Breastfeeding mom says doctor told her to 'cover yourself' to prevent 'lawsuits from something inappropriate'

Elise Solé
Yahoo Lifestyle
Breastfeeding mom Jennifer Howard says her doctor told her to cover up during an appointment. (Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Howard)
Breastfeeding mom Jennifer Howard says her doctor told her to cover up during an appointment. (Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Howard)

A mother says her doctor stopped her from breastfeeding during a postpartum appointment “to prevent lawsuits from something inappropriate.”

In June, Jennifer Howard of Stayton, Ore., who had given birth to daughter Evelyn four months earlier, went to a follow-up appointment with her new doctor at Salem Clinic. While speaking to the physician, the baby started crying so Howard picked her up to begin nursing.

“The doctor seemed uncomfortable and abruptly stopped me, asking if I had a cover,” Howard, 38, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I was confused and told him no one had ever asked me such a thing.”

According to Howard, the doctor explained the clinic had rules to “to prevent lawsuits from something inappropriate.”

Flustered, Howard dug around in her diaper bag for a cover and wound up using a swaddle. “As I pulled it out, the doctor took it from me, held it up like a shield, and turned his head away while Evelyn latched. Then he covered both me and my baby with it.”

Howard says the duration of the appointment was nothing short of humiliating. When she tried to show the doctor her painful C-section scar, he turned and left the room, returning with a female nurse who remained in the room.

“I should have left but I was focused on getting Evelyn fed,” says Howard. “I cried on the drive home, and then got angry.”

Later that day, the mom called the patient relations department at the clinic and asked about its breastfeeding policy. “I was told there was none,” she says. “The woman I spoke to encouraged me to file a complaint with the office.”

Howard did so and filed an additional complaint with the Oregon Medical Board. “I also called the clinic and asked to switch doctors,” says Howard. “About two weeks later, after playing phone tag with the office and my calls were ultimately ignored, I received a letter from the clinic stating my request was denied and that I was free to seek care elsewhere.”

A representative from the Oregon Medical Board told Yahoo Lifestyle that details from Howard’s complaint could not be made public and a representative from the Salem Clinic did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.

Public breastfeeding is legal in Oregon. “This protection is needed since women breastfeeding in a public place may be asked to stop, leave or cover up, causing embarrassment and stigmatization. Embarrassment remains a barrier to breastfeeding,” states the Oregon Health Authority. 

In July, Howard posted her story on Facebook, writing, “This post is not about whether or not you agree with breastfeeding in public. It’s not about whether women should cover or not. I simply could not care less what anyone thinks. I parent my baby for her comfort, not for the comfort of the general public. It is my right to feed my baby anywhere, anyhow. The law says so. And the fact that I was hassled in a DOCTORS OFFICE just blows my mind. That was the one place I thought I’d be free from being shamed. The one place where I assumed I wouldn’t have to be on alert for someone’s disapproval. Apparently, no place is safe….the patriarchy is alive and well folks and I’m tired of being silent.”

Howard has now hired a lawyer as a precaution. “We have not sued, but I need some guidance,” she says. “All I really want is an apology and for the doctor to be educated.” 

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