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Breastfeeding mothers target Target

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Waterford - Breastfeeding in public creates strong reactions across the social spectrum, but for the dozen or so moms who attended a "nurse-in" Wednesday at a Target department store on Hartford Turnpike, the issue is simple: When a baby has to eat, it's time to feed the kid.

And that may mean nursing a baby out in the open in a women's clothing department, rather than being forced to breastfeed in a private fitting room.

"Unfortunately, there's this whole sexual stigma," said Meg Bain of Westerly. "That's not what it's all about. It's about your baby eating."

"Some people see it as sexual or inappropriate, which it is not," added Emily Kellner of Norwich, who attends a breastfeeding support group every Thursday morning at Waterford Public Library. "It's kind of an art. Women need to see other women breastfeeding to pick up on it."

Mothers attending the nurse-in at Target were part of a nationwide demonstration expected to attract more than 3,000 women to more than 240 Target stores across the United States.

Three stores in Connecticut, including the Waterford Target, were among the sites facing nurse-ins Wednesday that were arranged to call attention to the treatment of a breastfeeding woman at a Target in Houston. The woman, Michelle Hickman, said Target employees told her last month to move from a discreet spot in the women's clothing department and warned that she could be arrested if she didn't nurse her baby elsewhere.

The local nursing mothers at Target Wednesday weren't sure many customers were aware that the group of women and their children sitting in the store's snack area were part of a national movement intended to emphasize women's right to nurse in public.

They weren't allowed to hand out pamphlets, were denied permission to set up a table and felt awkward about the presence of security guards. Store officials told the mothers, none of whom was seen nursing during a 15-minute interview, that they could explain to customers why they were there only if asked.

Organizers emphasized the event wasn't a boycott of Target. In fact, Target has been supportive of the rights of nursing mothers, they said, and its executives have indicated that the actions of employees in Houston were an aberration.

"We have a longstanding policy that supports breastfeeding in our stores," said Target spokeswoman Jessica Carlson. "Women are welcome to do so."

Leigh-Anne Sastre of Norwich, a nurse at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, said she decided to join the nurse-in after hearing about the event through a home-birth support group. The local event was organized by Leah Fennell of Colchester, who posted information onto a Facebook site.

Sastre noted that breastfeeding has long-term beneficial health effects for both the baby and mother, and that L&M is currently in the process of getting certified for training mothers in the art of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding not only decreases the risk of a mother developing breast cancer, it reduces the chance of a female child developing the disease as well, she said.

"It's just what you do - it's natural," Sastre said.

l.howard@theday.com

Ubox:

Breastfeeding in Connecticut

- Is allowed in any place a woman is legally entitled to be.

- The right extends to any public place.

- There is no requirement that a woman must cover herself.

- Workplaces must set aside a private area near a nursing mother's work station for breastfeeding and pumping of milk.

- Mothers at work must be allowed to express milk or breastfeed during meals and breaks.

- The law covers small and large businesses.

SOURCE: Connecticut Department of Public Health

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