Request for nursing mom to cover up sparks breastfeeding protest at Moorhead pool
MOORHEAD -- Women are allowed to breastfeed openly in any public place in Minnesota, according to state law. But at this city's only public pool on Thursday, a staff member told Kayla Heller that she better cover up next time after she nursed her...
MOORHEAD -- Women are allowed to breastfeed openly in any public place in Minnesota, according to state law.
But at this city's only public pool on Thursday, a staff member told Kayla Heller that she better cover up next time after she nursed her 11-month-old daughter, Lila.
Heller's story, shared on social media by her friend, outraged many. Now a group of breastfeeding advocates are holding a nurse-in -- a group of women breastfeeding in protest -- at the Moorhead pool at 1 p.m. Friday.
Heller, 28, says she loves the pool, where she takes four children for swim lessons, and she hates to see the place get any negative attention. But she also says it was wrong for a staff member to tell her to cover up -- especially on a hot day.
City officials acknowledged late Thursday afternoon that it was a mistake. Laws in both Minnesota and North Dakota allow mothers to breastfeed in public and exempt it from public indecency laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
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Heller, a Moorhead resident, said she was outside the pool with her children and waiting to walk to her vehicle when a staff member came over and whispered: "When you come tomorrow, could you please cover up?"
Though Heller said she politely replied, "OK, sounds good," she said in an interview with The Forum that she was really thinking: "It's like 85 degrees out. What do you want me to do? I'm like, roasting the way it is. I don't want to put a quilt on my daughter and cook her."
Holly Heitkamp, the director of Moorhead's Parks and Recreation Department, said it was "simply a mistake."
The training for pool staff members includes the fact that women have the right to breastfeed without a cover, Heitkamp said. But somehow, she said, a staff member "thought what she was doing was right" when she told Heller to cover up.
The staff member made the comment to Heller after hearing that a male lifeguard was feeling "uncomfortable," Heitkamp said.
Heller was surprised to hear that her breastfeeding was offensive. "I hope he's seen a booby by now," she said. "He's like 20-some years old. How does that offend him? I'm not whipping it out and showing him. I'm just sitting there feeding my child."
Heitkamp described the errant pool employee as "temporary staff" and said she was quickly corrected for her mistake. Heller said it was her impression that the employee in question was someone in a management position.
Heitkamp said she talked with the employee, who "couldn't be more apologetic."
Kristen Dodds of Moorhead, a breastfeeding advocate who helped organize today's nurse-in, said many in the U.S. have an "irrational" negative reaction to breast-feeding in public, while in other places around the world, such as Europe, nobody bats an eye.
Being told to cover up while breastfeeding is not only illegal, but also hurtful and humiliating, she said.
Heller said she breastfeeds because "it's convenient, I like the bond that we have, it's free, and it's always there. It has a lot of uses."
She and Heller are part of a group of women who are working on a project in which they meet at various locations in the metro and have a photo taken of them breastfeeding. They were planning on meeting at Natural Grocers in Fargo on Friday, but changed the location to the Moorhead pool after hearing of Heller's experience.
The news quickly made its way to Mayor Del Rae Williams, who asked City Manager Michael Redlinger to have a discussion with Heitkamp about the issue.
"It was incorrect," she said.
But the mayor added: "It's not my thing. I probably would have covered up myself, but that's just me. But they have the right, and I recognize that."