For many women, breast-feeding is difficult, even if ultimately rewarding and beneficial for mother and child. Infants need to be fed every few hours, making venturing out of the home for a significant period of time difficult. Also, lactating women need to empty their breasts (either by nursing or using a breast pump) at regular intervals or they'll stop producing milk -- a particularly challenging obstacle for working mothers who may find it difficult to find a private place to nurse or pump. For women who breast-feed, tolerance for public feedings, or accommodations for nursing, can make the difference between doing it or not.
Laws may be in place to protect the rights of those mothers, and it's not as if there is an anti-breast-feeding lobby. But moms will tell you the practice is still not fully accepted by the general public, and self-proclaimed "lactivists" are taking their fight to the streets and the Internet to protest breast-feeding restrictions and negative attitudes.
"There are more people breast-feeding, and the more people who breast-feed, the more likely you are to have someone who is breast-feeding at a restaurant or a swimming pool," Lofton said. "Rights are a real issue today with everyone, whether it's breast-feeding or some other issue, and I think there is a feeling among women that this is kind of one of the last areas where they feel discrimination and they want to make sure that it no longer exists."
There were about 150 of them outside the New York studio of the ABC talk show "The View" in June, angry about comments that breast-feeding made its hosts uncomfortable. And new moms aren't the only ones organizing demonstrations. In May, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., hosted a nurse-in on Capitol Hill to reintroduce the Breast-feeding Promotion Act, which would encourage new mothers to breast-feed and protect them from discrimination, as well as amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect breast-feeding.
They also turned out, a few dozen strong and armed with signs reading, "Victoria's Secret Supports Breasts but Not Breast-feeding Mothers," to rally behind Rueger at the store in suburban Charleston, S.C., after her story made the local newspaper. And the incident prompted State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, to introduce a bill in the state legislature's January session.
"We've had several instances in South Carolina in the past where restaurants or stores have not been the most cooperative with breast-feeding mothers when they tried to breast-feed in their establishments," Limehouse said. The proposed legislation, modeled after those in neighboring Georgia and North Carolina, reads: "Breast-feeding is an important and basic act of nurture which should be encouraged in the interest of maternal and child health. A mother may breast-feed her child in any location where the mother otherwise is authorized to be."
Limehouse is working with Lin Cook, a postpartum doula and breast-feeding counselor in Charleston, to pass the legislation. "For South Carolinians, unfortunately, we've found that women don't feel protected," Cook said. "And so when they are at the point that they want to start going out, they go: 'Well, I don't really feel that I could have a place to breast-feed, and I'll just fix a bottle.'"
The pair tried to pass a similar law in 1997 and the measure failed. "I guess I was too progressive at the time," Limehouse said.