Modiin Mom Told to Nurse in the Changing Room

Yiska visited a mall in Modiin with her young baby. Here is her story:

I was at the mall this morning with my 3-week-old daughter. While modestly nursing her, a security guard approached me and told me I shouldn’t nurse in public, and that there is a changing room which I should use, “so everyone will feel more comfortable.” I nodded and said OK, and just left it at that.

An hour later, in a different spot, the same thing happened. This time it was one of the cleaning men. I told him I was perfectly comfortable where I was.
It seems to me they were told by the management to ask women not to nurse in public.

It’s pretty ridiculous. It’s fine for women to walk around half naked, but feeding your child modestly is unacceptable.

———

I haven’t heard from the management yet, so I’m not sure that this is the mall’s policy, it just sounded like it.

In January I heard a lecture on breastfeeding rights in Israel, by a lawyer who had researched the subject. She said that unlike in most US states, no Israeli law protects breastfeeding mothers. Assuming the mall is privately owned, the management is within its rights to ask a mother to leave the premises.

The lawyer stressed that in order to be effective, laws should not relate to issues of obscenity or sex discrimination. In Ohio, a breastfeeding mother sued Wal-Mart for sex discrimination and lost. The judge ruled that there was no sex discrimination because if a man were breastfeeding, he would also be asked to leave:

Title VII forbids gender discrimination in employment, but gender discrimination by definition consists of favoring men while disadvantaging women or vice versa. The drawing of distinctions among persons of one gender on the basis of criteria that are immaterial to the other, while in given cases perhaps deplorable, is not the sort of behavior covered by Title VII.

As for obscenity, there is no connection between the two. And we don’t want the courts deciding how much breast can be visible. When laws on public breastfeeding come up for debate in state legislatures, formula companies have been known to lobby for including a clause about nursing “discreetly” or limiting the age of the nursing baby. This opens up a can of worms and sends a negative message about breastfeeding.

The lawyer explained that supporting nursing in public for health reasons also creates a risk. The medical profession promotes breastfeeding, yet you still find doctors who argue that the differences between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding are insignificant. If the pendulum were to swing back in favor of formula, we would want the rights of breastfeeding mothers and babies to remain protected.

The lawyer insisted that any discussion of public breastfeeding must hinge on the right of the nursing mother to participate fully in society. You can read more of my views on this matter in my post “Nursing in the Ezrat Nashim.”

I don’t understand why an Israeli mall would harass breastfeeding mothers. Such mothers tend to be more affluent, and have more disposable income from money saved on formula and bottles. They have more time to spend in the mall because they don’t have to shlep formula or worry that it will spoil. And Israelis don’t bat an eye when they see a nursing mother. In my experience, they’re more likely to compliment her.

I think the mall thought that if they had a room for mothers and babies, nursing mothers would naturally want to sit there. This is despite the fact that they call it a changing room and not a nursing room–do you really want to watch everyone changing diapers while your baby is eating? Breastfeeding rooms are great for mothers who want rest or privacy, but they send a subtle message that breastfeeding mothers should stay out of sight. I see women breastfeeding in public every time I visit my local mall, despite the existence of a nursing/changing room.

Notice that Yiska’s three-week-old baby needed to nurse twice within an hour. That’s a lot of time for someone to spend in the changing room. What if a woman comes with her husband or friend? Are they supposed to wait for her outside? It’s time to stop equating nursing with going to the bathroom.

The mall might be concerned about their haredi clientele, which is ironic because haredi women nurse too. And as Yiska implied, the mall doesn’t have a dress code, so there are more “offensive” sights than a nursing mother sitting on a bench. If a haredi clientele is the issue, I wonder whether the mall limits provocative advertising.

I hope the management in Modiin will wise up and allow Israeli mothers to shop freely with their nursing babies.

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Comments

  1. Maybe we should organize a nurse-in.

  2. I wondered how long it would take you to blog about this.
    You know, in all the years I breastfed in Israel (and abroad for that matter) no one ever asked me to leave. I kept waiting for it so that I could make some smartaleck comment about how they should take their lunch to the bathroom to eat, but it never happened. I wonder if I blend in too well or just look too scary LOL…

  3. You have my support on this one. For whatever that’s worth!

  4. My first reaction was the same as Pesky Settler’s! I’m not sure if it should be inside the mall or at the entrance. But I definitely think that’s the way to go.
    Stories like this make my blood boil!

  5. Wow, something from the Modiin listserve made your blog…The responses and reactions on the list has been wild.
    I’m not sure why so many people care about a woman modestly nursing when many of the women at the mall are half-naked.

  6. Shoshana says:

    I never had any issues when nursing in public here in Israel – as you mentioned, I found it more likely to be complimented. I always tried to be discreet regardless but never did anyone stare. Most people completely ignored it as it was a normal site.
    With my 2nd son, I was in the US for 6 weeks when he was 3-4 months old and I nursed plenty htere too. Though there I generally had to be hidden as my mother-in-law pretty much forbade me from nursing in her living room or family room. And when out with her, she threw a fit and so I decided to just shut up and hide out (and try not to go out with her). When she visited me and tried the same rule, i told her it was my house, my rules and she could leave if she didn’t like it as I was completely covered up and nursing hourly and I refused to be a prisoner in my own home).
    I’m just so suprised it would have been brought up 2x here in Israel as it truly does seem to be accepted. You see moms nursing in parks, malls, pretty much everplace. I nursed in a sling on a line and remember a man coming up to me asking for tips for his wife so she could do the same!
    Not nursing now but i’d have participated in a nurse in in a minute otherwise
    shoshana

  7. Shoshana, i could have written that comment! I was shocked when I was banished to the computer room at my in laws, when I was nursing my first. It really annoyed me. But by now with number three, I’ve just come to accept it (it’s actually a nice break from everyone and when it’s not shabbat, i just surf the internet. :D). but when they come to me, i just nurse right in my living room. They haven’t said anything.
    If anyone needs help with a nurse in, let me know, i still have a few weeks left of chufshat leida and my kids are still in kaytana till august.
    😀

  8. It looks like what will happen is this: Someone (possibly me or Yiska) will make a call to the mall management and find out if this is policy. If it is not, then we’ll ask them to ask the staff to stop harassing women.
    If this is mall policy, then we’ll probably arrange a nurse-in… I’m not nursing, but I can hold Kinneret all cozy for a while 😉

  9. rachel.bizzbuzz says:

    very interesting … in my small-medium sized city in the U.S. there are “nursing rooms” behind curtains in the mall’s family restroom, but I found it a schlep to use it. I didn’t go to the mall too much when I was nursing. I nursed in public a lot, and just tried to be discreet. (sometimes i didn’t succeed in being very discreet though). No one said anything, even my MIL who didn’t nurse. I think it was preferable to hearing my baby scream her head off!

  10. You mentioned that maybe it’s to protect the Hareidi clientele??? Just wanted to point out that in Modiin, the population is mixed, but a very small minority of Hareidi….so that’s not the issue.
    We’re all waiting to hear what the moms find out about the official policy of the mall. And don’t worry about the nurse-in, the nursing moms are already talking about it!

  11. sylvia_rachel says:

    That’s pretty obnoxious — and pretty inexplicable, based on what everyone is saying about public attitudes in Israel (I haven’t been since 1982, so I’ll have to take everyone’s word for it).
    I occasionally hear about something like that happening where I live, too, but mostly, unfortunately, nursing mums “self-censor” for fear of a negative reaction they almost certainly wouldn’t get if they went ahead and nursed at the mall, the park, the zoo, etc.
    Like Robin, I spent my daughter’s whole nursing career nursing in a variety of public places and half-waiting for someone to give me grief so I could produce a smart comeback … and nobody did. Not even when I walked down supermarket aisles nursing a six-month-old (a small one, admittedly). People smiled, or thought she was sleeping, or didn’t notice anything at all, or ignored the situation.
    Except, that is, for the various members of my husband’s family who kept up a steady stream of passive-aggressive commentary for several years. I ignored it, mostly. If someone had actually come right out and asked me not to nurse in front of everybody, I might have felt like I should follow their rules in their house, but I figured I don’t have to understand their hints if I don’t want to ;).
    I agree that the best way to safeguard the right to nurse in public is to focus on the right of nursing mums to participate in society. (I’ve heard it phrased as “a woman should have the right to nurse anywhere she has a right to be”.) Some will feel more comfortable than others, and probably some will always retreat to the nursing room if there is one, but if there’s no good reason to make someone eat in a bathroom stall — and there isn’t — then no one should ever have to nurse in a bathroom stall, either.

  12. I never had trouble nursing my son anywhere in Israel, and I’ve also seen religious women nursing discreetly on the train here. When I nursed him in the US, though, it was a totally different story – standing up in public bathroom stalls, using store dressing rooms, etc. There was even one instance where I asked to use a dressing room and explained why, and when I came out, the shop owner (who was from Turkey) asked if I lived in the US. Even though I obviously sounded American, the fact that I was actually nursing and not bottle-feeding (my son was seven months old at that time) made her think that I must live somewhere else, since she rarely saw American women nursing (and she proudly told me how she had nursed all of her children as well).
    The only time I felt comfortable nursing in public in the US was at a secluded beach-front park in Florida – where we were surrounded by a large group of Israeli strangers!

  13. mother in israel says:

    I’m enjoying the comments.
    I agree that it’s a good idea to ask the management directly. I am not sure about a nurse-in. I think letters to management and local newspapers are preferable. True that she was harassed, but in the end it was a suggestion. No one forced her to move.
    Emahs, I was talking about Modiin Ilit, the haredi city next door which probably does not have a similar mall. But then I remembered that, incredibly, there is no public transportation between the neighboring towns. At least that is what I have been told.
    S-R: I hate that women feel the need to give bottles in public.
    LR: Love those Israelis, despite my frequent complaints :).
    Rachel BB: I think your MIL is just well-trained. Thanks for your comment.

  14. faith/emuna says:

    have been to the modiin mall and dont think haredim are an issue.
    dont want to calculate how many years (all of them in israel) ive spent nursing my 7 children. ive nursed in malls, restaraunts etc and dont remmeber ever getting a negative commnet. a few months ago i was nursing in a beit cafe in petach tikva and a middle aged american woman came up to me and made some sort of supportive girl power comment in accented hebrew. i gave her a smile but thought the comment funny, i didnt think my nursing was an issue.
    a nurse in would be cute, even just to meet y’all.

  15. I nursed my children discreetly all over the place in England, including in a cable car! I did tend to use the mall’s nursing room when i went there, but have nursed with no adverse comments on planes, in restaurants and even while teaching a class of teenage boys, who were very surprised when a baby emerged from under my shawl. The one time when i had a baby with me in Israel, i also nursed in restaurants etc and no-one ever said anything. i think it is a terrible shame that women are hassled about this – the UK has just ( I think) passed a law giving breastfeeding mothers some kind of protection and it was quite controversial.

  16. Lion of Zion says:

    “It’s fine for women to walk around half naked, but feeding your child modestly is unacceptable.”
    damn good point
    “She said that unlike in most US states, no Israeli law protects breastfeeding mothers.”
    regardless of what the law says, my wife works in a public school and it was not comfortable to nurse (actually pump) there. more recently another worker they gave problems to a co-worker who pumped there.
    “The mall might be concerned about their haredi clientele, which is ironic because haredi women nurse too.”
    in public? i once saw the wife of a chabad friend nursing in their living room and i was shocked.
    anyway, as a guy i have to admit that i feel uncomfortable when i see it, although i have been accused of being close-minded.
    שבוע טוב

  17. Lion of Zion says:

    PESKY SETTLER:
    “Maybe we should organize a nurse-in.”
    LOL!
    although with too much publicity you might attract male gawkers.

  18. Lion,
    What can I say. I got a little jealous of my American nursing sisters with all their talks of nurse-ins.
    Of course most States actually protect the mother and she can legally NIP (nurse in public).
    Here I am enjoying a falafel at Falafel King while my son enjoys his own lunch back in November. And it’s completely SFW.
    http://tinyurl.com/6km9ts

  19. mother in israel says:

    So if there are no haredim at this mall, the staff’s request is even more bizarre. Isn’t Modiin supposed to be a progressive, modern city?

  20. Lion of Zion says:

    just to clarify above, my wife works in a public school in brooklyn
    PESKY SETTLER:
    from this angle that doesn’t look too comfortable for the baby

  21. mother in israel says:

    Abbi, one can’t always help being uncomfortable.

  22. Lion of Zion says:

    ABBI:
    “LOZ: i’m really trying to understand what is uncomfortable about seeing a woman feeding her baby.”
    what can i tell you? chalk one up for conditioning
    “Most charedi women i know nurse wherever and whenever.”
    i guess i’ve just never noticed. maybe i’m not so sensitive to it after all.

  23. LOZ: i’m really trying to understand what is uncomfortable about seeing a woman feeding her baby. Because exposure can’t really be an issue, since most women who nurse in public are completely covered up, as the baby actually covers all parts that are supposed to be covered! I’ve even seen a woman nursing in a tube top who was still “covered” (ie: no boob was showing.) Is it just “knowing” that the baby is in an area that is also culturally considered “sexual”?
    Most charedi women i know nurse wherever and whenever.

  24. LoZ, he might have had a bit of a diaper wedgie, but we were both comfortable while he nursed.

  25. I have no problem with nursing mothers in public. My wife nurses anywhere and everywhere and is completely covered and people can hardly even tell she is nursing. Some mothers do reveal too much, but not really more than the average shopper in the modiin mall is revealing just by walking around (I was there a couple of weeks ago and saw how they dress).

  26. Several years ago, shortly after boarding a domestic flight in the US, I began to nurse my son. I was sitting in a middle seat next to my husband (who was sitting in the aisle seat), and while I was being discreet (nothing “unusual” on display), it was pretty obvious that I was nursing.
    People were still boarding, and there was one middle-aged guy who not only stared at me while he walked past, but also whispered something into the ear of his female companion, and she began to stare as well. I started straight back, and to this day, I’m still sorry that I didn’t actually say something out loud to embarrass him.

  27. Liza R: What he whispered was “wow, I wonder why you always had to undress to nurse and she can just do it all nice and neat?”
    And the wife stared to see if she could figure it out.
    Feel better now?

  28. sylvia_rachel says:

    S-R: I hate that women feel the need to give bottles in public.
    Me, too. Although I think just as often women don’t do that (don’t want to, or baby won’t take a bottle, or whatever) but also don’t feel they should/can NIP, so they stay home, or retreat to another room, or whatever, and it makes going anywhere with the baby really inconvenient.
    For example, my daughter and I recently had lunch at the home of a friend in my home town; it was a mother-daughter lunch, there were no men present, and almost everyone there had known almost everyone else for upwards of two decades. Two of the guests were a young mother and her nine-month-old daughter. When the baby wanted to nurse, the mother took her upstairs. Nobody said she had to; nobody would have minded her nursing in the living-room; but nobody told her she could or should stay, either. (I would have, in my own house, but not in someone else’s.)
    Of course, maybe the baby was just at that really distractible stage, the stage when only a quiet, darkened room is boring enough to allow adequate focus on eating 😉

  29. MII: I agree, one can’t always help feeling uncomfortable, but you can certainly try to understand it. At least I do, when I feel uncomfortable about certain pple and situations.

  30. it *is* policy…
    time to take this up a notch!

  31. LOL!!
    triLcat has the right ATTITUDE!!

  32. It took me a while to nurse in public; it wasn’t “done” when my older kids were babies.

  33. Once I got up the nerve to nurse in public, before many of you were born, nobody ever objected.
    Some people have hangups or dirty minds. Their problem.

  34. faith/emuna says:

    triLcat – you spoke to the management? what did they say?

  35. faith, I didn’t speak to them – yiska did. Apparently, though, they’ve magically reversed their position.

  36. Aha! That would certainly explain the disturbed look he had on his face at that time! 🙂

  37. Who knows what they were saying? I think it’s great that they saw that a nice religious girl isn’t worried about what they think, is more concerned that the child is quiet and isn’t shrieking on the plane.
    Maybe that’s what they were saying. And what a nice example, right? Maybe one day they’ll be zoche.

  38. If I was religious, they might have thought that (or they might have thought something anti-semitic…), but since I’m not…

  39. I work in Hadassa Ein Kerem. When I gave birth there 5 months ago I saw literature posted all over the walls about the importance of breastfeeding. Now I’ve returned to work in my lab towards my doctorate. Apparently the medical school doesn’t think breastfeeding is all that important.
    There is no official space for women to pump in the building. I’ve spoken to my department head, and the dean. I cannot just pump where I work because it is a lab with a significant amount of chemicals, it would not be safe. So the dean said I can come to him and his secretary would give me a key to whichever of three rooms may be available. No sink, no fridge.
    How frustrating! One would expect that a medical school associated with a hospital would be the first place to support nursing.
    Any ideas

  40. I used to put the baby into a snuggli with a zipper inside. once a relative asked to see him & I said, sorry, he’s occupied now. They were kind of shocked, but nobody knew til then…

    Here’s a real funny one. We have a program here in US called WIC (Women, Infants & children) which gives coupons for milk, eggs, cheese etc to improve nutrition for expectant & nursing moms with low incomes & kids under 5. You get a different package when you’re nursing (some formula coupons but more emphasis on good nutrition & breasfeeding education, as needed, for mom) So, I’m sitting & talking to the worker and going through all my paperwork & the baby starts to cry. So I stick her under my shirt. The worker then asks, do you have the letter from your doctor that you’re breastfeeding? Huh?

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