An incident at the Mora Aquatic Center regarding public breastfeeding sparked a social media firestorm and prompted mothers to organize a peaceful “nurse-in” demonstration at the pool.
On Wednesday, July 18, pool staff called the Kanabec County Sheriff’s Office for assistance with a conflict between pool-goers centered around two mothers breastfeeding their children near the shallow swimming area.
Stephanie Buchanan said she was at the pool with her sister-in-law, Mary Davis, and their children. When her 3-month-old son became hungry, she lowered the strap of her one-piece swimsuit and began to breastfeed him.
Buchanan said she was approached by a woman who was upset and told her to cover up.
“I was so taken aback I didn’t even have the opportunity to react,” she said.
Buchanan said she ignored the complaint and continued to feed her baby. A few minutes later, she was approached by a young staff member. Buchanan said the staff member was polite, but asked her to cover up or go in the locker room. Buchanan retorted that the law protected her choice to breastfeed in public and the staff member left.
Soon after, Buchanan was getting ready to leave when she was surprised to see Sergeant Dylan VanGorden approaching her. Buchanan said VanGorden expressed to her that she was not being asked to leave, but staff would ask her to leave if she wasn’t more discrete.
According to Sergeant Dylan VanGorden, when he arrived he explained to those present that under the law, the mothers had a protected right to breastfeed and they were not being asked to leave.
“These moms were very polite and respectful, but they were very aware they had the right to do what they were doing. And they did,” VanGorden said. VanGorden said that to his knowledge, the mothers had at no point been asked to leave by city staff; the tension centered around the mothers and other pool customers.
“I was so humiliated,” Buchanan said. “Everyone was staring at us at the pool. I went home and cried to my husband. I have never, ever, had this happen before. It was just unbelievable. I couldn’t believe what was happening. It just kept getting worse.”
Buchanan said that as she left the pool, 8-10 moms who had witnessed what happened approached Buchanan to offer support.
At approximately 1:50 p.m. Thursday, the city of Mora released the following statement:
“The City of Mora and Mora Aquatic Center (MAC) strive to create an environment comfortable for all. While we always have supported nursing mothers, the situation inside of the kiddie pool made many patrons uncomfortable. Our staff politely asked them to be more discrete or relocate to another area at the MAC. When they did not, it created an untenable situation and our public safety team was brought in to assist the MAC staff. Neither women were asked to leave the facility. We apologize to Ms. Ellingson-Buchanan and Ms. Davis if they were offended by how they were treated. Although we cannot anticipate all possible scenarios, City policies and procedures will be reviewed and revised as deemed necessary.”
Minnesota State Statute 145.905 protects the rights of mothers to breastfeed. The statute reads: “A mother may breast-feed in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breast-feeding.”
Accounts of what took place spread like wildfire on social media, many expressing support for breastfeeding mothers and outrage that the act of breastfeeding caused a reaction from other pool patrons leading to a call to the sheriff’s office.
In response, mothers organized a peaceful demonstration to draw awareness to breastfeeding rights. The event is being called the Poolside Nurse-In. Organizers have invited moms to meet outside the Mora Aquatic Center at noon on Saturday, July 21, to nurse their babies and show support for breastfeeding moms.
The description of the event as posted on Facebook reads:
“This Nurse-In is a PEACEFUL demonstration that us Mamas can and will nurse when we want and where we want. ... This is about our legal right to nurse in public as a result of our decision to breastfeed (not about a debate of formula vs. breastmilk) ...
“This is not a personal attack on the pool, its staff, or the police ... We just want to normalize breastfeeding and bring some awareness to this.”