It was one of those moments new moms dread. While Lori Rueger was shopping with her infant daughter, the baby "pitched a fit" -- she needed to be fed.
"When I started heading back to the car, I saw there was a Victoria's Secret," Rueger said. "Being a past customer of Victoria's Secret, I knew they had really nice dressing rooms. [I thought:] 'I'll see if they let me use it and buy something for their trouble and be on my way.'"
Instead, she said, she was told that breast-feeding in the store was against company policy and was advised to go to a nearby bathroom, which she told the employee she would not do. "I just kind of looked at her and said, 'I wouldn't eat in there. Would you?'"
At a time when "lactivists" boycott noncompliant businesses and hold nurse-ins to promote acceptance of public breast-feeding, laws regarding breast-feeding already are in place in 38 states, 31 of which allow mothers to breast-feed in any public or private location, according to October figures from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Prompted by Rueger's encounter, South Carolina is poised to become the 39th state as legislation is to be introduced next month.
Most of the 38 laws were enacted within the last 10 years, said Jody Ruskamp-Hatz, policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "That's fairly new for state laws," she said. "I really think it's a case-by-case situation for a lot of states. When a case gets a lot of attention from the media or the workplace has a problem with someone, then the state has tended to introduce legislation."
In addition to allowing breast-feeding in public locations, 15 states have laws exempting breast-feeding from public indecency laws, 10 have laws related to breast-feeding in the workplace, and four have implemented or encouraged the development of a breast-feeding awareness education campaign, according to NCSL.
"We have been pleasantly surprised to see how much support there is for legislation to protect breast-feeding," said Mary Lofton, spokeswoman for La Leche League International, which supports breast-feeding. "Occasionally, there may be one person voting on it who is opposed to it or maybe a person who is not exactly opposed to it but thinks there should be qualifications."
The laws also come at a time when an increasing number of women are choosing to nurse their babies. According to the La Leche League, most infants were breast-fed (some by wet nurses) at the beginning of the last century. In the 1920s and 1930s, most births moved from homes to hospitals, plus infant formula was introduced, and the breast-feeding rate began to plunge.
La Leche League formed in 1956, and there was a grassroots effort to promote breast-feeding in the 1960s, but the low point of in-hospital breast-feeding came in 1971 at 24.7 percent of new moms. It started to reverse the following year, and the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the initial rate was 70.9 percent in 2003, 36.2 percent at six months and 17.2 percent at a year.