A Connecticut mother is praising good Samaritans who she said came to her rescue when she was verbally assaulted by a man who said she was “disgusting” because she was breast-feeding her baby in public.
Jessie Maher, who was nursing her daughter Monday in a cafeteria area at a Target in Torrington, said the man then demanded a refund from the store.
“Because I’m feeding my baby, this man is going crazy — and I am shaking,” Maher said in a cellphone video she captured of the incident. She added: “He wants a refund because I’m breastfeeding my baby.”
Maher posted her video on Facebook and, by Thursday morning, it had been viewed more than 5.5 million times, with commenters saying they were “so sorry” she went through it but “so proud” she stood strong.
“Kudos to the Target employees and customers that stood up for you and kept him away from you,” one said. “He was actually scary, like he wanted to come over there, where you were. You didn’t do anything wrong.
“So sorry that you and your baby had to endure this creepy mean guy. You stand your ground and feed your baby whenever, wherever you need to.”
Earlier this week, Maher explained on social media why she was breast-feeding at a Target store.
“I choose to openly breastfeed my child when ever and where ever she happens to be hungry,” she wrote Tuesday night on Facebook. “I choose not to cover up because I am not ashamed of what my breasts are intended for. I stand with all mamas breastfeeding, bottle feeding, covered or not.
“It is hard enough being a mother, period. We need to build new mothers up not tear them down.”
During the altercation, a woman, who was not identified, stood beside Maher and defended her.
“Don’t shake, you’re fine. He has no right to be doing what he’s doing — you have a baby in your hands,” the woman told Maher, adding: “This is a beautiful moment right now. If he doesn’t like it, he can go.”
People who appeared to be Target staffers approached the man and seemed to defuse the situation.
Moments later, Maher started to thank the strangers who, she said, had just come to her defense.
“I’m good, I’m good. I’m feeding my baby — we’re chill. I’ve got some defending women around me,” she said. “Thank you so much,” she told them.
Connecticut’s Department of Health issued a statement in 2011 saying that “one of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant and herself is to breastfeed.”
Indeed, Connecticut state law permits mothers to breast-feed their babies in public places and in the workplace, as well as to pump milk throughout the workday.
Connecticut health officials have even put out a guide on breast-feeding laws to answer some of the most common questions from others, including, “Why can’t the mother cover the baby when nursing?” and, “Can’t the mother go to the restroom to feed the baby?”
“Some children will not tolerate being covered with a towel or blanket, and will cry instead of eat,” according to the report. “Some children need eye contact with their mother while breastfeeding, and others like to look around. These actions may also be related to a child’s normal development stage.”
As for bathroom feedings: “No one should have to use a restroom other than for its intended purpose.”
Maher told CBS affiliate WFSB that the Target employees told her Monday morning she could continue breast-feeding her baby anywhere in the store.
“The amount of people coming at me to defend me was amazing,” she said. “Everyone that was right in that area was there for me defending me, so it felt really good.”
Target said it has a breast-feeding policy that allows customers to feed their babies wherever they feel most comfortable, and those who request private rooms are given the option to use the fitting rooms.
“At Target, we want all of our guests to feel comfortable shopping with us,” Target spokeswoman Kristy Welker said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Our breastfeeding policy, which applies to all stores, is just one of the ways in which we support our guests. Guests who choose to breastfeed in public areas of the store are welcome to do so without being made to feel uncomfortable.
“Additionally, we support the use of fitting rooms for women who wish to breastfeed their babies, even if others are waiting to use the fitting rooms.”
In her Facebook post, Maher showed appreciation for those who tried to help — and encouragement for other mothers.
“I just wanted to let everyone know how much we appreciate the outpouring of love and support that we have received,” she wrote. “Loved ones, acquaintances, and complete strangers have posted, re-posted and linked to our story.”
“I have received several hundred FB messages in support of me and my right to breastfeed,” she added. “Mamas have opened up and told me their stories, they’ve said they stand by me, they understand what I went through because they too have been in public with a screaming baby … some run home and deal with the screaming baby, some hide in a bathroom, some sit down and cover up with a blanket, some sit in a hot car.
“This is all in fear of the reactions we get … a dirty look or the extreme situation that I endured yesterday.”
Maher said it’s up to today’s mothers to help raise the next generation.
“Let’s be kind, let’s be gentle,” she wrote. “Let’s teach future mamas that they have rights when it comes to breastfeeding! Let’s normalize breastfeeding, because that is exactly what it is, normal, nothing more nothing less.”