DeKALB – Moms, babies and even a few dads gathered for a couple of hours late Thursday morning outside a downtown DeKalb resale shop to support a mother's right to breast-feed in public.
Close to 50 people taking part in a "nurse-in" sat on the ground or set up lawn chairs near No Strings Attached on Lincoln Highway. That's where 21-year-old Nichole Eidsmoe, of DeKalb, said she was breast-feeding her 11-month-old daughter Izrael Ehle on Tuesday when shop owner John Rapp objected.
Eidsmoe, who said she was covering herself, claimed Rapp told her to stop breast-feeding or leave the store; Rapp said he told Eidsmoe to cover herself or go to a private place to breast-feed.
Eidsmoe chatted with other moms Thursday while passing out pamphlets that shared the state's Right to Breastfeed Act. Some mothers breast-fed their children during the rally; others gave kids snacks or toys to play with.
Eidsmoe said she was pleasantly surprised at the large turnout; information about the event spread through Facebook and word-of-mouth. Mothers from Aurora and Yorkville were among those camped out in front of the store to show support.
"When you're out and baby's hungry, baby's hungry," said Yorkville mom Deena Burkert, carrying her 10-month-old daughter Lila. She heard about the event through Facebook and said breast-feeding is "nothing to be ashamed of or hidden."
Mothers should support one another and educate the public on the right to breast-feed, Burkert said.
"Luckily, we've got the law on our side as well," she said.
The state’s Right to Breastfeed Act was signed into law in 2004, said John Farrell, head of the civil division in the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office. It protects a mother’s right to breast-feed in any public or private place where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, which would include a store. The statute notes this is irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is exposed “during or incidental to the breast-feeding.”
If a woman is denied the right to breast-feed in public, she could take civil action, Farrell said.
DeKalb resident Ted McCarron supported store owner Rapp and argued with moms over Rapp's rights as a business owner.
"If you guys want to flash, there's the Paperback Grotto down the street," McCarron told the moms, referring to the adult novelty store. He said the Right to Breastfeed statute violates Rapp's civil liberties and needs to be changed.
Rapp made a brief appearance outside the store near the beginning of the rally, arguing with a few of the mothers near the store, but soon went back inside. The shop remained open during the rally, though employee Ben Vander Roest said customer traffic was down.
DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen and Lt. Carl Leoni monitored the crowd and kept the sidewalk clear for foot traffic. Local business owners stepped outside to watch the crowd or voice their support for the group. A dress form in the window of Chilton's Sporting Goods, next door to No Strings Attached, wore a T-shirt that said "Breast feeders welcome." Ken Weinstock, co-owner of downtown business Blue Moon Balloon Company, passed out pastel-colored balloons to moms and kids.
"I feel that if a baby's hungry, it has the right to eat," Weinstock said, adding that Rapp "just went a little bit too far with it."
Rapp said he felt it necessary to ask Eidsmoe to cover herself while she was in the store Tuesday and stands by his beliefs. He called Thursday's rally a "disgrace to society."
"When they're ready to apologize for their actions, I'm ready to listen," Rapp said.
Suzi Leigh – co-administrator of group Crunchy Moms of DeKalb, which helped organize the rally – said most women who breast-feed don't want to be exposed, but they have the right not to cover themselves while feeding.
"If you're eating lunch and someone throws a tarp over your head, you're not going to want to eat your lunch," said Leigh, a certified lactation consultant who brought her 1-year-old son Jacob with her Thursday.
Eidsmoe, who said she has no interest in suing Rapp or the store, said the event also provided the opportunity for moms to connect.