DENVER (AP) — The city of Englewood is apologizing after public pool managers told a breast-feeding woman to cover up or find a private place to feed her child, violating a Colorado law that protects a mother’s right to feed her child in a public place without having to hide.
More than a dozen supporters protested Friday outside the Pirates Cove aquatic park with a nurse-in after Charlotte Dirkes of Alamosa was asked to cover up or find a private place while she breast-fed her 10-month-old son at the kiddie pool. Dirkes chose to quit feeding her child rather than ruin her family’s holiday.
City spokesman Mike Flaherty apologized Friday to the woman’s family and acknowledged the city violated a state law that protects breast-feeding children. He called it a learning experience and said all city workers are being reminded of the law.
“We were not in compliance with the law and we made a mistake,” Flaherty said.
The park is owned by the city of Englewood, a Denver suburb with about 30,000 residents.
Dirkes sent an email to city officials saying she was disturbed after she was chastised when she tried to assert her rights.
“I am and was very saddened to know this is how a supposedly family friendly establishment treats mothers and babies doing the most natural thing possible,” she said.
It’s an issue that has come up frequently in Colorado and other states for women openly nursing at amusement parks, baseball parks, department stores and restaurants.
Supporters say the nurse-ins are necessary to assert their rights and call attention to the laws.
“Women feel violated and it’s very traumatic,” said Sara Dale-Bley, a volunteer for La Leche League International in Colorado.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 45 states have laws that allow women to breast-feed in any public or private location where they have a right to be, and 28 states exempt breast-feeding from public indecency laws.
The Family Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Reconciliation Act signed by President Barack Obama requires employers to provide reasonable break time for women to express breast milk for a nursing child for one year after the child’s birth. The employer must also provide a place other than a bathroom for the employee to express breast milk. Companies with less than 50 employees are exempt.
States that have breast-feeding protection laws cite reports from health professionals and public health officials that breast-feeding improves infant health because breast milk has antibodies that protect infants from diseases and those children require less medical treatment.
Morgan Matthews, who runs an education and support business to support nursing moms, said businesses feel it’s their right to protect other patrons, but the laws protecting women are clear and need to be enforced. Business groups representing large and small companies in Colorado declined to comment.
Matthews said some states impose fines for violators, while others, including Colorado, have no penalties.
“They should at least be required to provide training to their employees, and there should be fines for repeat offenders,” she said.
By Steven K. Paulson, AP Writer (© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)