Questions Arise Over Breastfeeding Policy

Houston mom Michelle Hickman recently reported an incident at her local Target store, alleging employees asked her to move while breastfeeding her infant son. Target's nationwide corporate policy is also being questioned for ambiguous language. We break down the issue and talk to real moms about whether it's okay to nurse while you're shopping.

Breastfeeding mom in Target

The story

An incident took place at the end of November when a breastfeeding mom named Michelle sat down near a clothing display and breastfed her hungry infant. Fully covered by a blanket, she says that she was approached by two female employees who informed her they had been trained to redirect nursing mothers to the store's fitting rooms. Michelle alleges that one employee made a comment, indicating that she'd be reported for indecent exposure.

After Michelle left, she called Target's corporate headquarters and says she was taken aback at the ensuing conversation. She said, "The lady I spoke with told me that she and Target were aware of our legal rights as nursing mothers, but that Target has different policies because they are a family-friendly public place." She felt outraged and humiliated as the conversation devolved further, with the Target representative allegedly saying that women shouldn't walk around flaunting 'it.'"

Target's corporate policy

Target has been scrutinized in the media in the past when employees didn't follow the nationwide chain's corporate policy. The policy surfaced in the news in 2006 when a mother was told by an employee to stop nursing her baby in a fitting room and to go to a restroom instead. And most notably, a Michigan mother was escorted out of the store and the police were called after she was noticed breastfeeding her newborn in the electronics department in 2009.

What exactly does the policy say, anyway? The policy today reads as follows:

"For guests in our stores, we support the use of fitting rooms for women who wish to breastfeed their babies, even if others are waiting to use the fitting rooms. In addition, guests who choose to breastfeed discreetly in more public areas of the store are welcome to do so without being made to feel uncomfortable."

Open to interpretation

The policy, while it may sound great on the surface, really leaves a lot to be desired. Relegating a nursing mother to a fitting room sounds nice -- it is, in fact, a clean area with a place to sit and relax. But to a nursing mother, this may sound like she needs to hide to nurse, when in fact breastfeeding in public is not illegal anywhere in the U.S.

The language in the policy is questionable as well. Nursing discreetly is often a goal of a nursing mother, but being discreet means different things to different people. For example, what if an employee believes that discretion means totally covered with a blanket, but your baby won't tolerate one?

Learn which celebrities breastfeed -- and which ones are comfortable breastfeeding in public >>

Were the employees in the right?

We asked mothers around the country to weigh in on the alleged actions by Target employees and representatives. Heather from California pointed out, "Hubby works at Target and says that at no point during their training are they told to ask a nursing woman to move."

Jessica, a mother of five, has plenty of breastfeeding experience. "I never had a problem nursing in public," she related, "but I have never tried to sit down in Target out in the open. Usually, I would go the eatery or the changing room. I do not think they treated her fairly at all."

Chris from Missouri had a suggestion for Target headquarters in response to this situation. "I've been more offended by some people's breath," he shared. "If their corporate office says they support it, then they should stand on it. If lower-level employees don't -- or won't -- adhere to that policy, they should be terminated."

Need to be discreet

Breastfeeding in public is always a debatable issue, but many people say that as long as the mother isn't exposing too much of her breasts, it is fine. Lisa from Kansas said, "I am for breastfed babies, but this needs to be done in a discreet manner. For me, I consider this a personal thing and would not have done this in a public facility."

The bottom line

Being harassed is one of the last things a new mother should have to worry about. Michelle, the mother involved in this story, had this to say to sum up her feelings about the incident: "It saddens me that mothers are being treated this way as if breastfeeding is vile and offensive. If this would have happened to me with the first child I nursed I would have considered giving up on nursing due to embarrassment and that is what concerns me the most."

There is a nationwide nurse-in scheduled for Dec. 28 at 10 a.m. at every local Target store. Check out the Facebook page for more info.

More on breastfeeding in public

Is breastfeeding in public still unacceptable?
How to breastfeed in public
Breastfeeding in public: taboo or not?


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Comments on "Target facing nurse-in after alleged harassment of breastfeeding customer"

Jenny July 16, 2012 | 11:04 AM

I don't understand some people's comments about nursing in a bathroom. In *most* bathrooms, the only place to sit is on a toilet. I'm not going to nurse my baby in a stall. Would YOU eat in a public restroom? Ew. If my baby is crying and hungry, I will nurse him wherever. Its a little unclear if the woman in the article was sitting on the ground or not. Personally I would've found a bench...but seriously, does it matter? lol.

Mom2be December 29, 2011 | 8:22 PM

Its very sad that people feel the need to make such a big deal over this. Breast feeding has been around as long as we have! If you are offended to see a mother NURTURING her child, then look away! It's no secret! It's a shame mothers not only have to go through the hormonal stresses of postpartum, but that they even have to feel self conscious about this. I agree it's important to maintain some modestly but when your newborn is hungry, the fact that your in a public place really shouldn't matter. People need to learn some respect.

MaryM December 28, 2011 | 8:40 PM

I am tired of women who are supposed to be giving their attention to their child making sure that all the attention is on them. I nursed three for a total of 6 years everywhere I went without attracting any attention and was never exposed. How is it I managed to do it for so long without anyone even noticing and now there is crap on the news about it. I strongly suspect the women involved are looking for the attention. It is the best means of nurturing a child but it is about the child not the act itself.

MaryM December 28, 2011 | 8:33 PM

Okay, I nursed my three children all over the place and no one ever knew. I mean everywhere. No, there is nothing wrong with it BUT what the devil is wrong with nursing modestly to the point no one notices? I did. I did it 40 years ago when we didn't have all the expensive baby accoutrement that are available today. Just because you are a nursing mother does not mean it is essential to have entire breasts exposed and nipples popping out all over the place. I had a sling over the shoulder baby carrier and I dropped a blanket over my shoulder. I unbuttoned from the bottom up. No one knew, my baby was happy and quiet. What the heck is wrong with modesty? Yes women in backward countries and third world countries hang it all out. Tribes women in Africa hang it all out whether they are nursing or not. WE AREN'T TRIBESWOMEN IN AFRICA. Do it in public but don't have a brass band and a spot light announcing it to the world. You are not saving the world it does not require an audience, this is a simple act.

Danie December 28, 2011 | 1:02 PM

I am sorry but natural or not I don't want to walk around Target to see a women breastfeeding in the aisle. Go to a bathroom, fitting room, car... That would be like me sitting on the floor down one of the isles and having a phone conversation with a friend, that's not the time or place to do it!

Brooke December 28, 2011 | 7:06 AM

Once an employee of Target, I have seen many women breastfeed their children. While it is completely natural we live in a world full of ignorance and people who will gripe and complain at every chance they get. If you choose to breastfeed, be smart and go to a private place to avoid these types of people. Many Targets have a "secret" bathroom by the pharmacy. It is a 1 person restroom that is very spacious and secluded. They don't mark this restroom because it is there for sick persons waiting on their Rx in case they get too sick to make it to the front (or wherever the main restrooms are). I did once see a woman sit down at the bagging section of a register, lift her shirt as if she were flashing and let her child WALK up to her and start feeding in front of everyone! Now I did find that a bit too much!!!

kc December 27, 2011 | 3:57 AM

I think it dumb of target worker because that"s what we have breast for . i think bottle feed with powder stuff in can its push to much in this world .there nothing wrong with breastfeeding .its the best we can give our child . i think that anyone who don't like it well there one the problem cause breastfeeding is natural

Carly December 26, 2011 | 10:01 PM

I nursed in Target in California many times when my son needed too (2009). I was in there almost twice a week to get something. I recall holding him in one arm while pushing the cart and him nursing under my top or with a blanket over my sholder. It was not always physically possible to continue my shopping and sometimes, I would just hang out by the cart until he was done. No one ever approached me at Target and I was never very modest about covering up if there was s slip of the blanket. IT is funny how modest I am now that I am not nursing but back then, it wasn't too much of a consideration. NEVER was approached by anyone anywhere and I nursed all around town - resturaunts, parks, malls, stores, Disneyland, the LA Zoo and at my daughter's preschool. California is very nursing friendly and open-minded thankfully. Live and let live. It is so important to the health of the child and mother. Why would it be anyone's business even if a woman breastfed in public? It doesn't hurt anyone. If my 2 or 5 yr olds saw a woman feeding her child, who cares? I wouldn't and neither would most normal well-adjusted adults.

liseetsa mann December 21, 2011 | 5:14 PM

In 2007, my daughter was born with jaundice. We were in CINCINNATI CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL WAITING ROOM to check her blood. Doctor's orders were to breastfeed as much as possible to raise her bilirubin level. There were two other people in the waiting room with us when a nurse came up from behind and literally threw a blanket over my daughter's head and said, "There you go." I should have called the police but instead security was called on my husband for asking to speak to someone in charge about the incident. Eventually, the head of the hospital said they improved breastfeeding facilities for employees but mentioned nothing about patients/patient's rights. I should have sued them probably but did not want my 3 day old to start life as a plaintiff.

Happened tometoo December 21, 2011 | 6:58 AM

I so believe this. I once was in a local target and i asked to use the dressing room to breastfeed. The girl refused to let me in, and asked that i use the restroom! Good thing her manager told her to do otherwise or Target would have become a no go zone for me.

kk December 19, 2011 | 6:45 PM

Remember, don't always believe what you read on the internet. I have worked for Target decades and we all have been trained for decades to offer the family fitting room to a nursing mother if she asks, (not the bathroom) and its not our job to ask a woman to cover up if she chooses to nurse publicly, no matter if we get complaints from other guests. Don't blame an entire company of over 2,000 stores for the ignorance of 1 employee at 1 store... At Disneyland, I witnessed a woman drop her overall top, expose both breasts to feed her baby without a cover up. Come on now, that was just a woman wanting some attention. Makes me wonder what was going on with that woman in the electronics department.....

PumpingPharmacist December 19, 2011 | 11:06 AM

As a Target pharmacist AND nursing mother, I can say that this situation has me extremely upset. As a nursing, working Target Team Member, I have NEVER had any issue pumping or feeding at work. Every store I've worked at in my area has gone out of their way to make accommodations for me to pump or feed my child. This is an example of poorly trained employees. I am furious that the company I work for and promote is associated with this situation. The policy is being reworded to the effect of informing team members to "...not approach or redirect a nursing mother..."

Officer Friendly December 17, 2011 | 7:45 PM

Sorry, here is the CORRECT website to file a FORMAL complaint against TARGET to the Great State Of Texas...

melissa December 17, 2011 | 2:41 PM

It seems like the employee simply pulled an excuse out of thin air because SHE was offended. Blaming the big guys was her easy way out. I personally am not a breast feeding mom and I would have never even had the guts to just drop everything and breastfeed next to some clothes but thats a insecurity issue. It has nothing to do with my actual views on breast feeding in public!

Breastfeeding Mom December 17, 2011 | 11:02 AM

I don't understand why breastfeeding moms are supposed to hide every inch of their breast while feeding a baby in public in this country, but women are applauded for wearing low cut shirts that expose their breasts and wearing next to nothing in public. Breasts are made to feed babies!

Nursing Mom December 17, 2011 | 8:54 AM

This really ticks me off! They wouldn't make someone hide if they were going to feed their baby a bottle! It's the same thing! Breasts were created for feeding infants in the first place not for ual pleasure. It shouldn't be a debate! I nurse my baby whereever (using a cover) because when he's hungart, just like formula fed babies, he needs to eat! If that means while I'm shopping then that's fine! I will NOT move somewhere else if I don't want to to make other people feel more comfortable. Sorry!

Officer Friendly December 17, 2011 | 8:38 AM

Texas laws allow Mothers to breast feed ANYWHERE! If they give you any inconveniences just contact the State of Texas and they will MAIL them a letter of violation. Here is the link to do so!!…

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