Alexandria city officials recently discovered that breastfeeding in public is considered indecent exposure in the city, but two councilmen are trying to change that, calling the present breastfeeding law antiquated.
Alexandria bills itself as a family-friendly city with no shortage of youngsters growing up in its neighborhoods. After some working mothers in City Hall wondered why there wasn't a private room to pump milk, a startling discovery was made: In Alexandria, breastfeeding in public is illegal.
"I was blown away when I saw the fact that Alexandria has a law that says it is indecent for women to breastfeed in public," Councilman Rob Krupicka said.
The law reads, as last amended in 1983, it is unlawful to have "the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof … below the top of the nipple."
No mother has been arrested for breastfeeding in public, but city lawmakers not only want to make sure it stays that way, they also want to encourage the practice.
"It's just common sense to get rid of this," Councilman Rob Krupicka said. "This isn’t who we are as a community anymore. Alexandria is becoming increasingly family friendly. There are strollers everywhere."
Nursing mothers like Philippa Scott are adamant about the benefits of breastfeeding and have no qualms about nursing in public.
"It really helps with their production of antibodies," she said. "It helps cut down with ear infections. It helps the baby to gain the appropriate amount of weight, not too much or to little. It's just what babies were designed to have."
But not everyone is receptive.
"You really have to develop a mentality that you don’t really care what other people think, because if you care what other people think, you are going to be a lot more hesitant," said another mother, Kelly Leventis.
Supporters of the new ordinance said breastfeeding acceptance is one of its goals.
"If one of the outcomes of this can be greater awareness of the health benefits, greater awareness of the societal benefits of doing this, maybe we can cut down on some of that stigma," Krupicka said.
The new ordinance would also require nursing breaks for mothers who work at businesses that employ more than 50 people. It is expected to go before Alexandria City Council on Feb. 12.
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