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September 8 marks the first anniversary of breastfeeding activists� nationwide protests against Applebee�s restaurants. With less than two weeks of preparation, the protest became the largest of its kind, drawing an unprecedented 2000 participants to over 60 Applebee�s locations in 48 states. The protests were in response to an incident at a Lexington, KY branch of the popular restaurant in which Brooke Ryan, a mother of eight, was instructed by a manager to cover her infant son while she breastfed him.

�Applebee�s suggested that the issue could be solved by providing blankets to cover the heads of breastfeeding children, a prospect mothers found simultaneously insulting, ignorant and unsanitary,� said Jen Russo of Virginia, a key participant in the protests. �Whether in support of the rights of breastfeeding children and mothers, or just to avoid negative publicity, numerous restaurants and other businesses have since adopted pro-breastfeeding policies and practices,� said Russo.

According to Russo, Applebee's high-level corporate managers agreed to develop a structure to include breastfeeding rights training for current and future Applebee's staff members following the protest. In Russo�s conversations with Applebee's Corporate Guest Relations department in the weeks following the September 8, 2007 national event, Applebee's representatives expressed appreciation to the protestors for their assistance in making them a better company.

Several mothers who participated in the nationwide breastfeeding rights demonstrations wanted to harness the momentum the event garnered to promote breastfeeding rights and advocate for those who experienced discrimination for breastfeeding in public.

�Though numerous organizations exist to support and encourage breastfeeding, we realized that there wasn't a national organization in place to coach and support mothers who had faced breastfeeding discrimination. This group of moms gelled together and
created FirstRight,� said Russo, who now serves on the FirstRight Advisory Council. �FirstRight offers moms support and information about breastfeeding rights and uses their individual experiences as the impetus for encouraging businesses to adopt pro-breastfeeding policies and train their staff on them,� said Russo.

FirstRight began receiving reports of discrimination against breastfeeding children and mothers soon after its inception in the winter of 2007. Since that time, the group has received 52 reports and has documented additional cases that have been reported in the media.

Sloan Stroud Lemmon of South Carolina, a mother who filed a report with FirstRight, was told she must move to a private room to breastfeed her child at their day care provider. �I felt mad, more than anything else, that someone could make me feel like I was doing something wrong by breastfeeding my child,� said Lemmon.

�FirstRight's discrimination database continues to grow. It is a testament to the need for enforceable federal legislation that unequivocally defines breastfeeding as a right, and any harassment, discrimination, or segregation of a breastfeeding woman as unlawful,� said Chandra Ruiz of Colorado, who maintains FirstRight�s database of discrimination incidents.

�Any mother who faces breastfeeding discrimination should seek assistance with FirstRight. With their help in resolving my case, I definitely felt vindicated in a situation where I previously felt powerless and alone. Working with FirstRight helped me to realize the importance of stepping up, for the sake of the next mom to come along,� said Lemmon.

Mothers who wish to report a case of breastfeeding discrimination may contact FirstRight at or via email at

Angela England