In the upstairs cafe of the Washingtonian Center's two-story Target Wednesday morning, some patrons sipped coffee drinks from Starbucks, while others sipped breast milk.
At 10 a.m., about a dozen mothers (and a handful of fathers) staged a public nurse-in, breastfeeding their children in the store to protest what they say is a corporate policy of harassment by the retail chain.
Amber Campanelli of Gaithersburg, who was feeding her 8-month-old son Gordon, said she found out about the event through Facebook and wanted to act.
"It's been happening a lot lately," she said of being harassed for feeding in public. "It's not that surprising. A lot of people don't know the laws. That's why we do this. So people do know the laws."
And that law, in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, unequivocally states that women are allowed to breastfeed in public.
"A mother may breast-feed her child in any public or private location in which the mother and child are authorized to be," says the Maryland Health-General Code Ann. 20-801.
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a woman may breast-feed her child at any location where that woman would otherwise be allowed on property that is owned, leased or controlled by the Commonwealth," according to the Virginia Code Ann. 18.2-387.
On indecent exposure, the code states: "No person shall be deemed to be in violation of this section for breastfeeding a child in any public place or any place where others are present."
And in Washington, D.C., Code Ann. 2-1402.81 states: "A woman shall have the right to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where she has the right to be with her child, without respect to whether the mother's breast or any part of it is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding of her child."
Federal law also says breastfeeding is allowed in any federal building or on any federal property. Federal buildings also include museums such as the Hirschhorn in Washington, D.C., where Campanelli also attended a nurse-in in February after a mother was repeatedly asked to restrict her breastfeeding to the restroom.
Today's nurse-in was spawned when mothers in Gaithersburg joined at least 100 other groups across the U.S.—in more than 35 states—that were unhappy with how Target store employees treated a Texas woman last month.
Michelle Hickman, from Houston, TX, was instructed to move to the changing rooms when she tried to breastfeed her 5-month-old son Noah at local Target store.
The next day Hickman called Target's corporate headquarters and was told by guest relations, “just because it’s a woman’s legal right to nurse a baby in public doesn’t mean she should walk around the store flaunting it,” according to a story on Time.com.
This sparked a response on Facebook that spread quickly, and soon nurse-in groups sparked across the country.
Lior Moller was at the store feeding her 18-month-old son Eitan.
"We're raising awareness to the fact that people still don't know the laws and people don't have the right to segregate nursing mothers," she said.
She added that she thinks Target responded to the national outcry "pretty well," adding that they offered an apology and their policy is generally a supportive one.
No printed apology could be found on Target's corporate website, and a manager at the Gaithersburg store would not comment on the nurse-in.
However the manager did confirm Target's policy that nursing mothers could feed in the store if they chose to.
Following the 2006 incident, Target released this statement:
Target has a long-standing practice that supports breastfeeding in our stores. We apologize for any inconvenience the guest experienced and will take this opportunity to reaffirm this commitment with our team members. For guests in our stores, 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 addition, guests who choose to breastfeed discreetly in more public areas of the store are welcome to do so without being made to feel uncomfortable.
There was no nurse-in at the Germantown or Wheaton store on Wednesday.