LEWISTON — If someone is uncomfortable with her nursing 8-month-old Bentley in public, “you’re obviously looking too long,” Lindsey Sawyer-Brown of Leeds said Monday at the Ramada Inn.

Saying it’s time people understand breasts are made to feed babies — not for pornography — she and other mothers held a “nurse-in” at the Ramada Inn to protest Stephanie Parise being asked to turn her chair to the wall while nursing Saturday.

State law says a mother may breast-feed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is authorized to be.

Ramada manager Richard Nelson said Monday he’s looking into the incident. “I don’t know what happened,” Nelson said. Ramada’s restaurant Fusion welcomes all, including nursing mothers, he said.

Ramada is trying to get statements from those who worked Saturday to find out what happened. “Every story has two sides,” Nelson said.

He’s worked at Ramada for 36 years. The establishment has served thousands, including mothers and babies.

“This is the first time there’s been an issue of this sort,” he said. Sometimes, mothers ask to nurse in private in a conference room. Others nurse in the restaurant. “We allow breast-feeding mothers anywhere.”

On Saturday, Parise of Lewiston and her 7-month-old son, Hunter, were having lunch at Fusion.

“I decided to breast-feed my baby before eating my lunch,” Parise said. A server who seemed to be uncomfortable came over.

“She stood next to me in line of the next table to be a shield of what I was doing. She told me, ‘You need to be more discreet.’ I said, ‘Does someone have a problem with me breast-feeding?’ She said. ‘Not yet.’

“I said, ‘So why are you even over here?’

“She said, ‘I’d appreciate it if you turn so your back is to the rest of the restaurant,’” Parise said. She said, “‘No. You need to walk away from me.’ I told her twice. I was shocked and humiliated. I couldn’t believe it.”

Parise said she was being discreet, wearing a tank top under a shirt. She was exposing a small amount of skin, not a full breast. Her own server apologized and offered her a free meal.

Parise said she didn’t want a free meal. “I want to be able to come, pay for my meal and be respected,” she said. “We ended up walking out.” But before she did she spoke to the manager.

“He took her side,” Parise said of the waitress. “He said, ‘I’m fine with breast-feeding if you’re going to be discreet.’”

Parise asked him to define discreet. “You make it sound like I was having sex on the table. I was feeding my baby,” Parise said she told him.

“He laughed at me,” she said.

Natasha Christl, a Ramada waitress and a member of the local breast-feeding community, spoke to nursing moms outside the Ramada before lunch Monday.

Christl didn’t work Saturday but saw Facebook posts about what happened. At work on Sunday, she spoke to co-workers about what happened.

“I told them, ‘This is a huge issue. You’ve got a bunch of moms upset that this happened. This is not OK,’” Christl said.

They didn’t understand, she said, asking why can’t breast-feeding mothers pump so they don’t nurse in public? Why didn’t Parise bring a bottle? Why didn’t she have a blanket over the baby’s head?

Not all babies will nurse covered, and mothers shouldn’t have to feed babies in bathrooms, Christl said she told them.

“They weren’t understanding,” Christl said. The waitress who asked Parise to turn away while nursing was floored she upset the mother.

“She doesn’t have children,” Christl said. “She doesn’t know anything about breast-feeding. She was just thinking of her customers.”

Christl thanked nursing moms for protesting. “Breasts are made for feeding our babies. They’re not for pornographic material, which society has made. That’s why society has a problem with this,” Christl said.

At lunch the crowd of young mothers and babies filled five or more tables in the restaurant. Nelson asked reporters to leave while patrons ate.

Outside the restaurant, Kristie Barter of Auburn nursed her 2-month-old, Penelope Rose.

“I am here to support the mother who was told she needed to cover up,” Barter said. “If you’re comfortable covering up, that’s great. But if you’re not, I don’t think you should have to.” She covers when she nurses, “but if I wanted to take it out I should be able to.”

As part of a local nursing mom community, “we’ve struggled a lot with breast-feeding in public, having people criticize us,” Whitmore said while holding 11-month-old son, Jack.

Her son won’t nurse when covered. “He’ll rip it off and cry. I do it as discreetly as possible because … I know it makes some people uncomfortable, but it’s no different than giving their baby a bottle.”

Parise said she wants Fusion staff to learn their lesson.

The public “needs to not sneer at women for choosing breast-feeding over formula,” Parise said. “I don’t know why it’s looked at we’re being nasty people.”


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