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Breastfeeding mom takes Clackamas case public

It was a 90-degree sunny Sunday evening in August, National Breastfeeding Month, and the Klein family wanted to eat.

After wandering around Clackamas Town Center Aug. 3, the Beaverton residents picked RAM Restaurant and Brewery and were seated at a table near the entrance around 7 p.m., during the height of the dinner rush.

During drinks and appetizers, Kleins’ five-month-old, Isaac, started to fuss. Erin Klein unhooked her nursing top and latched him on.

Photo Credit: PHOTO BY: LACEY JACOBY - Adam Klein stands with his wife, Erin, after she breastfed their son, Isaac (6 months), in their Beaverton home. Recently, at a restaurant in Clackamas, an employee repeatedly asked Erin to cover herself while breastfeeding, which is an illegal request.“He was hungry, too, so I was feeding him,” said Erin Klein, a stay-at-home mom with a professional childcare background.

“She’s not very shy,” said her husband, Adam Klein, who works in information technology. “She doesn’t have to be and she doesn’t need to be.”

After a few pleasant interactions with the waiter, a manager came over and said he had been getting several complaints and asked the mother to cover herself with a blanket.

The Kleins refused, citing a 1999 Oregon law.

The Oregon Revised Statute 109.001 states simply and in its entirety: “A woman may breast-feed her child in a public place.”

The manager left, but returned a few minutes later asking Erin Klein again to cover up, citing restaurant policy.

“Any time you begin a sentence with: “That may be the law, but...,” you’re probably making a mistake,” Erin Klein said.

Adam Klein said he began to get angry and frustrated.

“I told him: ‘You’ve got all these 72-inch TV screens, tell the customers to look at those instead of my wife’s breast, which really doesn’t take up that much room,” he recalled. “If you really don’t like it, look away.”

The Kleins left upset and submitted a complaint through RAM’s website. They said a district manager called and told them apologetically that the manager should have offered them a restaurant T-shirt to cover with.

“I said: “You’re totally missing the point,’” said Adam Klein.

After five months of breastfeeding in public, this was the first negative reaction the Kleins said they had ever experienced.

“I understand that Clackamas is a little more conservative, but still,” Adam Klein said.

“We (adults) don’t eat with blankets over our head,” said Erin Klein. “Ever.”

Community Relations Leader Mark Schermerhorn is a spokesperson for RAM restaurants, which has 27 restaurants across the United States, including three in Oregon.

“Daily I am sure we have dozens of breastfeeding women in our restaurants,” Schermerhorn said, adding that since the restaurant company started 43 years ago, the total number of babies being breastfed while at a RAM could reach into the tens of thousands. “To my knowledge, I don’t think we’ve ever had anything quite like this.”

Schermerhorn said the family-owned restaurant prides itself on being family friendly. That day, management was caught between two opposing viewpoints from its customers, and “it kind of blew up from there, I guess.”

“We were fielding more than one complaint from tables that were parents and adults who had kids in the nearby vicinity that were dining with us,” Schermerhorn said. “I think all we were asking for was some discretion.”

“I’m pretty good at minimizing the time that my nipple is exposed,” Erin Klein said, but added that Isaac popped off and needed to relatch a few times, distracted in part by incoming customers. “It’s not necessarily unreasonable for a baby to eat, take a break.”

Marion Rice, executive director of the Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon, said often in cases like this, the complaining party thinks the mother is trying to draw attention to herself, meanwhile the mother is concentrated on the needs of her infant.

“This is not about mothers. This is not about breasts. It’s about babies,” Rice said.

BCO often aids mothers as part of its mission to educate the public about the need for cultural acceptance of breastfeeding, universally accepted in the medical community as the healthiest option for almost all babies.

“These types of interactions with families are what perpetuate women feeling like breastfeeding is hard and that it’s shameful,” Rice said.

Erin Klein said she feels confident about breastfeeding in public, but worries that attitudes like those she experienced at RAM might discourage and isolate other mothers.

Adam Klein said he fully supports his wife’s decision: “As much as I appreciate the female form, that’s what breasts are for.”

Schermerhorn, the RAM spokesperson, said the company does not have a policy about breastfeeding in its restaurant and doesn’t plan to have one. He said he thinks this was a unique situation and that if management had reacted differently, the complaining parties would have been equally upset.

“We want everyone in our restaurants to have an enjoyable experience and they are entitled to that,” he said.




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