Breastfeeding mothers are planning a “nurse-in” on Saturday at Whole Foods Markets across the country. The grassroots campaign is part of an effort to draw attention to the food retailer’s policy—or, in this case, lack thereof—on breastfeeding in stores.
The hubbub began in June when a Utah woman named Angelina Love reported being “harassed” by Whole Foods staffers when she was breastfeeding her son in the store. “I was informed by the manager that Whole Foods has no policy supporting breastfeeding,” wrote Love on her blog on July 12th. “This has to change.”
The mother, enraged, wrote letters to the grocer’s local and regional offices on June 22nd in search of an explanation and, she hoped, an apology. By July 11th, she says she’d received no communication whatsoever from the company. So, she went public.
Love’s blog, Whole Baby Foods, launched on July 12th. Since then, she’s been on a one-woman mission to ignite other breastfeeding mothers to take up the cause. Her most recent entry, dated August 2nd, includes an email from Whole Foods’ media relations officer Libba Letton. In the email, Letton explains that Whole Foods is working on implementing an official policy—complete with staff training—”that breastfeeding mothers are welcome in our stores.” She continues, “We look forward to welcoming mothers and their babies and children into our stores on August 20th for the national nurse-in.”
Which is good news—because it’s on.
Facebook pages and invites have been circulating in an effort to boost turnout for Saturday’s event. Here in Philly, moms are planning to meet at the South Street and Callowhill locations at 5 p.m. At press time for this story, only a handful had confirmed attendance.
Local organizer Leanna Jackson of Hatfield says she felt compelled to get involved after hearing Love’s story. “I’m not huge into protesting but when it comes to advocating for children’s rights, I can’t not,” says Jackson. “It really piqued my interest.”
Breastfeeding, she says, has been vital for her son, who suffers from a heart condition. Jackson, who continues to nurse her three-year-old, credits breastmilk with keeping him healthy.
“Any illness can be potentially life-threatening,” she says, adding that a bout with the chicken pox a few years back landed her son in the hospital with a blood transfusion. “Now everyone around him will have strep thrat, but he’s fine. Breastfeeding has really made a difference for him, so it’s important for me that he is able to eat comfortably.”
Jackson admits that she’s not immune to the cultural stigma—the stares and funny looks—she sometimes gets for nursing her toddler. Most mothers wean their kids after six months or a year. But she says she layers-up when she has to do it in public.
“People are usually pretty respectful if you’re relatively modest,” she says. “That said, I don’t necessarily think mothers need to cover themselves, but I do understand the discomfort an onlooker might feel.”
Jackson, a regular Whole Foods customer, says she’s not intending to boycott the chain but simply wants to bring awareness to the issue: “Saturday is an opportunty for Whole Foods to show respect to nursing moms.”
Which, by the way, is exactly what staffers at Philadelphia’s Callowhill store intend to do. To coincide with the nurse-in, which will take place in East Coast stores at 5 p.m., the store is hosting an event aimed at breastfeeding moms. “Mom’s Night Out!” will run from 4 to 7, and include nursing tea, product samples, aromatherapy, and reserved seating for moms who want to participate in the nurse-in.
“We’re embracing the situation,” says Callowhill marketing manager Laura Enoch. “We allow breastfeeding in our store, and we’re doing whatever we can do to make nursing moms feel comfortable. We fully support what they’re doing.”