Arizona mother Andrea O’Dowd was doing a little shopping at the high-end retailer Barneys at her local mall when she found herself needing to take a break and feed her 4-month-old baby. That might not seem like a huge deal, but it officially became A Thing when the mom attempted to take the entire production into an empty dressing room for a little privacy.
That was when she was accosted by store staff, who told her that if she needed to feed her kid, the toilets are thataway: Breastfeeding in the fitting room was a no-go because you never know when a mom in a nursing bra is really just a very crafty thief.
The reason the store gave her for being banished to the potties was “loss prevention.” As in, “Sure, that might be a baby you’re shoving up your shirt, but it could also potentially be a Givenchy bag. Better safe than sorry.” Even after O’Dowd offered to let store staff riffle through her possessions when she was all done to ensure she didn’t sneak anything into her stroller or diaper bag, they still refused to let her use the dressing room.
There are lots of problems with this, of course, but the biggest one is also a little ironic. By trying to ensure that O’Dowd couldn’t potentially break the law, that’s exactly what store staff was doing. Arizona law says that if a woman is “authorized” to be in a place, then she’s also well within her rights to feed her child there.
Yes, even with her boobs.
It’s also worth noting that while, sure, moms might have to lug around more things with potential hidey-holes for stolen goods in them (strollers, diaper bags and baby wraps, to name a few), really anyone who uses a fitting room could be using it for nefarious purposes. Anytime anyone goes into the one place in a department store with no video cameras, they could potentially steal something. And yet, if Barneys told all of its clientele that they were barred from fitting rooms for “loss prevention” purposes, it would probably cut into its profits by a lot.
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For some moms, breastfeeding is really hard. Other moms take to it like a fish to water. What’s never easy is being made to feel like you are doing something dirty or wrong or potentially illegal by doing something as natural as feeding your kid. That is the entire reason laws like Arizona’s are in place: You can’t force people to be compassionate or understanding, but you can at least make it so moms have legal protection when they have to feed their children.
The fact that even now — years after breastfeeding policies, laws and initiatives have been in place — retailers, restaurants and sometimes even cops are either ignorant of or blatantly flout them is beyond belief.
It’s too bad you can’t wave a magic wand and produce empathy, but by far the funniest thing about that is that if more stores reacted with compassion instead of suspicion when it came to hungry babies, they’d reap the reward of lactating loyalists in spades. Nothing hooks a mom on your brand faster than treating her with dignity instead of side-eyeing her when she wants to feed her kid.
It’s sad that we even need laws to protect women like O’Dowd over something so simple and silly as putting boobs where they were originally intended to go. But it’s a good thing that we do, because while we can hope that more stores will recognize the need to treat breastfeeding moms with respect, those laws make it possible for us to at least exercise our rights while we wait for stores like Barneys to get a clue.