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Good Question: Should Public Breastfeeding Be Allowed?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Breastfeeding mothers said they're sending a message as they staged a nationwide "nurse-in" at Target stores in response to a Texas woman who said employees humiliated her as she fed her baby last month.

Wednesday, hundreds of mothers protested at Target stores by breastfeeding out in the open.

Target has said it supports women using fitting rooms to breastfeed, but shoppers are also welcome to breastfeed in public areas of the store.

There's no denying America's complicated relationship with breast-feeding in public. The incident in Texas shows that breastfeeding in public is front and center in a heated debate. So, should breast feeding be allowed in public?

New mother and WCCO-TV reporter Lindsey Seavert said from day one, her doctors encouraged her to breast feed.

"They call it breast milk is best, as you frequently hear," Seavert said.

Seavert said she knows well the panic that breast-feeding mothers endure.

"When you're in public, it's really tough to find that best situation. When your baby cries and screams and needs to eat, you panic, you freeze, and you just want to run to the nearest, safe spot to breastfeed your baby."

While some moms see breastfeeding in public as a necessity, others see it as taboo.

"The other side is arguing that it is uncomfortable for them to be exposed to something sexual that they didn't sign up for," said Dr. Tai Mendenhall, professor of Family Social Sciences at the U of M Medical School.

Mendenhall said that America is inundated with images of sex.

"There's this sexualization that we see in the media with clothes, with dolls, with toys, etc.," he said.

As a result, it's easy to see the world through sexual lenses. Lenses that are hard for some to take off.

He argues however, not all things should be seen as sexual; namely, breastfeeding. Mendenhall said those in the medical profession get frustrated that there are people deterring mothers from breastfeeding.

"Nature and God didn't make baby formula," Mendenhall said.

Public health organizations encourage breast feeding, boasting its benefits to babies. Mendenhall said breast feeding improves immune functioning, obesity, brain functioning, and diabetes later down the road.

Mendenhall says America's mixed feelings about sexuality inherently sends mixed messages to new mothers.

"Where at the same time that we're very excited and turned on by sexuality, we are also very phobic and uncomfortable about it," he said.

"I think it's a personal decision for every woman. I always say, if I'm happy, the baby's happy," Seavert said.

Forty-five states, including Minnesota, have laws protecting a mother's right to breast-feed in any public or private location.

The Texas mother who said she was humiliated at Target last month says she is now calling for a national law allowing women to breastfeed in public.

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