Topeka — Kansas mothers and health experts Thursday renewed their fight to give women the right to breast-feed in public.
"It is wrong that mothers, doing what is natural and best for their nursing infants, sometimes feel a lack of public support or even embarrassment and degradation in our great state," said Amy Swan, of Lawrence.
Swan and several other women recounted personal stories to a Senate committee of being insulted or verbally threatened when nursing their children in public places.
Agatha Nickerson, of Hutchinson, said she was nursing her son last year in a mall bathroom when a woman told her she was offended and would call the police and have her arrested.
"I am hoping to bring more attention to this cause so other mothers will not have to go through a similar situation," Nickerson said.
The Public Health and Welfare Committee took no action, but Chairman Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, a supporter of the bill, promised that the panel would work on the measure soon.
Most states have approved legislation that protects a mother's right to nurse her child any place she has a right to be.
But the measure was killed last year in Kansas when a majority of state senators said private businesses should be allowed to prohibit breast-feeding on their premises.
Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, who opposed the bill last year, said she could support it if there was a requirement that the woman "discreetly" nurse her child.
But advocates of breast-feeding said including the word "discreetly" was unnecessary and would open up the law to varied interpretations.
"I have yet to meet a mother who did not want to nurse discreetly while in public," said Brenda Bandy, professional liaison with La Leche League of Kansas.
Libby Rosen, a registered nurse and lactation consultant in Topeka, added that women nursing their babies show "less skin than a Victoria Secret's ad or what you will see during the Super Bowl."
But O'Connor disagreed, saying several years ago while at a restaurant, a woman at the next table who was nursing her child "whipped it out in front of everyone."
The bill before the committee would also exempt women who are breast-feeding from jury duty.
Advocates said the benefits of breast-feeding to a child's health and society in general were comprehensive. They say breast-fed babies are healthier and require less medical attention. Mothers save money from not having to pay for formula and the mother-child bond is produced by breast-feeding.
Even with the benefits, advocates said some women will not breast-feed or will stop breast-feeding sooner because of fear of societal disapproval.
In Kansas, the rate of breast-feeding is falling behind the rest of the nation.
At the time of discharge from the hospital after giving birth, 72.2 percent of Kansas mothers breast-feed compared with a national average of 70 percent. But after six months, 28.8 percent of Kansas mothers breast-feed compared with 33 percent for the rest of the nation.
Breast-feeding advocates said a supportive law would give women the confidence to breast-feed and increase the rate.