A Berea woman called the police Wednesday after she was asked to leave a McDonald's restaurant because she was breast-feeding her 4-month-old.
Jessica Denny thought the police would enforce a Kentucky law that forbids interfering with a mother breast-feeding in public. Instead, the Berea police officer told her she would be charged with criminal trespass if she didn't leave.
Officers are aware of the 2006 law, but Denny wasn't breast-feeding when the officer arrived, said Berea police Capt. Ken Clark.
“We have to operate on what's going on when we get there,” he said.
Doraine Bailey, who advocated for the state's breast-feeding law, said it's meant to protect nursing women like Denny.
“Law enforcement should have been enforcing a law that says you should not be harassed,” she said.
Later Wednesday, the owner of the Glades Road McDonald's franchise issued a statement to the Herald-Leader saying she deeply regretted the incident.
In the statement, owner Sundae Park said: “It has never been our policy to ask nursing mothers to leave our restaurant. ... I have taken the necessary steps to ensure this mistake does not happen again.”
Still, Denny says she was embarrassed by what happened. She wants the restaurant to apologize and put a sign on its door saying that breast-feeding is allowed.
“People need to be educated,” Denny said. “It's not a perverse thing.”
The incident happened as Kentucky celebrates World Breastfeeding Month, and worldwide, public health officials are celebrating World Breastfeeding Week.
It also illustrates why Kentucky has such low breast-feeding rates, said Bailey, who is also the breast-feeding support-services coordinator for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.
“This is a young woman who is taking really good care of her baby and now she is being penalized,” Bailey said. “She should be praised.”
Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Kentucky ranks 50th in breast-feeding initiation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends women breast-feed exclusively for six months and continue to breast-feed for the first year or as long thereafter as they and their babies desire.
Kentucky's law is meant to encourage women to breast-feed, said Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, who sponsored the measure. But like many breast-feeding laws, it doesn't carry any penalties. Buford said that lawmakers could add a civil fine of $1,000 or $2,000 to make businesses pay attention.
Denny said she met her mother at McDonald's for breakfast Wednesday morning so her mother could see her only grandson, Spencer Blair.
Dennis Doan, a family friend who joined them, said Denny was sitting across from him and had a large purse on the table in front of her as she nursed her son.
“When she feeds, you can't see nothing,” Doan said. “It's ain't like she exposes herself to the world.”
When the manager came over, she spoke loudly and drew the attention of other customers, Doan said.
Some of them joined in, telling Denny she needed to cover up, Doan said.
Denny said a blanket wasn't an option.
“It's just the way he eats,” she said. “He just pushes the blanket off. And it's hot.”
Bailey said it's quite common for babies to refuse to nurse under a blanket. It's like eating with a napkin on your face.
Denny knew about Kentucky's law because of a mother who was asked to stop nursing at a Lexington Applebee's last year. That incident sparked protests at Applebee's across the nation. Denny wasn't a mother at the time, but she attended a Lexington protest with her stepmother.
Denny said she explained the law but the manager didn't listen. Her son started crying from all the noise. So she, her mother and Doan went to the parking lot and called the police.
When the officer arrived, Denny and the manager were being “very verbal,” and the manager asked Denny to leave, said Clark, the Berea police captain.
That left the officer with little choice, Clark said. Kentucky law says that a person who is asked to leave a business in front of a police officer and doesn't can be charged with trespassing, Clark said.
Denny left rather than be arrested. But she wants people to know she wasn't doing anything wrong. She was feeding her son.
“Nutrition-wise, it's the best I can give him,” Denny said. “And that's what I'm trying to do.”