Town of Hempstead officials are proposing changes to the town's code after a complaint from a resident highlighted a policy limiting public breastfeeding.
Under New York State law, nursing women have the right to breastfeed unrestricted in any location, public or private, as long as they are authorized to be there. The town code mandates that breastfeeding be limited to "designated areas."
While state law supersedes town code, Councilman Dennis Dunne and Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney said the "antiquated" language should be removed as a matter of principle.
Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said Friday she already has authored a resolution to rescind the existing language and replace it with a provision that protects the right of women to nurse in public and private areas in town parks and facilities. Dunne and King Sweeney said officials intend to schedule a public hearing on the issue for Sept. 4.
“As a mother who breastfed my two children, I cannot stress enough how important it is to me that we change our code to reflect a woman’s right to feed her child in public,” King Sweeney said. “Breastfeeding is one of the most natural functions of a woman, and to imply in any way that it is shameful or should be hidden goes against my belief system.”
Gillen said changing the breastfeeding policy is part of a larger effort to update older town codes.
"This is something that hadn’t been brought to our attention until a resident raised the issue," she said. "As we go along, we’re finding more and more things."
Town officials were alerted to the discrepancy between state law and town code when Colleen Morgan, 33, of Levittown, contacted Gillen and Dunne on June 27 about a list of town pool rules she received.
Morgan said she picked up pool passes for her family about a month ago and was given a list of regulations for pool use. She later read through them to see if floaties were allowed and came across a provision about breastfeeding. According to the list, “Breast feeding and diaper changing shall be permitted in designated areas.”
“It rubbed me the wrong way. I think many times breastfeeding mothers really can be discriminated against,” Morgan said. “Giving out the flyer to a mother who’s breastfeeding can deter them and make them feel unwelcome.”
The list sparked confusion on social media. Morgan posted about the situation on Facebook and other parents responded, expressing frustration. State law has protected the right to breastfeed in public since 1994.
“I hope that something is done about the rule," one Facebook commenter wrote. "No mother should feel ashamed to feed her child in public."
On Friday, Town of Hempstead officials tweeted that they are aware of an inquiry about breastfeeding at town pools and had responded on July 9. The tweet noted that officials believed the printout of rules came from an older stock of materials.
“The rules the constituent saw were outdated and a mother’s right to breastfeed is not limited to designated areas,” according to the tweet.
Morgan said she did not receive the July 9 email, but town officials called her on Thursday to address the issue.
“It seems like something no one had caught,” she said. “I’m really happy they were so responsive.”
Town spokesman Mike Fricchione said Friday that officials believed that mistake had come from the fact that town code had not been updated to match the state rule.
Changing town code may prevent future mistakes, officials said, though it's also intended as a symbolic gesture, Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby said in a statement.
"Updating this code is very important so we ensure that there is no question as to where our board stands on this issue,” Goosby said.