Breast Feeding Mom Reprimanded At Smithsonian's Hirshhorn

11:11 PM, Feb 9, 2011   |    comments
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WASHINGTON DC (WUSA) -- The Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum is apologizing to a Rockville, Md. mother after security guards twice reprimanded her for nursing her child in public.

The mother visited the museum in January with her 11-month old daughter. She was sitting on a bench, breast-feeding the child. A security officer told her she needed to use the bathroom. The woman went to a ladies' room, but could not find a place to sit. She returned to the bench, and was told by another guard to return to the bathroom. Explaining she could not find a place to sit there, the guard suggested she sit on the toilet. The woman and her family ended up leaving.

WHAT'S THE LAW?: Breastfeeding regulations by state


"I couldn't believe what I heard," Noriko Aito told 9 News Now.  "I knew about the law in Maryland, but wasn't sure about D.C."   She found her husband, who did not see what happened, and went home.

Days later, the Hirshhorn issued an apology to the woman via its Facebook page. "We have responded to the mother's complaint and have made our security staff aware of the federal law allowing women to breast-feed in any public or private location," the statement said. "We regret that this incident occurred and we apologize for the frustration it has caused."

The Right to Breastfeed Act gives the right to mothers to breast feed anywhere on federal property. It was signed in 1999.

Despite the Hirshhorn's apology, mothers around the Washington region are expressing their displeasure publicly. They will hold a "nurse-in" at the museum Saturday morning. Similar ones have been held in our region recently, including one last summer at the Francis Scott Key Mall in Frederick, Md.

"This is not a protest against the Hirshhorn.  There were laws and policies in place." said LJ Pelham,  organizer of the nurse-in.   "This happened  because there was a lack of education and awareness. We want to ensure women know their rights and that it doesn't happen to anybody else again."


Maryland law allows a woman to breastfeed in any public or private place and forbids restrictions or limitations on that right. 

Virginia law guarantees a woman the right to breastfeed on any state-owned property.  It also exempts mothers from indecent exposure laws while nursing. 

The District of Columbia's Human Rights Act of 1977 covers restrictions on breastfeeding under its sex discrimination laws.  Employers are also required to provide extra unpaid break periods for nursing, and employers must make reasonable efforts to provide a clean, private location other than a bathroom.

Written by Surae Chinn, Peggy Fox & Dan Guzman

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