ANNAPOLIS – When her 3-month-old son started screaming in hunger, a Riestertown mother recently sought out a bench in the front of an Owings Mills toy store to nurse.
A store clerk, however, said she was indecently exposing herself to children and rushed her into the bathroom, where there was no where to sit but the toilets.
The incident prompted Susan Gross, the mother, to call Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, and it prompted Hollinger to sponsor the Right to Breast-feed bill heard last week in the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Medical organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dietetic Association urge mothers to breast-feed their babies for a year or at least, six months.
But that’s hard to do, said Gross, when society shames mothers for the act.
“Another mother might have just given up breast-feeding for good,” said Gross, a medical research consultant for Johns Hopkins University and knows the medical benefits of breast-feeding first hand.
Breast-fed babies have fewer intestinal infections and eczema, according to a study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Other studies show breast-fed infants have lower rates of hospital admissions, ear infections, diarrhea, rashes and allergies as well as lower risks for acute and chronic diseases. And mothers who breast-feed return to their original weight faster than those who don’t.
But the American Dietetic Association research shows many of today’s grandmothers never breast-fed their children because it was not socially acceptable. The decline became significant about 20 years ago.
Nowadays, nursing mothers are rarely penalized, but they are often restricted.
Hollinger’s bill would prevent such limitations on nursing mothers and forbid store clerks, like the one in Gross’s case, from restricting nursing mothers.
A few other legislators have introduced similar measures for nursing mothers. In the House, Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, has a Right-to- Breast-Feed bill hearing Thursday. Next week, Delegate Carol S. Petzold, D- Montgomery County, will have a hearing for her bill to make breast-feeding supplies tax-free.
“Breast-feeding is well accepted by the medical community, however, breast-feeding is still not the norm. And any negative comment or harassment may lead mother to give up,” Gross told the Committee.
Hollinger, a former nurse, also discussed her experience.
“When I finished nursing school, I was one of the few mothers breast- feeding my baby. It is a good experience for the mother and a wonderful way to bond with the baby.”
A nostalgic Sen. Clarence Blount, D-Baltimore, committee chairman was taken aback that there is even a need for such legislation, pointing out that society is moving forward in some respects while moving backward in others.
“When I was young, it was commonplace for me to see babies being breast- fed and women weren’t self-conscious,” he said. “I just look at what was 30 to 40 years ago . . . seeing a mother nursing a baby – you didn’t gawk at that and you weren’t even embarrassed.”
More than 60 percent of Maryland mothers breast-feed said Maurine Edwards, who testified for the Department of Health. But, because of the shame factor involved, she said, many of these mothers are only nursing for one or two months – not long enough for babies to get the full benefit.
“Sitting in the bathroom breast-feeding doesn’t sound like an attractive thing to do,” Edwards said. “You’re more likely to see breasts in an erotic presentation in the media instead of in a natural motherly way.”