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SOUTH JORDAN -- Women gathered with the help of social media at Target stores nationwide Wednesday to stage a "nurse-in" in protest of one store's treatment of a woman who was breastfeeding there Nov. 29.
The nurse-in has in recent years become nursing mothers' method of choice for protesting perceived mistreatment. McDonald's, Whole Foods and even the Smithsonian Institution have seen nurse-ins within the past two years. The Target nurse-in appears to be the largest coordinated effort, though, with events planned at more than 100 Target stores nationwide.
Small groups of women planned to gather at the Layton SuperTarget and the South Jordan Target at 10 a.m. Wednesday to breastfeed in support of Michelle Hickman, who organized the nationwide protest after allegedly being "harassed and humiliated" by employees at a Houston store.
Target is proud to support all mothers who breastfeed year-round, including today. Target has been in touch with the store (in question) to ensure all team members are aware of our breastfeeding policy.
–Stacia Smith, Target spokeswoman
Hickman said she was Christmas shopping and already had items in her cart when her 5-month-old son, Noah, awoke, hungry. She said she "found a remote area of the store" and sat on the floor next to her cart to nurse him.
It was at that point that two female employees approached her and asked her to move, saying the employees had been trained to redirect mothers to the fitting rooms, according to Hickman.
"Even after I informed the second employee of my legal right to nurse in public, she still suggested me moving closer to the jean display, turning to face another direction, and also turn my basket a certain way which would have put me practically underneath the jean display and totally barricaded me in," Hickman said in a Facebook report of the event.
Hickman said when she reported the incident, which allegedly grew to include multiple employees "who were all watching and making a spectacle of (her) nursing," a Target human relations representative told her "she and Target were aware of our legal rights as nursing mothers, but that Target has different policies because they are a family-friendly public place."
The incident was in conflict with the company's guidelines.
"As a family-oriented retailer, Target has a long-standing corporate policy that supports breastfeeding in our stores," Target spokeswoman Stacia Smith said Wednesday. "Target is proud to support all mothers who breastfeed year-round, including today. Target has been in touch with the store to ensure all team members are aware of our breastfeeding policy."
Disappointed with the response Hickman received when she originally called the company, Hickman organized the nationwide nurse-in "to make a stand in support of nursing in public so this doesn't happen again."
The event was largely organized via Facebook. The Target Nurse-In Facebook page had more than 6,700 members as of Wednesday afternoon, with many reporting that Target stores had been welcoming and polite.
Society thinks (nursing is) a taboo, we want to say that it is not. It's normal, it's healthy; women have been doing it since time began.
–Diana Baker, nurse-in organizer
"Every manager was sent an email saying this would be happening today, and reminding us of the store policy," said an employee at the South Jordan Target who did not want to be named because the person was not in a spokesperson capacity.
The mothers also took to Twitter, where they used the hashtags "#targetnursein" and "#targetbf" to connect with one another and share their experiences.
"The #targetnursein was awesome this morning," said Shelly Phillips, a participant from Bend, Ore. "We were treated kindly."
Diana Baker organized the South Jordan nurse-in exclusively via Facebook. She was the first to arrive, but hoped to see more participants in time.
"I believe in nursing, as do women who are doing this throughout the country," she said. "We just want to say when there is harassment going on, that harassment should not be given in any way, for whatever reason."
"We are a group of women, and there are a lot of men too, who believe nursing is best for a child," she continued. "Society thinks it's a taboo, we want to say that it is not. It's normal, it's healthy; women have been doing it since time began."
Baker said she is aware of Target's official policy and hopes that in the future the company will be more thorough in its training.
"There is turnover, and some employees probably aren't being trained as thoroughly," she said. "Some employees show their own personal views regarding it, which is not OK because obviously it's not what Target believes."