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St. Pete woman kicked out of doctor’s office for breastfeeding

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A St. Petersburg mom is embarrassed and furious after being kicked out of a doctor’s office for nursing her 8-month only baby during an appointment.

“She woke up and wanted to eat,” said Nichole Moore. “What was I supposed to do?”

Moore was meeting with Dr. Mark Simko, a psychiatrist with Baycare Health Systems, for the first time. Since having her daughter, Moore struggled in ways she couldn’t describe. She thought maybe it might be some sort of postpartum depression, but wasn’t sure. She was referred to Dr. Simko to find out.

Moore said she had to wait weeks for an appointment – that’s usual with psychiatric care where doctors are often booked weeks in advance. When the day finally came for her appointment Moore said she tried her best to prepare.

“I didn’t have anyone to babysit,” Moore said.

Her daughter, Emma, was asleep when she arrived for her scheduled appointment, but Moore said she waited in the lobby for a half hour before being seen. By the time she was brought back to Simko’s office, Emma had woken up.

Once she was in the office, Moore said she took Emma out of her stroller and let her stand against the couch.

“She doesn’t walk yet, but she can stand against furniture,” Moore said.

She said Simko told her the baby couldn’t walk around unattended. Moore told him her daughter couldn’t walk.

“I asked him if he minded if I nursed her real quick,” Moore said, explaining that her daughter only nurses for about five minutes at a time and probably would have gone right back to sleep.

He told her he did mind.

What came next was something of a blur for Moore. She was angry and embarrassed and she just wanted to get her daughter fed and back to sleep. She remembers being told a variety of reasons for not nursing during her appointment.

At one point Moore said the doctor told her she would be distracted – something she said he mentioned when she first came into the office and started to take her daughter out of the stroller.

At another point Moore said Simko told her a female needed to be in the room if she were going to nurse.

That’s when Moore said Simko brought his receptionist into the room. It’s also when she said she was told she needed to leave and told it was because she was making the doctor uncomfortable.

Moore said that was about 20 minutes into her one hour appointment.

“They didn’t offer to let me go into another room or leave the room while I nursed, they just said I needed to leave,” Moore said.

She said she was angry and told them sternly she would just stay in the office and finish there, but was told the doctor had work to finish in the office.

Moore said she had to wait several minutes at the checkout counter while the receptionist finished up with another patient. Once she got to the counter, the receptionist told her breastfeeding her daughter made the doctor uncomfortable.

Moore did not get to finish nursing her daughter until they got outside to the car. Because it was so hot, Moore said she nursed Emma outside of the car while it cooled off.

She now has to find a new doctor and likely wait another several weeks for an appointment. But that’s the least of Moore’s concerns.

“They should know that’s not OK,” Moore said. “I felt like they treated me like I had something contagious.”

Moore posted her situation on a closed Facebook page for nursing mothers in Tampa Bay.

Dozens of women and even some men commented on the situation with outrage. A discussion soon ensued about whether or not Simko was protected from asking Moore to leave.

A representative from the office returned a call to SaintPetersBlog and said they couldn’t comment on the situation because of patient privacy rights. However, a request for the doctor’s official policy on either nursing or having children present for appointments went unanswered.

One of the Facebook commenters wrote that she called the office and asked about whether children could come to an appointment.

“They prefer you not have children of age who can understand what is being discussed,” the commenter wrote. “They have no formal policy on it, but it’s really up to the doctor.”

Moore said she’s looking into whether the situation poses a possible case of discrimination. She also plans to file a complaint.

In the meantime, Moore just hopes to raise awareness for nursing mothers.

“I do think it’s getting better,” Moore said.

She told a story about sitting on a chair while shopping. Not one person said anything to her or even gave her a second glance.

“This was the last place I expected it to be an issue,” Moore said.

When calling the office to ask for comment about Moore’s allegations, the receptionist mumbled, “she was exposing herself” as this reporter explained the situation.

The receptionist was a woman, which implies she may have been the woman called into the room with Moore who asked her to leave.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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