The Earlywine Park YMCA in Moore, OK, has apologized to members after an employee asked two breastfeeding moms to do so in the family locker room rather than in the women's locker room. The Y says its request was about children in the locker rooms, not breastfeeding.
Brenda Bennett, vice president of communications for the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma, which includes the Earlywine Park Y, says that a teenage staff member misinterpreted the locker room policy, which states that children are not allowed in adult locker rooms.
"This particular facility has had numerous issues lately with quite a few children hanging out in the adult locker rooms with their mothers," Bennett says. "So, after a complaint by a member about children being in the locker room again, instead of checking with someone in upper management, our teenage employee asked the member to relocate with her child based on her understanding of that policy. She wasn't asking a mother to 'nurse somewhere else' as it was portrayed by the media."
Bennett says the incident was unfortunate, but the Y is working to ensure the policy is better defined so that it cannot be misconstrued again.
"Mothers are welcome to nurse anywhere at all in any of our locations," Bennett says. "As a matter of fact, we have mothers nurse their babies every single day at every one of our 12 locations: in the lobbies, pool areas, locker rooms, family dressing rooms and outside of the workout facilities."
A statement issued by the Y says: "We are very sorry that this new mom had a negative experience, and we will continue to train our staff to understand that moms can breastfeed anywhere they would like to do so in our facilities."
The Y has been overwhelmed by support internally by mothers who have nursed and continue to nurse their babies in the Y facilities, Bennett says.
A small group of nursing moms staged a nursing sit-in in the YMCA lobby on Saturday to demonstrate their legal right to breastfeed in public.
"We welcomed them with open arms, as we have the same goal that they do," Bennett says. "We helped meet their needs while they were there and made sure they were comfortable. At the Y, we are for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility."
Bennett adds that 65 percent of the people in the Y's membership base are families, with nearly 10 percent of household memberships having members between the ages of one and five.
Although the laws regarding breastfeeding vary from state to state, a mother in Oklahoma may breastfeed in any location where she is authorized to be, according to BreastfeedingLaw.com. The Oklahoma law states that "breastfeeding a baby constitutes a basic act of nurturing to which every baby has a right and which should be encouraged in the interests of maternal and child health."
Diana West, IBCLC director of media relations for La Leche League International, says her association supports the rights of mothers to breastfeed in public because it is a normal and healthy way to care for a baby's nutritional and emotional needs.
"We hope that this incident will serve to better inform employees of all public facilities and companies that mothers are serving the best interests of their babies and are within their legal rights when breastfeeding in public," West says.