Nursing mother says YMCA worker denied her right to breastfeed

A Davenport mother is speaking out after she says she was told she could not breastfeed around other children at a local YMCA.

On Wednesday, February 26th, 2014, Jessica Houk sat down with News 8’s Angie Sharp. She described what happened to her last week when she went to the North Family Y in Davenport with her two children.

“I took the kids into the child watch area and, as usual, I helped them play and meet new friends,” Houk says. “We were probably in there two or three minutes and Savannah just wanted to be consoled a little bit more.  So, I sat down and I nursed her.”

Houk says she went to work out and when she came back, a childcare worker approached her.

“She’s like, ‘I noticed you were breastfeeding and that’s fine but, if you’re going to do that, I need you to go to the back corner so nobody can see you,'” Houk recalled.

Jessica says she has never had a problem with the YMCA before.

“It’s an awesome place to be,” she says.

In fact, she says, the employees at the Davenport Family Y have never had a problem with her breastfeeding in public or around children.

However, she knows that what happened to her at the North Family Y is against the law. Iowa Law #135.30 states, “Not withstanding any other provision of the law to the contrary, a woman may breastfeed the woman’s own child in any public place where the woman’s presence is otherwise authorized.”

According to its website, the YMCA states it understands the law, but Houk says there’s a big difference between knowing and doing.

“It’s just a lot of miscommunication and policies that aren’t aligned with one another,” she says.

Houk reached out to Heather Wiegand, a volunteer with the Quad Cities Breastfeeding Coalition and the Family Friendly Business Initiative.

Wiegand says she was alarmed when she heard Houk’s story.

“It’s very sad that we’re a top-rated nation that has a huge problem,” Wiegand said.

Houk says more training is needed so policy and employees are on the same page.

“The training needs to be consistent throughout each individual Y and even more importantly throughout the Scott County Y,” Houk says. “The training needs to be so it’s the same from beginning to end, from general management all the way down to the hourly employees, and the training needs to be the same in each Scott County Y.”

On Wednesday, February 26th, 2014, Frank Klipsch IV, Corporate Communications Director and Davenport Family YMCA Center Director with the Scott County Family Y, released this statement:

“The Y has been serving our Quad City community since 1858. We appreciate leaders who carry forward causes that help to make our kids and families healthier and happier. To that end, we are happy to receive feedback and support from organizations like the QC Breastfeeding Coalition and the Family Friendly Business Initiative. Passionate advocates like those who make up these groups are responsible for making our community healthy and strong.

“The issue of breastfeeding is pretty simple and clear cut. Not only does the Y of the USA support a mother’s right to breastfeed, but we also look to the CDC, which clearly informs us that breastfeeding is healthy and proven to develop healthy children and strong bonds between parent and child. And beyond these nutritional, psychological and emotional benefits, it’s the law. We are fully aware that it is a mother’s right to breastfeed in any space that the mother herself is welcome.

“Like all management issues, we continually work to educate our staff and ensure that we consistently communicate this to our members, volunteers and program participants.”

Wiegand says the Quad Cities Breastfeeding Coalition has been in touch with the Scott County Family Y, and Klipsch told her they are discussing the issue with their management team and supervision team to make sure all their employees are on the same page.

A similar situation happened at the Two Rivers YMCA in Moline in September 2013. Click here for that story.



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