completely supportive of mothers who want to breastfeed. It is their choice and one they should not be ashamed of. I wish I could whip out a boob in support."
Batchelder added that "no matter where kids are, they get hungry."
"You see all these half naked celebrities, like Kim Kardashian with her butt, all over the place. Why can't someone feed their child in a public place?"
Twenty-nine-year-old nursing mom Sarah Quarles, of Springfield, brought her two children.
"A lot of people think that their discomfort should trump a mother's right to breastfeed," Quarles said as she finished nursing. "If someone is uncomfortable, they should just look away."
Quarles added that she felt women of her generation are increasingly aware of the need for mothers to breastfeed both in public and private.
"I mentioned this issue on Facebook and many of my friends, who are not mothers, said, 'This is not right. You should be able to breastfeed."
Jen Gallagher, a 33-year-old Springfield resident, sat nearby nursing her 15-month-old daughter Evie.
"The law in Massachusetts is a great step toward protecting women if they want to breastfeed in public, whether or not they cover the baby," Gallagher said. "Breastfeeding needs to be normalized. You would not ask someone feeding a baby with formula to move."
Gallagher added that she was "certainly not out to expose myself."
"Look at the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit issue that is everywhere and much more revealing. You could see the pubic bone on the last cover," Gallagher said. "You can barely see the breast bone with nursing, and maybe a nipple, but you have to be staring."
Twenty-eight year-old Sabrina Wierzchowski attended with her two children. A nursing mom, the Springfield resident is also a breastfeeding counselor who sees the most successful nursing moms having the support of "their partner and family." She produced enough milk with her first child to help a woman, who was unable to do so because of surgery, feed her child with breast milk for a year.
"It is shaming women from breastfeeding their children, and you should never shame anyone on how they choose to feed their child," Wierzchowski said of any undertaking to restrict public or private nursing.
She said such restrictions, like the one that was rescinded at Play Date Place, can discourage mothers from breastfeeding.
"They will start using a bottle of formula or a bottle of breast milk when nursing in public," Wierzchowski said. "And hearing something like this does not help."
Wierzchowski said she had "nipple pain, and all the bumps in the beginning" with breastfeeding, but that she persevered because "breastfeeding is better for the baby, and better for me."
"We need to stop shaming each other, and start embracing each other as mothers no matter how someone chooses to feed their baby," Wierzchowski said.
Published on Mass Appeal, Feburary 20, 2015
By Anne-Gerard Flynn