Tsula Perry-McKee doesn’t know how good she has it, but her mom does.
City Councilor Kara Joy McKee takes her 5-month-old daughter to all kinds of city meetings. And when Tsula wants to eat, McKee feeds her milk. Breast milk.
“I breastfeed her at INCOG (Indian Nations Council of Governments) meetings, in meetings with the mayor, on the dais at City Council meetings, and nobody has given me a hard time,” McKee said.
The 40-year-old councilor knows that not every mother and child are so lucky. So on Wednesday, as part of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, McKee is sponsoring a resolution stating the city’s support for a woman’s right to breastfeed and express milk on public property and in public facilities.
“Basically, since 2004, any breastfeeding parent can breastfeed their child anywhere in public without being required to cover up or anything like that,” McKee said. “We want to make sure everybody knows that they have that right.”
The resolution notes that all 50 states provide such protection for mothers. Oklahoma lawmakers passed the Maternal Infant Care Act in 2004.
Oklahoma is one of 30 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands that exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws and one of 29 states that have laws related to breastfeeding at work, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures website.
The City Council resolution also spells out six measures the city will undertake to encourage and facilitate breastfeeding and breast expression.
One measure calls for the city to “support the implementation of a network of places (for) breastfeeding and breast expression facilities with no purchase obligation and encourage restaurants and store operators to value breastfeeding and breast expression in their establishments.”
Another expresses the city’s intent to “implement a pro-breastfeeding and pro-breast expression policy in all of its public places and make it known to all managers, employees and the general population.”
McKee said she understands that as a city councilor she is afforded certain privileges. Still, she expected some pushback when she began breastfeeding and breast expressing on the job.
“I have received absolutely zero incidences of people confronting me, giving me strange looks, making me feel uncomfortable for breastfeeding my daughter,” McKee said.
But, again, she knows not every mother and child are so lucky. She hopes the resolution — and the attention it draws to the issue — will make it more likely that mothers who want to breastfeed their children will, regardless of where they are.
“I am surprised, on at least a weekly basis, how many places I go and don’t see any breastfeeding mothers, even though I see parents with babies all over the place,” McKee said. “And I don’t think it’s necessarily because these folks aren’t breastfeeding.
“I think it’s because they feel really shy about doing it in public when they don’t know that it is legal and they are afraid of being shamed or ridiculed or having some sort of incident that makes them uncomfortable.
“So I want to make it really clear that, yeah, it’s legal; we have the right to do this. It’s healthy for us and for our children, and I am doing it out there, and they are welcome to join me.”
And if that’s not your thing, that’s fine, too, the city councilor said.
“I completely understand that not everybody can do this, and nobody should shame a parent who can’t provide breast milk,” McKee said. “But those who can should be able to do it safely and comfortably.”
Lorene Bible on the newly resumed search for her daughter Lauria Bible