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Mom who was asked to stop breastfeeding in public shares empowering message

Emily Locke took a break at her sister's wedding to breastfeed her son, when she says she was asked to stop by employees at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio.
/ Source: TODAY

“It was a beautiful day darkened by one situation,” begins a Facebook note by Emily Locke, 33, recounting an incident that took place at her sister’s wedding on March 19.

While posing for pictures at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio, Locke took a break to breastfeed her 9-month-old son. Upon doing so, she says she was approached by multiple employees who claimed that public breastfeeding was against museum policy and “aggressively” tried to shame her into stopping.

“You can decide for yourself if it was a beautiful family moment or a disgusting act of exhibitionism,” Locke wrote after sharing the full story. “But the simple fact is, mothers have the legal right to nurse their children wherever they are legally allowed to be.”

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Locke’s words clearly resonated — the note has received more than 64,000 likes and 16,000 shares. But why post the story to Facebook rather than simply calling customer service?

Locke’s reasoning was twofold. “I felt strongly that even if there was no such policy, the employees had potentially done this in the past or would again in the future,” she told TODAY. “I wanted to make sure they were publicly held accountable — not just call and complain and have them say, ‘Yeah, yeah, okay.’”

Another concern was empowering mothers who might not know their rights, or have the confidence to defend the choice to breastfeed in public. “I wanted to give words to someone else who was put in my position," said Locke. "You don’t have to cower in your car, and you don’t have to leave in tears. But it helps to be prepared.”

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But preparation is a two-way street, which is why Locke hopes to see more employee education on how to deal with these situations. “Of course not everyone is comfortable with breastfeeding,” she said. “If someone complains, employees want to try and make that customer happy — but in this case, they need to work with that person, not tell the mother to stop. They need a script to protect themselves and the breastfeeding mother.”

The Western Reserve Historical Society, which has since issued a public apology to Locke, hopes to lead by example. “I was so deeply disappointed to hear of this,” Kelly Falcone-Hall, the institution's president and CEO, told TODAY. “We have never had a policy against breastfeeding and never will. It was poor judgment call on the part the staff … [the need for training] is something that would have never crossed my mind.”

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The Historical Society has now partnered with the Ohio Breastfeeding Alliance to train its entire team, and hopes to act as a venue for other institutions that are interested in these programs. The museum, which has run exhibits like “Dressing for Two: Maternity Wear Through the Ages,” has even begun posting highlights to its Facebook page to celebrate womanhood in a historic way.

As for Locke, there are no hard feelings — just a desire to spread the message. “Before you have children, you don’t have any idea,” she said. “Some babies don’t like blankets, and pumping is not easy. Figuring out when the baby is going to want to eat and where you’re going to be ... there are so many little details you don’t know about.”

She added, “The thought of spending a year isolated in your house, bathrooms, cars, nursing room … it's not a good feeling. Women should know they can stand up for themselves."