Breastfeeding can be hard.
Nipples can get sore and crack. A woman sometimes needs to shape her breast a certain way. Babies may have difficulty latching.
And even if you really want to do it, it can take courage to nurse where other people can see.
So when Diane Winner heard a group of Durham parents were holding a “nurse-in” to support a local mom who’d had a bad experience at Costco, she made a point to take her baby and go.
“I want people to see it,” said Winner, a pediatric speech therapist. “To me it’s about normalizing breastfeeding. I want my daughter to grow up knowing she can do that and that’s what breasts are for.”
About two dozen parents attended the “nurse-in” at the Costco on North Pointe Drive on Saturday.
Members of the SODU (South Durham) Parents Posse rallied after member Yael Symes said an incident with a store employee Friday made her uncomfortable while breastfeeding her daughter, Evelyn, in the warehouse store.
It wasn’t a boycott, or even a protest. Rather, like Winner, the mothers and a few dads said they wanted to remind everyone that breastfeeding is legal everywhere and to suppport a practice that still struggles for public acceptance.
Symes was shopping with her husband, Jeff, on Friday when Evelyn, 7 1/2 months old, started getting fussy.
It can take several minutes to get the baby to feed, so Symes found a spot among the outdoor furniture boxes and, using a breastfeeding cover, began to nurse. Unless you were looking for patio furniture, you wouldn’t have seen her, she said.
A short time later, a store employee told Symes that someone had complained and that the store had a lactation room.
“She didn’t say the words, ‘You have to,’” Symes said. “But she said, ‘Follow me to the lactation room. I’ll get the key.’”
Symes, a UNC doctoral student in public health, was flustered.
“It made me feel really unwelcome,” she said, and the family left.
On social media, members of the SODU Parents Posse support group encouraged Symes to hold the “nurse-in.
By 10:30 a.m. Saturday a small crowd had gathered outside in the drizzle.
They walked in, sat at the picnic-style tables and began to feed their babies.
Some brought breast milk or formula in bottles. Some breastfed, and at least one gave her baby ice cream.
“It’s so important for women to be able to feel comfortable and supported,” said City Council member Jillian Johnson, who brought son, Langston, 2.
Johnson said she’s nursed in Costco without a problem.
“This is not a regular situation, but it does need to be addressed,” she said.
Kandus Fisher, a social worker, drove 35 minutes from Raleigh.
It’s ironic that malls display Victoria’s Secret models without complaint, but “if a mother is breastfeeding in public and using her breasts in the manner nature intended them to be used it becomes a nuisance,” she said.
The store employee did not mean to make Symes uncomfortable, a Costco official said Saturday.
There had been a couple of complaints and the employee wanted Symes to know she had another option, said Aldyn Royes, vice president for Operations Eastern Division.
“They weren’t asked to move into the lactation room,” he said. “We told a member we had a lactation room and she was welcome to use it. It was just merely an accommodation.”
Symes, who said she might have used the room had she known about it, said that’s not how it felt to her. And with Evelyn calmly latched, she didn’t want to disrupt the nursing and start all over.
Now, she just wants to make sure it doesn’t happen to her or another mother again.
“Babies are fussy when they’re hungry,” she said.
“If you’re going to a place like Costco, you’re not going to go in and out in five minutes. Most women are going to be likely to nurse.”
Later Saturday, Symes said Royes had called her, apologized and said the store needed to train employees and post signs to make the lactation room more visible.
“I told him to make sure those signs make it clear that the room is optional,” she said.
What the law says
North Carolina law states “a woman may breastfeed in any public or private location where she is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.”
See the entire statute at http://bit.ly/1mpBEsa.