A Pennsylvania mom is speaking out after she says employees at a local YMCA shamed her for breastfeeding her son during a class for toddlers Monday morning.
Kate Haslam, 35, takes her 19-month-old son, West, to a toddler gym class every Monday morning at the Spring Valley YMCA in Limerick, Pennsylvania. This Monday started off just like any other, but little West was hungry, so Haslam sat on a balance beam along the wall in the classroom and breastfed her son.
That's when she says things went downhill. A YMCA employee asked Haslam to leave the classroom and breastfeed outside because she was making people "uncomfortable," Haslam said. When the mom protested, telling the employee it's against the law to tell her to breastfeed elsewhere, Haslam said, two other YMCA officials got involved, pressuring her to move.
"It just kept getting deeper and deeper," Haslam told NBC10. "That's what's upsetting."
Haslam said one YMCA official told her women don't breastfeed at the Y -- which she says isn't the case -- and that she needed to breastfeed in the locker room if she chose to feed there.
"It was just such a weird thing. I told [the employee] the locker room is coed," Haslam said. "They said, 'Well, we have curtained areas.'"
She said the employees backed off requiring her to move when they looked up the law and realized that it is indeed illegal in Pennsylvania to ask a breastfeeding mother to move, then saying the YMCA preferred that she breastfeed in private.
"Why should I have to go somewhere different?" the mother asked. "I didn't do anything wrong."
Haslam took to Facebook Monday night and wrote a post about her experience. By Tuesday morning, more than 300 people had shared her post, and people began writing on the Spring Valley YMCA's page to express their outrage over the incident.
Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA President & CEO Shaun Elliott, who oversees the Spring Valley YMCA, called the incident a misunderstanding.
Elliott said the employee wanted Haslam to move from the balance beam she sat on to breastfeed so that children in the class could use it, and that the employee is "distraught" that Haslam interpreted the request in the way that she did. Haslam said that the employee did also point out that "a couple of members had expressed to her that they were uncomfortable" with Haslam breastfeeding.
"But that, quite frankly, is a challenge for them to deal with," Elliott said of the other members who expressed concerns. "She was just being honest with the woman. In no way, in her mind, was she communicating that it was inappropriate for her to breastfeed."
Elliott said breastfeeding is accepted anywhere in the facility and that the Y's policy is clear. He said the staff "tried to do the right thing" and will improve the way it's communicated in the future.
"The Y is an inclusive place where we want to make everybody feel comfortable, and to the extent we can get better, we're always happy to try to improve," he said.
The YMCA also posted a message from Elliott on its Facebook page in response to angry comments from members and others about the incident.
Haslam disputed Elliott's explanation, saying that nobody asked her to move because she was on the balance beam. She said employees specifically told her multiple times that she should breastfeed elsewhere, and that another Y member had complained of being uncomfortable with it.
"That's not even true. At least if you're going to post an apology, don't shame me more," Haslam said of the Facebook statement the Y posted. "I wasn't doing anything wrong."
Haslam said that when she breastfeeds West outside of her home, she generally wears two shirts and West sits up to nurse, blocking the view of her breast.
"It's not like I'm sitting there topless," Haslam said. "People have less on at the pool and in workout gear."
Not that it would matter if it wasn't -- the Pennsylvania Freedom to Breastfeed Act, signed into law in 2007, reads in part, "A mother shall be permitted to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be present, irrespective of whether or not the mother's breast is covered during or incidental to the breastfeeding."
Haslam said that YMCA officials have reached out to her to talk more about the incident, and that she hopes to set up a meeting to get to the bottom of why it happened.
"I'm just shocked by it. I just can't believe the stuff that they said," Haslam said. "The only reason I went public was because they need training. They need a dedicated facility for moms nursing who want privacy, they need to train their staff on customer service and laws, they need signs saying they're breastfeeding friendly. It's a family facility."
Haslam said that since she had West, Monday's incident was the first time she felt discriminated against for breastfeeding in public. As someone whose family has been involved with local YMCAs for decades, she said Monday's incident disheartens her.
"I felt very unwelcome, and very shamed for doing something that's natural," the mom said. "I'm still in shock by the whole situation ... I'm hurt in 2016 that we're still fighting this battle, especially in a family facility."