Judge Rules Out Breastfeeding in His Courtroom

After waiting for over two hours in a Paw Paw, Michigan courthouse on Tuesday, Natalie Hegedus noticed that her 5-month-old son, Landon, was hungry. So she nursed him.

As Murphy's Law dictates, Hegedus was feeding her baby when she was finally called to the stand to contest a boating ticket before Judge Robert T. Hentchel. According to Hegedus, when she asked for a moment to collect herself, the judge questioned her about the appropriateness of feeding a baby in the courtroom. wikimedia commonswikimedia commons

Hegedus replied that, under the circumstances - her baby was hungry and sick with an ear infection, and public breastfeeding is not illegal - she didn't think it was inappropriate.

At that, Hegedus says the judge informed her that in "his court" and under "his law," feeding her baby was not appropriate. When she got to the stand, Hegedus says she saw a note, written by a court aide, that said, "A woman is breastfeeding in court. My God!"

After waiting to hear the judge's ruling on the boating ticket (the ticket was dismissed), Hegedus left the courthouse feeling humiliated and in tears. "I felt like I was being attacked for breastfeeding my child," she says.

Hegedus then got angry, sought legal counsel, and started this thread in the BabyCenter Community. Fellow BabyCenter Community members are encouraging her to file a formal grievance.

The appropriateness of public breastfeeding is one of those debates that goes round and round with little hope for consensus. Just this past summer, also in Michigan, a woman was harassed for breastfeeding on a Detroit city bus.

We all have our own comfort zones, born of culture and upbringing, when it comes to the human body. But I still don't understand what is so provocative about the sight of a woman feeding a baby. After all these centuries of humans reproducing, is it not abundantly clear what breasts were designed for?

The fact that breasts play a role in sexuality and that some people even find them obscene, is beside the point and should never, ever come into the discussion of when and where a woman is allowed to feed her baby.

And for a judge to chastise a mother for feeding her sick, hungry baby in a crowded courtroom seems both arrogant and ignorant.

It seems I'm not alone in my opinion. In a BabyCenter poll, in which close to 59,000 people voiced their opinions, 81 percent of the respondents said public breastfeeding was appropriate. When asked if they felt comfortable breastfeeding in public, however, only 60 percent said yes, while 40 percent said no.

A mother's discomfort with feeding her child in public is worth discussing. But an onlooker's discomfort at the sight of a woman feeding her baby is, in my opinion, irrelevant.

Do you think this judge had any right to tell this mother she should not feed her baby in his courtroom?

Judge Robert T. Hentchel declined to comment for this story.

Betsy Shaw contributes to BabyCenter's Momformation

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