Hempstead seeks to legalize public breastfeeding in town parks, facilities

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Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, left, and Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney are pushing to change the town's public breastfeeding policy. (Photos courtesy of the Town of Hempstead)

Hempstead Town Board members are seeking to update a town policy that limits women from publicly breastfeeding in town parks and facilities, which contradicts state law.

Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney and Councilman Dennis Dunne issued a news release calling for the policy change at town pools after a Levittown resident reached out to Dunne’s office when she noticed it among a list of rules when given her pool pass.

Supervisor Laura Gillen issued a separate news release on Friday stating she has introduced a resolution to update the town policy to allow public breastfeeding in all town parks and facilities.

“As the first mother in Town of Hempstead history to serve as supervisor, it was critically important to me that we update these outdated policies in order to reflect modern day practice,” Gillen said in a town release. “Nursing has been shown to provide incredible health benefits to newborns, which is why I, and many women throughout the town, have made this choice.”

Gillen, a Democrat, is a mother of four.

The town’s code with respect to breastfeeding was last updated more than 35 years ago, according to Gillen’s release.

A state law passed in 1994 gave women the right to breastfeed a child in any public or private location.

A town hearing will be held to discuss the matter on Sept. 4.

Gillen, Sweeney and Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who also supported the policy push in Dunne and Sweeney’s release, all noted their roles as mothers while advocating for the public breastfeeding reform.

“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,” 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.”

Goosby said she nursed both her daughters and also served as a registered dietitian for decades.

“So I know the benefits of a mother breastfeeding and believe that women should be able to choose if, when and where they want to breastfeed their child,” Goosby said.

Dr. Susan Vierczhalek, a pediatrician and chair of the New York State Breastfeeding Coalition, said breastfeeding is the “normative standard.”

“Gee, it’s the 21st century, breastfeeding is  not considered something special or extra, it’s considered a normal way to feed almost all infants,” Vierczhalek said.

The majority of mothers are choosing to breastfeed, Vierczhalek added.

“When something is normal, it should be respected and encouraged,” Vierczhalek said.

Gillen said this is just one of Hempstead’s antiquated codes she is looking to reform.

Gillen noted resolutions she previously sponsored to update town codes, including one to update the sexual harassment policy and another to include “vaping” in the code on prohibiting smoking in public places.

“I’m going through the Town’s code line by line to see what else needs to be updated,” Gillen said. “There are hundreds of Town codes that have to be dusted off and looked at again.”

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