Another day, another mom gets shamed for trying to breastfeed her baby in public. This time, it was a mom named Olivia Cook, who was dining at a pizzeria in Gettysburg, PA, with her family. She had just started nursing her infant son when the owner of the restaurant, Linda Atiyeh, and a manager promptly came over to ask Cook to cover up. She politely declined, and later shared the experience in a Facebook post.
“On behalf of myself, my son, and my father I want to state how utterly appalled we are at the behavior of the OWNER of this establishment Ms. Linda Atiyeh. I was approached by a so called ‘manager’ and this lovely woman while enjoying a nice Saturday meal with my father, and my son. The reason? Because I happened to be feeding my two month old son uncovered. The so called ‘manager’ stated that it was house policy that I cover myself, and the owner stated that I was selfish and only thinking about myself. I informed them, that what I was doing was legal, and they could contact the police to have us escorted from the building if that’s what they so chose to do. It just so happens that today, of all days, I forgot a blanket, as I usually try to be very cognizant of those around us, but, when my son wants to eat, he will eat, no blanket, or blanket, period.” Read more of Cook’s post here.
SheKnows reached out to the owner, Ms. Atiyeh, to get her version of what happened. Her response was quite-by-the book — and quite antithetical to her alleged actions towards Cook: “We are 100% in support of Pennsylvania’s Freedom to Breastfeed Act, where a mother is permitted to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, irrespective of whether or not the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.” Hmm.
Atiyeh also disputed Cook’s claim according to USA today, telling the publication, “We are a very loving and welcoming place. We have had plenty of women breastfeed in the restaurant before.” The manager, Peter Bales, says that he only approached Olivia after some patrons complained. “It was a courtesy that we offer and she declined, which was fine,” he told USA today, adding that the Facebook post makes it look like “it was a horrible offense that I had offered.”
All fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location.
SheKnows asked Cook if anything like this has ever happened to her before; she told us this is the third child whom she has breastfed, and she never experienced any backlash with her first or second. “However, just a few weeks ago I had an experience with a dentist who refused to talk to me until my son was finished nursing (I was covered), but the nurse was uncomfortable with the situation. [So] this was the second time in seven years of breastfeeding.”
And now Cook is receiving both backlash and support in regards to her Facebook post; in just a few days, it’s received over 2.2K comments and 300-plus shares. One angry commenter wrote, “I think this is rude and disrespectful toward the other guests. I know some women want to breastfeed and that’s fine but there are ways to do it without just flopping it all out in public for everyone to see. People go to a restaurant to eat, not see a sideshow.” Another defended Cook’s actions (and, you know, THE LAW), writing, “Keep feeding that sweet baby, mama! The ones that scream cover up are the ones with the issues, not you. No one wants to eat with a blanket over their head. It’s hot. They get cranky. Then you have an upset baby! There’s no point in making your baby upset just because Susan over there can’t control her eyes.”
So how does Cook feel about all the attention?
“I’m not taking the backlash personally at all,” she told SheKnows. “I have realized that I essentially am the center of the earthquake. I am the scapegoat. I am the one that brought this to light. What has been pleasant, is there have been people who were unsupportive of me, but took the time to listen to my response to them, and have become more understanding.”
Olivia has quickly taken her activism to the next level by creating a “Breastfeeding Nurse-In” in Gettysburg this Friday, July 5. The event, as described on Facebook, will be “an informative gathering of breastfeeding mothers, their children, supports, and those who have questions about the rights of breastfeeding mothers.”
Cook hopes a few things will come out of this situation. First, she hopes that shy moms become more confident — in public breastfeeding and otherwise. “I want for moms to feel comfortable taking care of their babies no matter how they see fit.” She also hopes this gives people the opportunity to become more familiar with the laws that protect breastfeeding mothers: “I want non-supporters to realize that they are entitled to their opinion, but regardless, the mother is protected and therefore they don’t have any right to say a word.” Finally, Cook wants this to be an eye-opening anecdote for business owners everywhere — who should “know the laws before approaching customers,” she says. Amen to that.