The Southgate cover-up

Magda Martin was nursing her 8-week-old daughter Eleanor on a bench outside Now Care at Missoula's Southgate Mall nearly two weeks ago when a security guard suggested she cover her breast.

"He walked over and was like, 'Do you have something you can cover up with while you do that?'" she recalls. "I was just kind of shocked."

Her husband, James Martin, was equally stunned when he came out of Now Care with another of the couple's three children and learned what had just happened. An impassioned James—well aware that Montana law clearly states that women have a right to breastfeed in any location, public or private—went to the mall's customer service desk to set the record straight.

When he arrived at the service desk, the same young guard was standing off to the side. According to James, the guard explained that he asked Magda to cover up at the behest of a supervisor, because the mall was trying to promote a family-friendly environment.

James bristled. "I said, 'What's more 'family' than a woman feeding her child in the most natural way possible?'"

Southgate Mall General Manager Tim Winger says the incident boils down to miscommunication. Mall policy reflects Montana law, but periodically teenagers act inappropriately when they spot nursing mothers. When teens appear to be making mothers uncomfortable, mall policy directs staffers to advise them that there are more private places to feed babies, and that, Winger says, is what the security guard should have told Martin. "Our security guard didn't say what he was supposed to say," he says. "We wish we were perfect, but we're not."

Soon after the incident, the Martins commented about it on Facebook. Word spread quickly, prompting local mothers to schedule a nurse-in. At 2 p.m. last Saturday, Aug. 20, roughly 10 lactating women gathered in front of Now Care in Southgate Mall. They distributed information about the laws governing breastfeeding. This time around, mall security said not a peep about covering up. Magda says that's a good start toward ensuring Southgate protects the rights of mothers and their children. However, the couple would still like an admission that the mall was out of line.

"Nobody has apologized to me," Magda says.

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