SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — At least 50 mothers sat down in a mall’s fast food area and breastfed infants for nearly two hours Saturday, protesting over the shopping center forcing a woman to stop nursing her daughter a week earlier.
The action by Lincoln Square set off a furor on Costa Rican social media and even prompted a statement from the president — a reaction that seemed to shock the mall’s management, which quickly apologized for the incident and announced that breastfeeding would be allowed anywhere in the shopping center.
Despite the retreat, some women decided to go ahead with the “mamaton” protest to show solidarity with Patricia Barrantes, who left the mall the previous weekend rather than comply with a security guard’s order to stop nursing her daughter Mariel and move to a special lactation room.
One of the mothers at the rally traveled a hundred miles from Turrialba to the mall in Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose.
“It gave me a lot of anger … like you’re doing something dirty, as if it’s bad to remove a breast to feed your daughter,” she said while holding her 11-month-old daughter Camila.
Similar anger was widespread after reports of what happened to Barrantes. Thousands of angry comments were posted on Twitter and Facebook, mainly by women in Costa Rica and other countries in the region.
Women’s and children’s groups said the incident set a terrible example in a region where they are trying to encourage more breastfeeding instead of the widespread use of baby formula in order to improve infant health.
Governments in Costa Rica and other Central American nations try to encourage breastfeeding with laws that include mandatory time off during the work day for new mothers to feed their babies or pump breast milk. But women’s and children’s advocates say rates of breastfeeding remain far too low.
The Costa Rican National Women’s Institute sent the mall a formal letter warning that there was no legal justification for barring breastfeeding in public areas.
On Tuesday, President Laura Chinchilla admonished Lincoln Plaza’s managers, saying interfering with breastfeeding in public was unjust and stressing that the provision of lactation rooms is only “so that women have an alternative location” to breastfeed if they wish.
The mall backed down later that day.