THE FEARLESS CONSUMER- Let down: Theater request irks nursing mom

On July 29, Brian and Kristin Bell took their three-week-old son to a matinee at the Regal Cinema on the downtown mall. What started as a fun outing, sadly, ended in anger. 

In a written account of the incident that Brian sent the Hook, he states that at the end of the movie, Kristin (who was wearing a shawl-type nursing drape) was breastfeeding their baby. The theater emptied, the lights came up, and employees began cleaning the theater for the next show. 

When they were done, Brian claims, a male employee asked the couple if they "could move this to the lobby." Brian says Kristin replied that she was nursing their baby, "and it would only take five minutes or so for him to finish." According to Brian, the employee urged them to leave, saying, "I can't sign off that the theater is ready for the next movie until everyone has left." 

Brian offered to talk to the manager if their staying for a few minutes more would be a problem (he claims the next movie wasn't scheduled to start for another 30 minutes), but "the worker sighed and said, ‘No, I'll just wait.'" 

While Kristin was in the restroom changing the baby's diaper, Brian states that he went to the lobby and spoke to manager Kenneth Sosnowski "to let him know that his worker should have some sensitivity training for the needs of young infants and moms regarding nursing." He claims that Sosnowski "sarcastically" replied, "Yeah, I'll be sure to tell him that." Brian then asked whether Sosnowski had children, and he said no. After another testy exchange, according to Brian, Sosnowski said that breastfeeding in public was "inappropriate." 

Here's what makes this situation more charged than it otherwise might have been: the Bells' baby has cystic fibrosis (a chronic lung and pancreatic disease), and the Bells have been encouraged by his doctors, Brian says, "to breastfeed him on demand as a way to boost his immune system and to get the nourishment he needs to gain weight." 

When I called Sosnowski to discuss the incident, he refused to comment. I persisted, asking, "Did you say that breastfeeding in public is inappropriate?" "I have no comment," he replied. 

The Bells sent a letter to Regal's corporate headquarters in Tennessee on August 27, but claim they got no response. I tried twice to speak to someone in Regal's public-relations department, and got a voicemail message after my second attempt. I called back– two more times– but never got a response. 

Since I have no experience with breastfeeding, I called my sister Karen, who not only nursed children for about six years, but was active in the La Leche League (a breastfeeding advocacy group) as well. Would it have been feasible, I asked, for Kristin to walk to the lobby while nursing the baby and continue feeding him there? 

"Physically, it would be easy," she said, for Kristin to have stood up and walked into the lobby while nursing. For the baby's comfort, however, staying put made good sense: "For one thing, the lobby would have been noisy, and he might have stopped nursing and started crying." 

I spoke to Kristin about the situation, and she said that the Charlottesville La Leche chapter is considering staging a "nurse-in" outside Regal Cinemas. And Jenny Ragsdale, after reading about the incident in an online group, wrote the Hook a letter that said, in part, "Why is it acceptable for women to wear low-cut or tight tops and display their bodies sexually in every establishment on the downtown mall, but unacceptable to use their bodies to nourish their babies?" Good question. 


The owner of the fencing company in last week's column ["Off the fence"] is Kelly Hensley Jr. His father, Kelly Hensley Sr., has no connection to the company. 

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at 100 Second Street NW, Charlottesville 22902.



Some government agency should evaluate this couple for parental fitness. Bringing a diseased 3-week-old baby to a movie theater? They think that's proper care? There are times when what is appropriate is watching rented tapes or TV at home rather than take a sick baby on parental entertainment jaunts. What else do they do as a threesome, Fridays After Five? A night at the bar? White water rafting?

"Movie Goer"s response to this article is inflammatory and just plain mean. These parents have been through enough with the diagnosis of a life-long and at times, life-threatening illness, without the condescending judgement. The baby is not "diseased" but instead the victim of a genetic hiccup that makes him less able to fight infections if his cystic fibrosis remains untreated. The baby and the family shouldn't live in a bubble; it is neither practicle nor in the best interest of the child. Furthermore, comparing a movie in a theater to white water rafting is clearly ridiculous. I go back to my statement about just being mean.

Nursing in any place in any form at any time should be encouraged for any baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics backs me up on this statement. Why are so many members of the public bent on discouraging something so natural and healthy?

Everyone is sorry this couple has a child with cystic fibrosis and everyone should understand that they need some relief from the tension and round-the-clock care of a sick child. If they can take a little baby unobtrusively to the movies, good for them.

However, this couple should also realize that the world doesn't stop spinning because they've had the misfortune to have a sick baby. The article says "Brian offered to talk to the manager if their staying for a few minutes more would be a problem (he claims the next movie wasn't scheduled to start for another 30 minutes), but "the worker sighed and said, ‘No, I'll just wait.'"

All they had to do was finish nursing the baby while the worker waited and then go home. The problem started when the husband thought his annoyance was worth a confrontation with the manager.

Again, they're in an unfortuante situation and everybody is sorry. But they need to get some perspective before they start calling newspapers and riling up groups that threaten to hold a "nurse in" outside the theater.

All parties to this ridiculous situation need to get some perspective. It isn't a question of some women being allowed to "display their bodies sexually" and this poor victim not beling allowed to nurse her baby. Nobody told her she couldn't nurse the baby or asked her to stop. The worker offered to wait while she finished.

Any mother knows you can walk all over town with a nursing baby if you have to. I wish the couple well with their baby, but I'm afraid all they're going to learn from this experience is that they're victims and the world should stop and cater to them-- a terrible lesson for them, and a rotten attitude for the unfortunate baby to grow up with.

It sounds like this parent had an "attitude of entitlement" that many women with infants seem to have; which is that when they are in public everyone else should attempt to accommodate them, while they blatantly disregard any inconvience their kid might be causing others.

I oppose breast-feeding in public. But if it's not against any law then by all means go ahead (and don't mind me if I decide I want to watch- it is after all a public place).

An infant should not be brought to a movie theater until they're old enough to enjoy the show. I do not attend films geared toward children, so I should not have my theater experience ruined by a parent with a squalling child. That sentiment is also extended to restaurants which are not specifically geared toward the "family" market.

Having children is a "lifestyle choice" which brings with it certian sacrifices- one of which is accepting that until your child is of a certian age there are times when s/he should be left at home. Which might mean that it's an event which you (the parent) will have to forgo attendance at. Along with an understanding that not all business will (or should) welcome a woman who wishes to engage in public breastfeeding.

Additonally the need for public breastfeeding should not be a foregone conclusion. There are devices and equipment that will allow a nursing mother to store her 'milk' for her infant- when direct breastfeeding is not an option or appropriate.

I understand the couples need to get out and enjoy themselves for a few hours. I breastfed all three of my children, its the best thing for a child. But were they even concerned for their child's hearing? A movie theater is not the place to take an infant, it is entirely to loud. Damage only takes a few minutes at this young age. Also I would like to know if Bill Wells has any children? Yes, having children is a choice-your mother and father made a choice too! Did Your mother breastfeed you? All women are asking is to care for the child and breastfeeding is best. We do not ask everyone to accomodate us. You can not predict when an infant is going to want to eat. Breastfeeding is very appropriate Mr. Wells, and the public should recognized that.

I do realize that Breast feeding is good and healthy for the baby. At no point in my previous post did I suggest otherwise (lets work on our reading comprehension). I pointed out out that there are devices that allow the mother of the infant to harvest her breast milk for later use when natural feeding is not possible or appropriate. These devices do not prevent the baby from recieving the full benefit of breast milk.

"and don't mind me if I decide I want to watch" -- Holy crap, Bill, you're pathetic.

From my understanding, the child was causing no inconvenience for anyone except the (somewhat clueless) usher. If the baby were screaming during the movie, that's one thing, but "An infant should not be brought to a movie theater until they're old enough to enjoy the show"? Are you for real?

We could start the whole "Where does my right to go out interfere with your right to a comfortable meal?" debate, I suppose, but that gets tiresome. I'll just suggest that if you find the world so offensive, then buy yourself an internet porn subscription and stay at home.

"No, you stay at home!"

"No, you stay at home!"

See? Tiresome. It's a whole lot easier just to not worry so friggin' much that not everyone does what Prince Bill wants day in and day out.

As for breast pumps, there are several reasons direct feeding is better: bonding, convenience, balancing supply and demand. For a three week old, nipple confusion can be a problem.

The long and the short of it: natural feeding is not always possible, but always appropriate.

Infants eat sleep and poop almost non-stop from the get go. There's plenty of opportunity to "bond" with ones baby via breastfeeding somewhere that's not a public location. As for the rest of it- there are two separate issues here: 1) Bringing Infants who cannot enjoy the movie to the theater in the first place and 2) The issue of Public breastfeeding. These issues as discussed, exist apart from the above incident in the article. Both items (1 and 2) I believe are inappropriate. And as such I think the woman in the article has absolutely no reason to be miffed. A business is a private enterprise and as such has the right to set down whatever rules it sees fit so long as said rules do not violate law. Just as a customer has a right not to patronize a business if they do not like the rules set forth. As such a nursing mother is due no more or less consideration than any other patron or customer of a business. Additionally do not attribute to me what I did not write. I did not write that I think breastfeeding is offensive. I do not think it is offensive. I just do not think a public location is the proper place. That's my *opinion* on those issues. Don't like my opinion? Get over it.

Parents should realize that the world does not revolve around them and their children. The parents not only had a total and complete disregard for the theater workers, but expect that a movie theater that accomodates thousands of people make exceptions for them. Had the parents talked to management upon their arrival, I think a reasonable accomodation could have been made should that situation arise. I really don't think the issue is breastfeeding in public as it is arrogance on the part of the breastfeeder.