For many new parents, especially nursing moms, going basically anywhere without your baby is super hard. You have to arrange for childcare, get them to childcare and hope they'll take a bottle from someone who isn't you. Quite frankly, for some of us, it's just not that doable.
That's why a North Carolina mother, Danielle Bell, ended up in the back of a courtroom last week, nursing her 3-month-old baby while waiting to deal with a traffic ticket. She was stunned when she was told she couldn't breastfeed her child there.
Bell thought it would be fine, as her baby and breast were covered by a sling and, more importantly, because as an American mother she has "the right to breastfeed [her] baby wherever and whenever [her] baby is hungry," according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Office on Women's Health.
In North Carolina the law states: "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a woman may breast feed in any public or private location where she is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother's breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breast feeding."
But judges have a lot of discretion in their courtrooms, and Bell was advised that no children under 12 are allowed in the one she was in, even if they are still so tiny they need to eat all the time.
"I felt discriminated against," Bell told WRAL. "This is the way she survives—by breastfeeding—because she refuses a bottle."
According to local news reports, Bell was able to leave her baby, a daughter named Penelope, with her father outside the courtroom, but when she tried to explain the situation to the judge she says he threatened her with contempt and said he would put the baby in the custody of Child Protective Services.
"That's when I walked out of the courtroom crying," says Bell, who has to make another appearance on the matter on May 20.
The judge in her case has not spoken publicly about the matter, but other women who have been in similar situations have.
Back in 2016, again in North Carolina, mother Stephanie Rhodus was breastfeeding her 8-month-old when another judge told her it was fine for her baby to be there, as long as he wasn't eating.
"I'm fine with having a child [in the courtroom] if you don't have other arrangements made; that's certainly going to happen," the Citizen-Times reports the judge said. "But to nurse the child in the courtroom is just absolutely inappropriate. Now step outside and button up, or whatever you need to do to button up. Are you going to be able to stay buttoned up?"
It seems so strange to us that people who have committed their lives to the law would be so willing to disregard the laws around breastfeeding in favor of their own personal discretion. When it comes to breastfeeding in court, maybe it's time for judges to button up?
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