Few topics seem to galvanize public debate quite as much as breastfeeding in public.
Under Wisconsin statute 253.165, a mother may openly breastfeed her child in any place, public or private, where they are otherwise authorized to be, including restaurants.
Yet, as one woman dining at Maxfield’s Pancake House in Fox Point on Father’s Day found out, the statute is occasionally, and illegally, ignored. Betsy Herman Feldman began to nurse her 23-month-old son to quiet him down, at which point a server asked her to cover herself up. Aware of her legal rights, Feldman refused. The server then demanded that she leave the restaurant and stated that she would not be welcome back.
In response to heated online comments regarding the incident, Maxfield’s owner Gus Zarmakoupis took to Facebook to pen Feldman a heartfelt apology. He declared that he supports mothers who choose to breastfeed in public and would never ask a woman to leave his restaurant for it.
The incident has prompted outcry from both sides of the argument, those who support public breastfeeding and those who feel it is inappropriate. Dining critic and Lake Effect contributor Ann Christenson points out, “this is not a new thing. Obviously, women have been nursing their babies since the beginning of time. It’s a very natural thing.” She went on to argue that, to her, “it’s kind of ludicrous to be offended by it.”
Christenson acknowledges that, while breastfeeding in public is protected by law on paper, it faces many obstacles in practice. She thinks that many restaurant owners simply don’t think to educate their staff on proper protocol for interacting with breastfeeding patrons.
In addition, she realizes that some diners feel “it upsets their aesthetics” or “interferes with their meal.” These concerns ought to be kept in check, according to Christenson, but she agrees that an effective solution would require some compromise from both sides. In her view, if mothers make an effort to breastfeed discreetly and other patrons endeavor to focus on their own experience at the restaurant, both parties will come away satisfied.
Christenson is also senior editor at Milwaukee Magazine.