Nursing mother says YMCA worker denied her right to breastfeed

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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.


    • Elizabeth

      I was thinking the same thing. The child looks way too old to be breast feeding still. A blanket regardless should be used. PERIOD!!! What is so hard about using a blanket? What is the point of not using a blanket? I mean really. Is it that serious that you have to do it without the blanket. Smh….

  • Charlie

    I don’t mind if a woman wants to nurse her child, but D***, throw a blanket over the view. So some common sense when out in public.

      • Mandatory Field

        Well now that you mention it, sometime I do, also with a helmet on my head and in a cramped, hot environment that isn’t exactly the most pleasant place.

        The bottom line here isn’t breast feeding, it’s the HEY LOOK AT ME I”M BREASTFEEDING that this sort of behavior demonstrated. If it really just about the child then discretion would not be an issue. But when it become the look at me I’m such a good earth moomy LOOK AT ME! It’s no longer about the child it’s about agenda. And that is detrimental to the child.

  • Allison

    All people should support breast feeding. Breast feeding is natural and what is healthiest for babies. Women should not have to hide to feed their babies and should be thanked for doing what is best for them! Breast feeding should be thought of “normal”. Women should not have to use covers, you can’t see anything of interest! If you’re uncomfortable, look away.

    • TIM

      If I have to take a leak should I be able to do it wherever I want? Then tell people “It’s natural, If you dont like it look away.”? SMH

  • TA

    FYI one of the employees sisters actually donates breast milk to children in the QCA and her family fully supports breastfeeding. The story isn’t told with 100% accuracy! As a mother that nursed, I support it but some discretion is still nice, and from my understanding of the child watch area people aren’t supposed to be in there. Again there are details that are not being relayed, and we all need to remember there are 2 sides to every story!

  • georgann haeffner

    I wholly support the moms who breastfeed. Glad it sounds like this is being addressed in a positive way by all parties.

  • Arariel

    If you want to breastfeed, fine, but do it IN PRIVATE! Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean we want to see it, nor does it mean a woman has a right to whip out her breasts in public.

    ANY OTHER TIME and that’s called indecent exposure.

      • Alex Bond

        Flossing your teeth is legal, people don’t want to see that either. Passing gas is a natural body function, do you want people around you in a restuarant farting while you eat? Its called having and using common sense and mostly have some self respect.

  • StopTheCrazy

    I know this woman personally, and she will do anything for her 15 minutes of fame. It’s one thing to promote breastfeeding, but using your breast to pacify your child and ‘console’ them isn’t breastfeeding…

    • SoulOne OneSoul

      Oh my, so many of you have gotten your snit in a wad over what, breast feeding, how PRUDE of you, please take your snit and stuff it. She was not breaking ANY LAW. do the world a favor and shut the duck up.

      • BigT

        She may not have been breaking any law, but breastfeeding a kid that old is just creepy. I don’t mind seeing infants feed, but once they’re old enough to run to you and tell you they want a drink, the fountain needs to be shut down.

  • Allison

    Feeding a baby is SOOO different from indecent exposure. What an ignorant statement. I have a feeling you never BF–women certainly don’t “whip out their breasts” who do-lol. It’s not like breast feeding is Mardi Gra, lol.

  • Deadpool

    Why the hell is this woman using the word cancer in her 15 minutes of fame like cancer and you breast feeding in public have anything in common what so ever. If lack of breast feeding in public was a main cause for little kids or anyone in general to develop cancer I’m sure that breast feeding would be required by law. And I’ve losted a lot of good people to cancer and for you to compare your situation to care just pisses me off. This had nothing to do with you breast feeding you just wanted some attention. And you kids looks like she’s 3 years old, that’s to old for her to still be breast feed. This woman is ignorant for going to the press for this. Your 15 minutes of fame is now a lifetime of shame, stupid!

  • Fed Up

    It sounds like the people claiming to know her don’t know her at all. Or the age of her child. Nobody is getting famous breastfeeding, but knowing her she will change the world. Someone should look up the arrest records of the one who donates Breastmilk. Hopefully none of those drugs pass through and affect the babies who receive her milk!

    • TA

      Fed up, the breast milk donated was to help children in need. It was a very kind thing that was done and is strongly supported by all if the parties involved. You have no right to speak so poor of someone that is able to help children. She has a wonderful supply that is more than her child needs and your disrespect is not needed nor appreciated. Lets get back to the fact that the person featured in the story was asked to feed her child in the area that all children are to be feed for many reasons, and not just nursing mothers.

  • Maria

    WOW people are amazing! I am the sister who donates my milk and anyone who has received it is more then welcome to get it tested for whatever they like. If you know anything about breastfeeding you know its a lot of hard work and and so is pumping which takes time away from my child, so there is a very very small chance anyone who is a “druggy” or anything of the sort would actually have the dedication it takes to not only provide milk for your own child let alone someone elses!! I personally have donate over 1600ozs of milk to help other babies some of which I know for a fact are good friends with this women. It’s really to bad I enjoyed helping other babies but because of this so called women I think my donating days are done for now. She is supposed to be an advocate but instead of making people want to breastfeed or donate more she is turning them off to it…GOOD GAME COACH LOST SOME PLAYERS THIS TIME!!! I will continue to breastfeed & support breastfeeding but I will always back my sister 100% she did nothing wrong here!!!

  • catchmybreath4

    Why don’t you put a bottle over that baby’s head? I do not cover my baby’s head when she needs to nurse. You can’t see my breast. Yet there are slutty Victoria’s Secret ads IN THE MALLS for my children’s eyes to see! Pictures of women running around in bras and panties, showing the world everything! Would you run around in a bra and underwear for children to see, or do you want to encourage future generations to breastfeed their babies?

    And as for the “how old is that child” comments, the natural age of weaning is 3,5-4.5.
    “Breast milk is also an important source of energy and nutrients in children aged 6 to 23 months. It can provide half or more of a child’s energy needs between the ages of 6 and 12 months, and one third of energy needs between 12 and 24 months. Breast milk is also a critical source of energy and nutrients during illness, and reduces mortality among children who are malnourished.”

      • Jeremy

        Jessica Houk was also involved in an article back in September involving the two rivers YMCA in Moline and another breast feeding incident. Interesting how a few months later she has a breast feeding incident with the davenport YMCA…..She is all about getting attention and testing the boundaries. that child looks anywhere from 4-6 and there is absolutely no excuse for her to still be breast feeding. Either Jessica Houk just enjoys it that much or she really is that bad of a mother. Either way she is not doing that child any favors. She needs to let her daughter grow up. My kids were weened off bottles and graduated to sippy cups at 1 and a half years old and they were totally potty trained and even sleeping in underwear at 2 and a half years old. Kids don’t grow up until their parents encourage it by teaching them how so when you get a really lazy parent like Jessica Houk its all about taking the easiest path which means her daughter wont be growing up any time soon. Somebody needs to teach this p.o.s mother a lesson and rescue that little girl from her desperate and needy sorry excuse of a mother.

    • Jeremy

      Catchmybreath4 the world health organization recommends breast feeding to two years of age NOT 3.5 to 4.5. Once your child begins eating solid food you are supposed to begin the weaning process. Unfortunately the weaning process can send some mothers into depression which is why mothers like Jessica Houk refuse to wean their children at an appropriate age so instead there is a 6 year old child being breast fed in public which is completely inexcusable. If your child is no longer wearing diapers then under NO circumstances should they be breast feeding. In those situations the mother is usually the biggest problem.

      • Nini

        For your information, Jessica is an amazing woman and mother! She’s doing what’s right for her children after suffering the loss of her 1st 2 babies. The child she was feeding for comfort is 2 years old! The negative comments here are so sad and hurtful. Breastfeeding mothers don’t just “whip it out” Grow up and educate yourselves!

  • a mom

    I breastfed my children and think it is wonderful. However…how OLD is that child??? That borders on ‘eerily wrong’ to me.

  • Missy

    I hate the “it’s natural” stand. It is so over-used. Just because it’s natural does not mean it’s ok to display for all to see. There are many natural things that are meant to be private.

  • Crystal

    Yes breast feeding is natural but so is the act of lovemaking or creating life but we don’t allow that in public. Besides that child is far too old to be nursing or bottle fed

  • Stop the crazy

    Allison she said the child was fussy and wanted consoled so that’s why she was BFing her… Not because it was time for her to eat… And I did BF thank you for acting like you know me :)

  • Amanda

    I support you Jessica. I also breast feed in public and will practice extended nursing! Way to follow your instincts and what most of the world practices! Maybe someday the US will follow mother nature! I am so happy you decided to comfort your child instead of the public!

    • Gary

      Nudity is illegal in public, right? Then why should we make exceptions?
      Some people only think about theirselves or their children. What about the other kids. Do they matter at all. Or just the 4 year old girl?

    • Jeremy

      Amanda are you slow in the head? Extended nursing is not something most of the world does. The World Health Organization recommends breast feeding to two years of age and most women breast feed no longer than 2-3 years of age. Are you aware that human beings are the only species in the world that feel the need to breast feed longer than a few months? If anything extended nursing goes AGAINST mother nature not with her. Extended nursing is more for the mother than the child because the mother isn’t ready to let go of that close attachment and let her child grow.

  • Grandma to 10

    agreed that this child looks WAY too old to be breastfeeding – especially in public- Call me old school, but cover it up ladies- we don’t want to see this and certainly don’t want our kids to see it either.

  • Amy J

    Breast milk was the first food and is the oldest, most natural, healthy way to feed human babies. It is not a radical act and nothing is served by shoving it in people’s faces for the purpose of making a point that is already a fact. This is demeaning to the nature of it. You don’t fight for peace via war.

  • TIM

    It’s fun to feed at the Y-M-C-A… Y-M-C-A. You can get yourslef cleaned, You can have a good meal. You can do whatever you feel… at the Y-M-C-A..

    • Jesse

      This coming from someone who had an equality symbol as their Facebook profile picture back in March? How can you be for equality with a comment like that? It may seem over-played by now or even not like it’s that big of a deal to you but it really is something that needs to be addressed just the same as equality regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc…

  • Pango-Tango

    But if I look and watch her doing this act as a male would I be hauled away for being a peeping tom? I am all for it as that is how we have feed each my my children this way because it is more healthier. However, she should cover what she is doing out of respect to others.

  • carshon engelbarts

    I applaud her for breast feeding – but that child is not a baby. Discreetly breastfeeding a baby is different than breast feeding a toddler that is almost too large to sit on your lap. As for feeding it to console her child- think of the implications here- she is teaching this child that food is a way to console yourself when upset. That leads to future obesity and other issues.

    There is a middle ground here- why could she not find a nice quiet corner to console her daughter? Maybe the child needed to be removed from the hectic play situation? There is more to this story than what was reported I am sure.

    It breaks my heart to see a toddler walking around with a bottle or pacifier, it is just as heart wrenching to see a child that is eating off of the table grab at its mothers shirt to be breast fed.

    • TA

      We need to be able to teach our children healthy coping skills, and they need to be able to have ways to comfort themselves even when mom is not around. I deal with a population of people that have not been taught healthy coping skills, and don’t know how to comfort themselves. Breastfeeding is great, but like you said it’s not good for children to think of food as a way to feel better. At some point instead of just using a breast maybe one should learn how to console their children by other physical means such as a hug.

      There is an area for (ALL) feeding to be done, and she was asked to go there instead of the area she was in that she was not even supposed to be in!! You were right in saying that the entire story isn’t being told considering one of the employees involved was a mother that had nursed her child! I wish the Y would at least comment and explain that there are areas that are off limits to people, and that is what this is about. She wasn’t supposed to be in there, it’s not that she was being discriminated against. There is not supposed to be food in the child watch area unless there is an unforseen situation like limited staff and a hungry baby. These employees were following protocol, and I wish the YMCA would speak up for them. Nothing was done to be malicious and I can say that they were acting in the best interest of the other children and had addressed other unrelated safety concerns with this mother previously. I would love for some of the other posters to be reminded that issue that was going on was her being in an area that is restricted, and not that she was breastfeeding!!! I am a big supporter of the YMCA, and trainings on updated policies are always good, but please stand up for your employees : (

  • Paula Jo Hickerson

    That kid is atleast 3!!!!! How horrible and when explaining why she did it there, she said “jessica wanted to be consoled more, so i let her breast feed longer”. There you have it in a nutshell, that horrible mother is using her breast and the laws to raise an extremely insecure child. I have a feeling anyone around her that see’s it cringes, she is in the wrong, that’s not a hungry baby and she needs to go to parenting classes and learn when to stop breast feeding a kid!!!! She’s the type of mother who will run to kindergarten and pull it out right infront of the other kids so her 5 year old can feel safe!!!! These breast feeding laws need to be dropped!!! It interfers with everyone, other parents choose not to let their child see a mother breast feed, but yet this mother and others shove it in their faces!!! They need to keep this home and especially when the kid is this old! That is just nasty and she is a terrible mother. YMCA did the right thing!!!!!!!!!

  • sh

    This is a great example of an issue being resolved in a professional manner- hats off to Frank Klipsch IV for his well worded response. With continued education, situations like these won’t happen anymore.

  • Suzanne

    It is perfectly natural, but so is having a bowel movement and voiding ones bladder. I’m not interested in seeing those natural functions either. Have a little modesty and consideration for those around you.

  • Jeremy

    It’s inexcusable. For starters that child is waaaaay to old to be breast feeding. Breast feeding is for new borns and infants NOT toddlers. Looks like mommy has some letting go issues herself. Why do breast feeding mothers feel like they are entitled to do what they want when they want??? Have some common decency and maybe just a touch of respect for those around you. Legal or not it’s still wrong on so many levels. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it belongs in the open. This IS the 21st century after all.

  • Rhonda

    It does not sound like she was feeding her child, she was consoling her child. Big difference! Although, I am all for breast feeding your child, I do feel that you should show respect when out in public. Yes, it is a natural thing but have respect for others as well. This should not have even been in the news anyway. Attention grabber is first thoughts.

  • Bob

    OH boy- her feelings were hurt so now she will sue for millions. Get over it lady. So some jerk didn’t understand the law- waa waaa.

  • Kristine

    Personally, as a mother, I breastfeed all four of my children, I do think it is respectfully to use a blanket or an apron on when breastfeeding…not only to show my respect and courtesy to other when in public, but also for the privacy and protection of my child. My children did not mind me putting a blanket at a matter of fact it was more calming for them. I personally felt more comfortable nursing in my child in a more intimate setting to create a calm bond…not in the middle of a room with lots of people running around that would distract my child. So, I feel the Y could have been a little more sensitive and maybe have a quiet room available for nursing, like they are required in workplaces. I think the employee could have used some tact to suggest a better place to nurse instead of saying next time go here or there. But just to recap, I find nothing wrong with covering while nursing and I feel it actually is more calming for both mother and child.

    • TA

      Kristine, there is a room for feeding (not only breast, but bottle as well) She was in a restricted area, and had already know that based off earlier conversations that were had with her. She was not feeding, she was consoling her child in an area she was not supposed to be in. Both of the employees involved support breastfeeding, and 1 of them actually nursed her own child. If you read some of my previous posts and you will see a bigger picture emerging… I love how it was said that reason isn’t used-exactly

  • Kristine

    it’s amazing how easily people get offended these days and how people on both sides of any issue want to push their ideals or agendas instead of using reason and sensibility with each other.

  • Stephanie

    She does have security issues. Has never gone anywhere without the kid, not even on a night out with her husband.

  • Jacki

    These people who are on here saying that the child is too old are exactly what is WRONG with the views on breastfeeding today. I nursed my daughter to 2 years, 8 months old, and would have kept going if my body would have kept producing! There is no set time limit or nursing or weaning! Get a grip! It is the most NATURAL thing a mother can do for her child, and the health benefits are profound!

  • dmvgordon

    All these posts say “think of everyone else” yet the same people are bashing her and saying terrible things here. Hypocrites! Whats wrong with the moral fabric of the world today is NOT breastfeeding moms.

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