OREM — If Catherine Geary could have it her way, she would rewrite Burger King's training manuals to include a section on breast-feeding.

Though hamburgers and lactation seem like an odd combination, they are unfortunately connected in Geary's mind after an incident at a Sandy Burger King last weekend.

"It really wasn't a big thing. It was just kind of humiliating," Geary said. "Everybody had turned to look at me. The kids all stopped playing and stared at me to see what I had done wrong."

According to Geary, she had done nothing more than discreetly nurse her 9-month-old daughter underneath her oversize sweater.

Due to a customer complaint, however, Geary said a Burger King employee asked her to refrain from breast-feeding in the children's play area or leave the restaurant.

"At no time was she asked to leave the restaurant," Burger King countered in a statement issued Monday. "We were responding to a guest request in a respectful manner."

While the female employee offered Geary a small bathroom to use, Geary found the option "gross" and chose to leave the building instead.

"I wouldn't eat my lunch in the bathroom, why should my child nurse in there?" asked Geary's husband, Michael. "Burger King really came down on the wrong side of the fence."

According to Utah statute, Burger King came down on the wrong side of the law. A law passed in 1995 says a business "may not prohibit a woman's breast-feeding in any location where she otherwise may rightfully be, irrespective of whether the breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breast-feeding."

Though Geary hopes her story will make other mothers aware of their legal right to breast-feed in public, she said that baring her breasts will never be an option. A strong promoter of modesty, Geary said that public breast-feeding is more of a necessity than a nicety.

"Nobody says, 'It's time to feed — I better find a public place,' " Geary said. "If people can feed at home, they will. But we weren't going to be home for another hour."

Rep. Judy Ann Buffmire, D-Salt Lake — who helped pass the breast-feeding legislation — said a mother's right to publicly nurse is frequently denied, even though busy moms are dependent on public places to nurse their children.

"In a state that values children and families, it doesn't seem right to be sent to a dirty bathroom to feed a baby," Buffmire commented. "To me, there is nothing more beautiful than a mother feeding her child."

National studies indicate that breast-feeding is healthier for babies, thanks to the increased immunity attributed to a mother's breast milk. For that reason, organizations like the World Health Organization encourage mothers to breast-feed until children are at least 1 year old.

While no formal apology has been offered to Geary, her husband said that both the restaurant's manager and the franchise owner have contacted him, though he believes their calls were "insincere" and motivated by media attention.

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What he and his wife want, Michael Geary said, is to save other women from embarrassment by encouraging Burger King restaurants to post small signs welcoming breast-feeding mothers or include a section in employee manuals referring to the Utah law.

"We're not out for blood. We just hope it makes business owners think twice about being so offensive in how they are treating their customers," he said. "I am sure this (is) happening to women every day in our little state and it really shouldn't be."


E-MAIL: lwarner@desnews.com