Breastfeeding Mom, Casino Differ On Why She Had To Leave

Breastfeeding Mom, Casino Differ On Why She Had To Leave

BERLIN – The story of a Pennsylvania woman who says she was kicked out of the Casino at Ocean Downs for breastfeeding her infant has gone viral.

Proponents of breastfeeding have swamped the Casino at Ocean Downs’ Facebook page with comments in support of Alanna Panas, a Pennsylvania mother who says she was forced to leave the casino lobby because she was breastfeeding her seven-week-old daughter.

“I have the right to breastfeed my child,” Panas said. “I wasn’t disturbing anyone. I wasn’t even in the casino.”

Panas said she has received support from mothers all over the world since several breastfeeding related Facebook groups have shared her story.

According to Panas, after going out to dinner on Jan. 3, she and her family decided to visit the casino. She and her boyfriend went in and left seven-week-old Lilly with Panas’ mother and sister to run some errands. When they returned, Lilly was hungry so Panas went outside to feed her. It was raining, and because their car was full of children’s car seats and her boyfriend had his car keys inside the casino, she took Lilly into the lobby to wait for him.

Panas said she stood there for several minutes under the watchful eye of the security guard on duty at the door.

“I was standing there for a good few minutes and they didn’t care,” she said. “They were clearly watching me.”

As the baby got fussier and fussier, she opted to go ahead and feed her rather than continue to wait. Panas says she discreetly adjusted her shirt, which she had on over an undershirt, to feed the child.

“There was no part of my breast hanging out,” she said.

Nevertheless, she said as soon as she started breastfeeding a security guard approached her and told her she needed to leave the building.

“He told me I needed to leave because my daughter was not 21,” she said.

Panas pointed out that the sign in the lobby only prohibited minors from entering the casino itself, not the lobby.

“He told me I was still not allowed to stand there,” she said. “I pointed out that it was freezing cold and raining outside but he raised his voice and told me I needed to leave immediately.”

And so she did.

She took to social media to share her frustration. She described the incident on her own Facebook page as well as that of a breastfeeding group she belongs to. Before long it had been shared on the nearly 400,000-follwers strong “Breastfeeding Mama Talk” page.

“These women are my support system,” she said. “I vented to them.”

It wasn’t long before posts in support of Panas began appearing on the Casino at Ocean Downs’ Facebook page. Although the casino did not return a call for comment Tuesday, a post by the casino on its Facebook page did allude to the situation.

“The Casino at Ocean Downs strives to make our guests’ experiences enjoyable, and if any member of our team acted in a manner that did not promote that experience, we apologize,” the post read. “We will be reaching out to Ms. Panas directly to discuss her concerns.”

Panas said she did indeed receive a call from management at the casino on Tuesday. While the caller apologized for the way the situation was handled, the caller maintained Panas had been asked to leave because she had a minor on the premises.

“They felt I was trying to take a minor into the casino,” Panas said. “They thought there was some threat of that.”

She still believes, however, that she was asked to leave because she was breastfeeding.

“They didn’t seem to care that I was standing there until I started breastfeeding,” she said.

While she’s never been asked to leave an establishment because she’s been breastfeeding before, she knows many people “consider it taboo.” Panas believes the stigma that surrounds the practice needs to be eliminated.

“Breastfeeding moms get looked down on a lot,” she said. “But it’s healthy. It’s what’s best for the baby.”

Although she didn’t get the apology she would have liked from the casino, Panas hopes the incident will increase awareness of breastfeeding, particularly because state law allows it. Maryland is one of 46 states that have laws specifically allowing women to breastfeed in any public or private location.

Stephanie Amsel, leader of the local chapter of La Leche League, a breastfeeding support group, said in spite of the law she does occasionally learn of incidents like the one Panas described.

“It’s sad to hear,” she said.

She said it’s because breastfeeding isn’t as well accepted in American culture as it is in others that groups like hers exist.

“There is a view that breastfeeding isn’t normal, but it’s totally normal,” Amsel said.

While she doesn’t like to hear about mothers who are criticized or made to feel uncomfortable for breastfeeding, she admits that those situations bring attention to the cause.

“I think we’re progressing slowly,” she said. “It’s stuff like this that brings the issue to light.”