Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Breastfeeding Letter to Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt

I emailed the letter below to the hospital officials listed late at night on Sunday, October 24th. By Monday morning, October 25th, I already had an apology and a promise to talk directly to the lab director and the lab technician from Ms. Meloy.  
Kacy Ellis (the mother involved in the incident) also received emails from Ms. Meloy and Mr. Gitlin, and Ms. Meloy called Kacy personally to apologize and reassure her that she would do everything in her power to make sure this never happens to another mother.
What an amazing testament to a hospital that is concerned about breastfeeding mothers! Thank you, Children's Hospital.
The prompt time and attention are exactly what we hope to see when we send out these letters!

Dionna Ford
October 25, 2010
Kevin Churchwell
Chief Executive Officer
Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt
2200 Children's Way
Nashville, TN 37232
cc: Ms. Sharin Barkin, Mr. Jonathan Gitlin, Mr. Paul Hain, Ms. Debbie Meloy

Dear Mr. Churchwell:
I respectfully write this letter on behalf of Ms. Kacy Ellis to express my concern over an incident that occurred in the lab at the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt on October 19, 2010. On that date, Ms. Ellis’s statutory right to breastfeed under Tennessee law (Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-58-101) was infringed on by a lab technician (NAME OF TECH).

Ms. Ellis’s son had jaundice when she took him to see the doctor at his three day appointment.  The lab technician, (NAME OF TECH) tested his bilirubin levels.  Ms. Ellis was called in the next day for the same lab test, and she saw the same lab technician.  Ms. Ellis nursed at the office on both occasions with no difficulty; in fact she nursed while the lab tech drew the baby’s blood at the second appointment.

When she took the baby in for his two week appointment on October 19, she saw two pediatricians, Dr. Keiser and Dr. Warren, both of whom were very encouraging about breastfeeding. One doctor even performed an exam while the baby nursed.  They were referred for more blood work, because the baby was still a little jaundiced.  Ms. Ellis then carried her son to the lab waiting room in a ring sling baby carrier.  While waiting, she nursed him in the sling.  While she nursed him in the sling, the same lab technician took Ms. Ellis to the lab to have the baby’s blood drawn.  When they got to the lab the tech asked, "Don't you have a blanket to put over him?" Ms. Ellis replied, "Oh, I'm fine.  Thank you." The lab technician continued, "Not for you, but for . . . ," and she waved her hand around as if to indicate the other people in the lab.

Breastmilk and breastfeeding are the standard for infant nutrition.
As you know, there are numerous and well-documented benefits for both infants and mothers who breastfeed, as well as risks to those who do not breastfeed. Breastmilk contains growth factors, hormones, enzymes, and other substances that are immune-protective and foster proper growth and nutrition.[1] Breastfeeding is associated with a reduction of the risk for children of contracting pneumonia, staphylococcal infections, influenza, ear infections, severe infections of the lower respiratory tract, asthma, obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, certain types of cancer, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).[2]

Encouraging breastfeeding is an integral part of many governmental health and wellness initiatives, including programs created by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, among others.[3] And breastfeeding is not just for infants. The American Academy of Family Physicians 2008 Position Paper on breastfeeding states that “breastfeeding at least until the second year of a child's life is not considered 'extended' breastfeeding. Rather, breastfeeding until the bare minimum age of 2 years is the norm and anything less brings about detrimental consequences.”[4]

The law protects a child’s right to breastfeed in Tennessee.
Regardless of the many benefits of breastfeeding and its promotion by medical and governmental organizations, Tennessee law protects a child’s right to nurse. Tennessee enacted Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-58-101 et seq. (2006), which reads:

A mother has a right to breastfeed her child who is twelve (12) months of age or younger in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be present. [Tennessee law also exempts all breastfeeding, regardless of age, from public indecency laws.]

Breastmilk and breastfeeding are the standard for infant nutrition. No mother should ever be made to feel ashamed or embarrassed for giving her child nourishment and comfort at her breast. Another mother might not know her rights. She might comply with unlawful requests to cover up or leave. She might decide to pump or reduce her child’s number of breastfeeding sessions (both of which may reduce her milk supply and harm the breastfeeding relationship). She might even decide to wean her child prematurely.

It is my understanding that Children’s Hospital of Vanderbilt has many positive breastfeeding initiatives and is in the process of becoming a “Baby-Friendly” hospital. I commend you for your work in supporting breastfeeding mothers, and I am confident that you will address this incident with your staff.

I am writing to ask you to educate all hospital employees about the rights of breastfeeding pairs so that the next breastfeeding mother will not be made to feel ashamed for nursing her baby in your hospital.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response, and to encountering more compassionate, educated employees at the Children’s Hospital of Vanderbilt.


Dionna Ford

[1] Hamosh, Margit, PhD, Breastfeeding: Unraveling the Mysteries of Mother’s Milk,
[2] Ip S, et al., Breastfeeding and maternal and infant health outcomes in developed countries,; see also Burby, Leslie, 101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child (and citations therein),
[3] See ; ;
[4]; The AAFP’s position is almost identical to that of the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding,
For similar positions from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other medical organizations, see; see also


That's wonderful, Dionna! Great letter, and I'm glad that there was a positive response! I wonder what made the lab tech say something the third time...

Thank you for seizing upon a teachable moment. I'm thrilled that your letter received a positive response.

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