By Gina Duwe – July 15, 2015
JANESVILLE—A spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service has apologized after a Janesville employee harassed a mother for breast-feeding her newborn while mailing packages.
However, local moms have rallied and planned a “nurse-in” awareness event at the Milton Avenue post office Wednesday.
Raven Dibble of Janesville said she was “flabbergasted” when a female postal employee told her last week to either cover up or nurse her 3-week-old daughter in her car, or else she could refuse to serve her.
Wisconsin law not only allows a mother to breast-feed her child “in any public or private location where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be,” but it also prohibits anyone from directing a mother to move to a different location or cover her child or breast while nursing.
Dibble and her friends are organizing a nurse-in event from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday outside the post office through a Facebook page that shows more than 50 people will attend. Dibble said they plan to wear shirts and onesies they are ordering with a summary of the state law and will nurse their babies as needed.
On social media, she said, some people think the situation is coming across as her just wanting to “flaunt her boobs” in front of workers who already are offended.
It’s actually meant to educate and raise awareness for businesses and other mothers who don’t know the law, she said.
“It’s not about the comfort of the staff of the business or even other patrons. It’s about the comfort of that mother to feed her child because that’s all it is,” she said.
The local post office referred The Gazette to a corporate communications representative.
“We apologize for what happened with the customer,” spokesman Sean Hargadon told The Gazette. “We did talk with the employee about the situation. We did conduct training with all the employees in the facility. We apologize profusely about what happened.”
Employees were trained about the law, he said.
Dibble said she met with the Janesville postmaster Friday, a day after the encounter. Dibble said the postmaster said she was sorry and that she took care of the situation.
But Dibble asked for a public apology, perhaps as a letter to the editor in the newspaper, and pushed for sensitivity training beyond just the law to include why it is the law. The postmaster said she would look into it and let her know by Tuesday, but Dibble said she had yet to hear from her as of Wednesday afternoon.
Hargadon said the post office was aware of the plans for the nurse-in but had not been contacted about it. He said anyone can hold sit-ins or picket on public property such as the sidewalk, but the post office lobby and interior are not considered public because it is a place of business.
Dibble said she went to mail packages last week while nursing her newborn, Harlow, and the female postal employee asked her if she wanted to cover herself because she was exposed. Dibble declined, completed her transaction and left, but realized she forgot some mailings.
She returned the next day and ended up at the counter with the same employee, while needing to nurse her baby, who was in a sling. The employee said she had talked to her postmaster, and she told Dibble she could either cover up or go to her car, or she could refuse her service.
Dibble told the woman she was legally harassing her and informed her of the law. Conveniently in line behind her was Margot Harris, who reiterated the law. Harris is a certified lactation consultant and nurse practitioner at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center.
“I was really shocked to see this playing out in front of me,” she told The Gazette.
The exchange continued, and when Dibble said that breast-feeding is hard, and even harder in public, the employee cut her off to say she knew that because she nursed her own children “the right way”—in private.
“She was very loud and very argumentative,” Dibble said. “The whole situation was frankly quite humiliating.”
Reflecting on the situation, Dibble said it would have crushed her and made her question whether breast-feeding was right if it had happened with her first child, her nearly 3-year-old son.
Breast-feeding in public has always been legal in Wisconsin, but before the 2010 law, breast-feeding mothers did not have protection from harassment, Harris said. The law is strongly worded, she said, and a “modesty clause” is especially important because it means breast-feeding is not indecent exposure.
“It’s not public nudity,” Harris said. “I think that’s what people find offensive—not that your baby is seeking sustenance and eating.”
Both Harris, who has four children, and Dibble said they’ve never had other problems breast-feeding in public, and Dibble said she has even gotten encouragement from strangers.
“Janesville I’ve always thought has been pretty progressive in that regard,” Dibble said.
It’s easy as a mom to feel alone, she said, and part of successful breast-feeding in public is letting moms know they’re supported and that they’re doing a good thing for their babies.
“I feel like moms need to feel like they’re supported to feed anywhere, with or without a cover,” she said. “With the ‘mommy wars’ that are getting so much publicity, we need to support each other.”