Beyond Riddle’s Shaming Comments for Texas Breastfeeding Moms

Last week Texas moms helped tackle a big cultural and legal Booby Trap.   Representative Jessica Farrar sponsored House Bill 1706 — a law that if passed would give a breastfeeding mom the ability to sue a business or person for harassing her for breastfeeding in public.  Texas, like most other states, already has a law declaring that a mom has a legal right to breastfeed anywhere she otherwise has a legal right to be.  This addition, would enforce the law by giving the mom legal recourse (a civil cause of action) for being told she “can’t do that here.” Michelle Hickman, Best for Babes’ volunteer Director of Activism and a native Texan, has been working like crazy behind the scenes to support Farrar’s effort, and was there to testify about this groundbreaking legislation.

Best for Babes' Michelle Hickman breastfeeding her daughter Natalie at the Texas House of Representatives
Best for Babes’ Michelle Hickman and daughter Natalie at the Texas House of Representatives

Why is this proposed law so important?  Because harassment and humiliation of moms who nurse in public is rampant but carries no penalty in most states.  Best for Babes’ Nursing In Public Harassment Hotline, overseen by Michelle, has collected 60 incidents in the 6 months since it’s inception!  Just to be clear, those incidents involve paying customers who stop briefly to feed their hungry baby, so they can resume minding their own business — be that in a market, on a plane, or at the gym, etc., they are yelled at, demeaned, shamed, have blankets forcibly thrown over their babies heads, and even have objects thrown at them.  This is how we treat mothers who are contributing to our improved collective health and debt reduction?  Read:  Breastfeeding Could Save $13 Billion. 

Humiliating moms for nursing in public is a major deterrent to breastfeeding–a Booby Trap. The prospect of being shamed in public or having to run for cover to a car or bathroom with a hungry baby, often with other young children in tow, so sours the deal that many women give up or don’t bother trying.  We don’t blame them.  Who would sign up for that?  Breastfeeding shouldn’t be a “sentence.”

From Left, Michelle Hickman, Susan Landers, Krisdee Monmoyer & baby boy, Gail Gresham
From Left, Michelle Hickman, Susan Landers, Krisdee Donmoyer & baby boy, Gail Gresham, where they testified at the public hearing for HB 741 & HB 1706


To be fair, many business-owners and retail stores are largely unaware of a mom’s “right to breastfeed in public.”  However, without the threat of a legal consequence for offending a mom, once they are aware, there isn’t much incentive to comply beyond issuing an apology.  Yes, a public apology is what moms want initially.  But to ensure that harassment doesn’t continue on another day, what is really needed is a commitment to a policy and training for themselves and their workers, about how to treat breastfeeding customers.  HB 1706 is one way of fixing that problem.  Another would be to make it a criminal offense – a misdemeanor — punishable by a fine.  That may be a better option because moms of young kids shouldn’t have to start a lawsuit to get some relief! Either way, the legal consequences that would follow breaking the law, are needed.

Having the law on our side would help greatly, but we’ve also got a much deeper cultural Booby Trap to deal with.  State Representative Debbie Riddle’s ignorant comments on her Facebook page (which she posted and then removed) made this patently clear.  Riddle said she would not support the bill, but also stated that women should be “modest” while nursing, or retreat to their cars to do it,  “cover” the baby with a blanket,  “its not rocket science.” Guess she never nursed a baby in a hot Texas car, or struggled with a baby yanking off a receiving blanket.

A recent poll from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation confirmed that moms want to feel welcome nursing in public and that it would make an enormous difference to their lives if they did.  Dr. Gail Christopher, WKKF Vice President of Program Strategy said it best:“If we truly understand that breast milk is the best first food for new babies—and our polling shows Americans do—then our institutions and communities need to make it easier for all mothers to nurse.”

Breastfeeding is a behavior with such widespread benefits for us all that it’s our social responsibility to help moms succeed – at home, at work in public, wherever.  A national law making discrimination against nursing moms illegal would go a long way toward the culture shift we need.  HB 1706  is a praiseworthy step in the right direction!

Do you think that giving moms who are discriminated against for nursing in public the right to sue and collect money damages is a fair remedy, or should it be a crime punishable by a fine?


Show your support to moms who are nursing in public by purchasing our “Thank you for breastfeeding!” cards. And just in case the mom is ever harassed for nursing, we want her to know she can call and get help, support, and even get involved in efforts to help prevent discrimination against nursing mothers everywhere by including our breastfeeding discrimination hotline number on the back.

$3 gets you 10 of them (that’s shipping included!) and we hope you love them as much as we do! Also consider donating to the hotline to help keep us going!

Thank you for breastfeeding! cards


5 thoughts on “Beyond Riddle’s Shaming Comments for Texas Breastfeeding Moms

  1. I’m a mommy from Houston. I’ve nursed 3 kiddos through Texas summers, winters and all the weather in between. I’ve been the ‘modest’ mom. None of my kids would deal with having any kind of cover over them while they were eating (who could blame them? I wouldn’t want to eat with a blanket over my head either). Most of the time no one can tell exactly what I’m doing when I nurse in public. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never had anyone tell me I couldn’t nurse my child wherever I was. But I know a few ladies who have been hassled while feeding a baby. It would be nice to have a law that allows recourse when you’ve been embarassed, humiliated and shamed for doing what’s right and best for your child. It’s not enough to fire back at the store/location that actually caused the problem. Fewer of them would be inclined to even approach the mother in the first place if they knew that they could be sued for it.


  2. I am in FULL support of HB1706 and though I do not live in Texas anymore (military family!) I am blessed to have known Michelle personally, as well as other mothers who have been harassed in Texas for feeding their babies. It’s a disgrace that our society perpetuates a culture of shame toward mothers – whether breast or bottle feeding. These moms are raising the next generation of our country, and those who are breastfeeding are doing so in the best and healthiest way! They should be celebrated, not shamed. I absolutely think that HB1706, a breastfeeding law with enforcement provisions, would be a sign to businesses and individuals — to “wake up” and pay attention to the rights of a little one to eat, and the function of a mother’s breast to provide that nurture and nourishment.

    Unfortunately, while there are breastfeeding advocates and friendly people out there, there are also those who are ignorant about breastfeeding as a human capacity and a human right. And there are those who are so firmly rooted in the sexualization of the breast perpetuated by our society that they truly believe that breastfeeding should not be seen. We need to reach and educate these people, and if this cannot be accomplished, then they need to know that our laws do not condone harassment of a mother and child on account of breastfeeding in public.

    I feel that breastfeeding in public is one of the most socially responsible things that a mother can do. This statement is not meant to demean or lessen what breastfeeding moms that seek discretion for their own reasons or moms that bottle feed. Instead, it is an expression of faith in the human experience – that the more nursing is normalized by mothers responding to their children’s needs shamelessly and immediately . . . the more our society will grow to embrace an act of nurture and nourishment as a good thing, and not one that should be hidden under a blanket or bathroom door in order to be “modest.”


  3. Insightful article! “Breastfeeding is a behavior with such widespread benefits for us all that it’s our social responsibility to help moms succeed – at home, at work in public, wherever.”
    You couldn’t be more spot-on! The positivity of your message is just what we need to get past the negative bantering that weighs down the cause. Thank you for such a well-written examination of this issue.


  4. Well, maybe the proper punishment would be to make offender sit in a hot Texas car in the summer with a blanket over their heads or eat their lunch in the public bathroom toilet!

    But, on a more serious note, yes — business owners need to be made accountable whether is is being sued or if there is a fine — if it is a fine, it has to be a hefty fine. A small fine would just be shrugged off. It has to make an impact and have consequences that make one pause and reconsider their actions. Otherwise, what’s the point?


  5. I am a full-time working mom who breastfed her daughter until her daughter self-weaned at 14 months. I am a HUGE advocate of breastfeeding and even further, the right to breast pump (My husband and I were nearly arrested in an airport for attempting to use an empty interfaith chapel to pump). I also recognize the necessity of an enforcement clause to laws granting the right to breastfeed. I do not, however, think suing is the solution. A fine would be far more appropriate. As much as I hope more women breastfeed, I also think freedom of speech is a fundamental right in this country. Should someone want to call be “gross” or “indecent” for having nursed in public, it is sadly their right to be an ignoramus. Any physical act, such as thrown objects or tossed blankets, should absolutely be grounds for a suit, but language is free. Fines would do the trick.


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