U.S. & World

Breastfeeding mom claims doctor told her to cover up in office

STAYTON, OR (KOIN) -- When Jennifer Howard went to see a new primary care doctor at the Salem Clinic, she took her 3-month-old baby Evelyn with her.

"I brought my baby with me. She was 3-months-old and she's breast fed," the 38-year-old mother of 3 told NBC4 sister station KOIN News. "She's a newborn and she goes everywhere with me."

During the office visit, Evelyn got hungry and started crying. "I did what any mom would do. I picked her up and attempted to nurse her," Jennifer said. "Before I even got started (the doctor) stopped me. He said, he asked me if I had a cover, and I was a little surprised."

Jennifer said the doctor told her that clinic has a rule to prevent lawsuits from something inappropriate.

"I said again, nobody has ever asked me to do that before. And (Evelyn) is crying. I'm trying to figure out what to do in this situation."

She said she searched her diaper bag for some kind of cover "and he comes over to me and takes it out of my hand and proceeds to hold it up and shield me while I got my baby latched. And then he took it and covered me and my baby with it and proceeded with the office visit."

Jennifer Howard said the doctor could have done almost anything else -- gotten a nurse to come in, excused himself and left the room.

"But what he did was not the right move," she said.

She felt humiliated. "I felt like I was doing something wrong, something dirty that needed to be hidden, and all I was doing was trying to care for my baby."

Oregon law gives women the right to breastfeed their child in a public place, which is defined as anywhere that person is allowed to be. Someone cannot require a woman to cover up.

The law is meant to protect mothers and their babies. It would be against the law to have a policy.

Kelly Sibley, the Oregon WIC breastfeeding coordinator told KOIN 6 News that in case like this they'll work to educate a business and its employees about the law. 

There is even a breastfeeding wallet card that outlines the rights women have to breastfeed.

Later she called the Salem Clinic's patient relations to ask about the policy. The woman Jennifer spoke with "informed me there was no breastfeeding policy. They don't have one at all."

She said she filed a verbal complaint and said she wanted to switch doctors because she wasn't comfortable. And she wanted an apology.

She traded messages with the clinic and got a reply earlier this month.

"Your concern regarding your physician has been reviewed by our office. After review, it has been decided that you will not be able to change to a different physician within Salem Clinic.
"If you would like to establish with another primary care provider outside of Salem Clinic, feel free to contact your insurance. ..."
 

Jennifer said she's also filed a complaint with the Oregon Medical Board.

KOIN News went to the Salem Clinic to find out more about this story. Officials there declined to comment.

'It's important for me to tell my story'

Jennifer Howard decided to go public with her story because "there's a lot of stigma around breastfeeding. There's a lot of moms out there who go through this all the time."

There have been many supportive messages from people who read and shared her Facebook post.

"It's honestly very humbling. I wasn't sure how people were going to react to it, but overwhelmingly I'm seeing so much positive support."

The clinic's policy "needs to change. Their reaction to it needs to change," she said. 

"Every negative comment, dirty look, that some breastfeeding mother is getting from people, especially someone that has authority over that person such as their doctor, can have consequences that can be detrimental to the relationship you have breastfeeding your baby."

Jennifer said she went to see the doctor about the possibility she was having post-partum depression.

"I'm already going through enough. Parenting is hard enough as it is and we don't need this. Women don't need this."


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