I first researched Tennessee's breastfeeding laws during NursingFreedom.org's 2010 Carnival of Nursing in Public. I'm not a Tennessee Native, so I had never given it much thought until NursingFreedom.org encouraged mama's to learn about their states' law, and to carry the law with them for protection (assuming the law protects breastfeeding pairs).
Upon reading the laws for my state, I realized that since my son was nearly 3 years old, we would not be protected from indecency laws if we needed to nurse while in public. I had many emotions, but the one that stands out the most was sadness. I was deeply saddened that the state I lived in thought it only necessary to protect mothers who were nursing babies younger than 12 months. How would this affect a mother who wasn't entirely comfortable nursing to begin with? Would this law affect her decision to nurse beyond one year, or worse, to nurse at all?
I'm a huge fan of "Be the change you want to see." Instead of being astonished and leaving it at that, I decided to take action. I began an internet search for history on this particular law and came up with scarce results. My next step was to compose a letter to my representatives You can read that letter here.
I didn't have high hopes. I never anticipated a single return email. I never expected other moms in my state to respond and write their own letters. The response was overwhelming. I can only imagine what the Senators and Representatives thought the next morning when they checked their email.
My imagined morning email check from an unnamed Legislator:
"Diane, what are all these emails about breasts in my inbox?"
"Sir, did you say breasts?"
"Yes, I did. I have 5,698 emails all about breastfeeding. Can you email them all back for me?"
"What should I say?"
"Tell them something, anything, just be nice. I don't want to be squirted in the eye."
Ok, that may have been a bit extreme, but I tend to over-analyze sometimes!
I received a few responses, surprisingly enough, ranging from "I'm retiring," to "no change needed," and finally "let's take some action." I was certain the latter email was a bluff.
You can read about Rep. Ramsey's response regarding no incidents mean no change is needed here.
Sen. Mike Faulk returned my initial email the very next morning. He said:
Thank you, Lisa, for your informative e-mail. As I recall the discussion on this bill, there was no discussion of a longer period of time, shorter period of time, or any time constraint whatsoever.
By sending a copy of this e-mail to my administrative assistant, Deana Guenther, I am asking her to forward your e-mail to the State Commissioner of Health for comment.
Once I've heard from the Commissioner, I'm certainly willing to consider an amendment to this law to extend the period of time breastfeeding is protected.
This was the email I was sure was a bluff. All smoke and no fire. I was very wrong.
I recently had a nice surprise in my email from another mom I had joined forces with earlier. Her boss alerted her to a proposed bill in the Senate that removes the age limitation in the law permitting mothers to breastfeed in public children who are age 12 months or younger. You can view and track the bill here.
I admit, when I saw the bill, a little rush of excitement, and a huge Oh My Gosh moment washed over me. How exciting to be even slightly involved! But then I realized, the hard part has only begun.
Now we have to rally our efforts and call and write even more than before so this bill will also be introduced into the House, and then it can be voted on. Then, and only then, will we make a difference.
Even as I write this I know my time nursing is soon coming to an end. My son is now 3.5 years old and only nurses once a day. I will not give up, even if he weans before this is over. It may not affect me, but it could affect my children's children. If not them, this law could discourage another mother from giving her baby the best start possible in life. It's for those babies, for those mothers, that the law matters the most
Now, we need your help more than ever. Call and write your Legislator. Let her/him know that you are in favor of this bill!
You don't know who to call? No problem! Follow this link to find your Legislator and their contact information. The more interest in the bill, the more likely it will become part of the law.
Not from Tennessee? It doesn't matter - if you ever visit Tennessee or are planning a visit to Tennessee, we still want you to call or write. You can find a list of all TN Senators atthis link.
When you call your Senator, you can say something as simple as this: "Please protect all breastfeeding pairs by voting for Senate Bill 0083. We need to remove the unfounded age restriction!"
I am writing to ask that you please show support of Senate Bill 0083, so that it may pass and be signed into law. With an abundance of research in favor of breastfeeding beyond the 12 month mark, we, as a state, need this bill to encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding as suggested by the World Health Organization. May we begin to reduce our state's obesity rate by aiding mothers to give their babies the very best start in life, and protect them while doing so.
Thank you for your time and effort into this matter.