The 27-year-old mom tells Austin CultureMap that she was shopping at the Victoria’s Secret store earlier this month, and after purchasing around $150 worth of VS merchandise, she posed the question to a sales clerk about using the fitting room to nurse.
“The woman who checked me out began to nod her head yes, but before she had a chance to respond, the employee next to her immediately responded by telling me I was not allowed to nurse my son in her store,” recalls the mom. “Instead, I could walk outside to a nearby alley.”
She says the sales clerk then told her that she should go all the way to the back of the long alley if she didn’t want anyone to see her nursing.
“I was instantly confused and shocked, so to clarify, I asked her, ‘You want me to take my son outside, down an alley, and nurse him?’” she says. “She responded by saying yes. It was cold and windy — there was no way I was going to walk down an alley in the middle of the elements to feed my son.”
Rather than opting for the alley route, the mom went to a nearby bathroom and breastfed her baby in a toilet stall.
“I had never thought of breastfeeding as such a shameful thing, especially in a store where breasts are visible in every corner,” she explains. “But at that moment, I began questioning myself. Why is this not allowed? For a chain that promotes ‘the beauty’ of the female body, and that shows pictures of almost nude women, breastfeeding should most certainly be welcomed.”
Texas Health Code Ann. § 165.002 states in no uncertain terms that, “A mother is entitled to breast-feed her baby in any location in which the mother is authorized to be.”
One could argue that the store had a right to not let her nurse in the fitting room as it may have needed the space for customers, but the employee should not have told the mom that she could not breastfeed in the store.
The mom later contacted VS customer service by phone and spoke to someone for more than 30 minutes. He promised that someone would respond to her complaint.
“However, the next day, when I called them back, there was no record of my complaint, so once again, I was on the phone for another 30 minutes explaining my experience. The new contact said they would be in touch as well.”
She also spoke to the manager of the store where she’d been told she couldn’t nurse. The manager promised to respond via mail, but never made good on that promise. An e-mail to VS CEO Sharon Jester Turney went unanswered.
Of course, after the local media got involved, Victoria’s Secret was finally apologetic:
“We take this issue very seriously. We have a longstanding policy permitting mothers to nurse their children in our stores and we are sorry that it was not followed in this case. We have apologized to [the mother], and we are taking actions to ensure all associates understand our policy that welcomes mothers to breastfeed in our stores.”
The mom isn’t terribly impressed with this bland corporate apology.
“It really doesn’t seem like Victoria’s Secret is taking this seriously,” she says.
As happens when someone takes a story like this online, there are skeptics and folks putting the blame on the mother.
To those who accused the mom of staging the incident, she responds, “I have much more to do than take my son to VS with me on a Monday and hope they deny me the right to breastfeed.”
And what about those who say she was acting irresponsibly by taking her child out when she could have done her shopping online?
“So I should never leave my house in order for you not to have to witness a baby eat?” asks the mom. “Truthfully, this is all pretty embarrassing and stressful. However, now that it has become such a story, I hope people will at least be more sensitive to new moms who are just trying to do what’s best for their children — whether it’s breast or bottle. I am just an everyday mom doing what I think is best for my son, as are all the other mothers in the world. I just hope Victoria’s Secret understands the urgency on their part to support moms and nursing moms alike.”
For those curious about the laws governing nursing moms in their states, the National Conference of State Legislatures has this very helpful guide to each state’s particular laws on breastfeeding in public.