Many of you left some great comments on my post Bad Signs Tick Me Off, Part 2 from earlier this month. If you missed it, this was the sign in question from my favorite shopping mall in Minnesota:

To quickly recap the original post, the sign bothered me because the image of the bottle is contradictory to breastfeeding. If the goal is to designate the room for nursing mothers, than they could certainly use the international breastfeeding symbol as a more appropriate image.

However, if the goal is to be more universal, like many other rooms I’ve seen, they could simply use the words “Mothers Room” with no image at all. The picture of a bottle, combined with the word nursing, is undermining and defeating to breastfeeding moms (in my opinion).

As I mentioned in the original post, I called and spoke with a mall manager, and followed up with an e-mail with my concerns and pointed them to my blog to read the post and all of your comments.

Here was the mall’s response:

“Thank you for your recent comments regarding the Nursing Rooms at Ridgedale Center. The rooms were created for all caregivers wishing to have more privacy, a place to feed, change and care for their children. The bottle is a universally-accepted sign for feeding and is certainly not meant to be demeaning to nursing mothers. Ridgedale Center in no way wants to inadvertently exclude anyone from using these areas as intended.”

My reaction:

I totally understand that the room is meant to be used by all caregivers. I also understand that some moms pump breast milk to feed their baby in a bottle (although I suspect you wouldn’t desire the privacy of a mother’s room to feed a baby this way). Breastfeeding rates are on the rise in America, and in Minnesota, 80% of mothers are breastfeeding at birth and over 50% are still breastfeeding their children at 6 months. I disagree that the baby bottle is a universally-accepted sign for feeding. If 80% of women are using their breasts to feed their children (at least in the beginning), I highly doubt they would associate a picture of a bottle with feeding their child. In fact, the World Health Organization has been successfully working to decrease images of baby bottles from marketing and health care since 1981 in the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk substitutes as a way to better support mothers and stop formula and bottle companies from influencing and undermining their choice to breastfeed.

Why is bottle imagery bad?

From a post by Annie from PhD in Parenting, “Bottle imagery is powerful. Everywhere you look you see babies being bottle fed. At the mall, on television, in magazines, on wrapping paper and gift cards, in children’s books, in your doctor’s office, at the pool, on the bus, at the park, at day care, and so on. In addition to just being what is considered “normal,” the bottle industry and the infant formula industry are spending large sums of money to ensure that you see bottles everywhere. There are segments of the population in the United States where young adults have never seen a baby being breastfed and where they may not even know that breasts can be used to feed a baby.”

On a related note, Annie recently appealed to the BlogHer advertising network to create a new opt-out category for members that would allow them to ensure their blogs are compliant with the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk substitutes. BlogHer listened to her concerns and made it possible for bloggers to opt-out of showing ads for infant formula, bottles, artificial nipples or pacifiers. I was very excited about this and, as you might expect, made the decision to opt-out of these ads as well.

What’s Next?

Well, I voiced my concern to the mall. They responded diplomatically, but with no mention of even considering changing the sign. Do you want to lend your voice? Perhaps if they heard from more people they might do something. If you have an opinion on the sign, would you please respectfully share it with the general manager of the mall? ((e-mail deleted after issue was resolved)). If you choose to do this, please also leave a comment below letting me know you did.

Although I originally talked about this sign in a humorous way, I have come to care deeply about this issue and would very much like to see some positive change. I’d like to thank all of you who commented on and tweeted about the first post. It had more hits than almost any other post I’ve ever written in nearly three years of blogging! I hope we can create some more positive energy about this today.


p.s. I originally left the mall’s name out of the original post because I wasn’t trying to embarrass them or give them any negative publicity. Now that they have had a chance to hear my concern and formally respond, I feel more comfortable sharing the mall’s identity.

UPDATE: The mall changed the sign! Go to this post to see the new pic and learn more!

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22 Responses to “Bottle picture on nursing sign (Follow Up)”

  1. Bettina says:

    Great job! I sent an email expressing my support to Joan and acknowledging their efforts in using the word "Nursing". Thanks for your work on behalf of moms!

  2. Annie @ PhD in Parenting says:

    Excellent post! Thank you you for pointing it out and kudos for taking them to task on it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think you may be overeacting a little bit. The mall has a room for feeding and I think that is great and should be applauded.

    To get upset about the symbol on the door is going a little overboard. Out of all the injustices of the world, it seems odd to hold this one up.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I agree with the last post. Seems like an overreaction to me. I'm all for breastfeeding, I breastfed my twins for almost 2 years. I would never have seen that sign as something negative. I applaud the mall for having an area to nurse (as specified on the sign). My guess is that mall was not aware of a universal symbol for nursing. I wasn't. I would drop it. It only makes you look bad.

  5. simplicity says:

    I have to be honest, I kind of agree with the above two commenters. I am a breastfeeding mom and would have a hard time distinguishing the other symbol you showed that is supposed to represent breastfeeding. Actually in 3 1/2 years I have yet to see that symbol anywhere or on anything or any literature. (Though I don't doubt that that is what the symbol means, I'm just saying as a breastfeeding mom I've yet to see it in use.) I think a bottle is probably more universal in it's "symbolism" for feeding or caregiving for anyone that is looking for a private quiet place to feed, change, or just have some quiet time. Just my two cents.

  6. Amber says:

    Kudos to you for pursuing this! So many of us would see that sign and be annoyed, and fail to do any follow-up. I hope that your efforts pay off, and the mall either changes the wording or the symbol. (And if you want my opinion, I vote for changing the symbol.)

    The fact is, that these things matter. The language and symbols we use reflect our values. And based on the prevalence of the bottle in our culture, you can see that we don't value breastfeeding as highly as we should.

  7. LutherLiz says:


    I'm torn here. On the one hand I think the presence of the room is a good thing. On the other the image may be promoting something other agenda.

    However you know of my own difficulties in breastfeeding and how Edward gets bottles of breastmilk exclusively. I, for my part, still consider that he is breastfed because I know that I pumped ever single ounce he's eaten, even if he won't take it directly from the source.

    So maybe for me a bottle doesn't mean that it isn't breastfeeding. You know?

  8. The Marketing Mama says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments. Of course I welcome other opinions than my own, although I think it's more admirable if those opinions are attached to a name rather than left anonymously. I realized when I posted this that some of you may disagree with me, or think I'm making too much of it – that's okay. Because of my attention to detail and career as a professional marketer who consults on signage and customer experience, I am much more sensitive to the particular details of signage than the average person (hence my "bad signs tick me off" series of posts). And, because of my personal beliefs and advocacy for breastfeeding, I am more sensitive than the average person to how breastfeeding (or lack of) is portrayed in our society. Put these two issues together and BAM, I have a strong opinion! 🙂

    I believe it's important to speak up and try to inspire change when we think it's needed.

  9. buhdoop says:

    Wow, so much to think about. I didn't even know there was a universal breast feeding symbol.

  10. Melodie says:

    Fantastic! I agree with you that the mall should change the image. People like your commenter above don't see the Int'l Breastfeeding Symbol because it takes quite awhile for society to change. "It only takes a small group of like-minded citizens to change the world." (Margaret Mead) Our small group is breastfeeding mothers, who understand the effect bottle imagery has on society's acceptance and approval of breastfeeding. I just posted my own post on promoting breastfeeding acceptance through the use of the Int'l Breastfeeding Symbol. If my idea were to take hold, a lot more people would know what that sign meant.

  11. Michele says:

    I am a breastfeeding advocate–I breastfed all three of my children. While I do agree the mall could have come up with a much better image for a caregiver's area, the bottle doesn't bother me for one single reason…that, finally, malls and businesses are catering to a need that their customers (mothers) have regarding having a place (other than a toilet stall) to feed their babies. I see it as progress in the right direction.

    Good for you for expressing your opinion to the mall! I'm all for that any day!

    (And sorry about the deleted comment–when I hit post I also hit something on my computer that deleted half of what I wrote, so I just wanted to fix it.)

  12. thepsychobabble says:

    eh, I disagree. I don't see it as undermining. But then, I breastfed from the source, pumped and fed AND formula fed my two. So I realize that most breastfeeding women see my opinion kind of invalidated. Which is a whole 'nother topic. lol

  13. Backpacking Dad says:

    I think the bottle image is doing a job for egalitarianism that the breastfeeding symbol couldn't.

    I am much more likely to walk into a room with a bottle on the door to feed my son than I am a room with the international breastfeeding symbol: privacy and modesty are still worth respecting and if a room is designated with the breastfeeding symbol I will assume that mothers in the room are breastfeeding and would appreciate dads NOT entering. In other words, the bottle invites all caregivers (not just bottle feeding moms, but DADS) to use the room to feed their babies in a quiet environment; but the international breastfeeding symbol does not.

    I've seen plenty of rooms in malls that have neither symbol, and they are called "family rooms" or "feeding stations" and the like, and often there is a parenthetical "Dads Welcome" below. Such language and neutral imagery might be better than the confusing bottle/nursing message, but I don't find the bottle imagery nearly as objectionable as you do.

  14. One Fine Breeder says:

    I feel like the bottle imagery is precisely part of why it would make a nursing mother uncomfortable – as if, in a "family/caregiver" station it's still the *most* acceptable way to feed a child. I think that they simply need to add the breastfeeding sign to the door as well and that way the message is clear. Since I live in Minneapolis and shop there, my email is being drafted as I type this.

  15. darcie says:

    I guess I read THAT particular sign as saying two things: bottles AND nursing. A picture for the bottle feeders and words for the smarter nursers? ***BAD JOKE BAD JOKE BAD JOKE! I'm KIDDING PEOPLE! Don't eat me alive! I always hate the debates and battles between breast/bottle feeding that goes on, this will make my baby smarter, etc etc-everyone is entitled do to what works best for them (in my opinion!)***
    I, like LutherLiz, had to pump and THEN bottle feed my second – not my first choice, but it was what I had to do to get through the task at hand.
    I love the idea that there is a special place carved out for tending to your children – regardless of the signage. Imagine if it had a giant red circle with a line through it and said NO NURSING!

  16. Miss K says:

    I'm with Darcie – I'm just glad that there's a place to go with your baby. It seems like it gets harder and harder to find a quiet place to nurse, bottlefeed or pump. I don't think it overreacting if you feel strnigly about it, but maybe there are some larger BF issues that deserve just as much attention?

    What if we became outraged at the lack of consistant breastfeeding education for new moms in this country?

    What if we took action and stood up for a consistant policy to support pumping in the workplace?

  17. One Fine Breeder says:

    Self-righteousness? To have a sign that welcomes and comforts breastfeeding moms? Being told that the bottle is the "universally-accepted symbol for feeding"?? OK, color me self-important then.

  18. Eric, Cindy and Aidan says:

    I also choose to breastfeed and will continue to do so as long as I can. I'm also in PR, albeit in the Air Force, so signs, poor punctuation, poor grammar, misspelled words, misplaced words and those types of things tend to drive me crazy. Mostly, I think the sign is ridiculous because it makes mall management look … well, stupid. It's like putting a picture of a hamburger and fries on a sign advertising a vegetarian restaurant.

    That said, I don't think they were trying to slight or leave out nursing moms; I think whoever decided that image should be on the sign with the word nursing is just ignorant. Admittedly, I'm not as passionate about the topic as you, so I wouldn't go on a crusade about it. I think it's great you contacted them. They answered the question, further showing ignorance. I'm not sure the extra post/attention is necessary. You brought their ignorance to their attention. It's then up to them if they want to fix that perception or enhance it.

    Like other posters, I'm just happy to see mall management offer such a place. At our local mall, there is no such place. There are areas outside the major department stores with couches — clearly catering to bored husbands. I've sat there numerous times and nursed Ellia.

    Whoever said in the previous post that if she bottle fed her baby, wouldn't need privacy missed part of the point for those rooms (IMHO). Sometimes the mall environment is just too noisy. Whether I'm nursing my daughter or feeding her with a bottle, she prefers a quieter environment. To suggest that bottle fed babies (whether the bottle has breast milk or formula) don't need/want a peaceful environment in which to eat is ignorant and biased.

  19. tanya@motherwearblog says:

    I'm really glad that you made that complaint. One of the big obstacles we have to overcome is the fact that in many places bottles are seen as normal, and breastfeeding is viewed as something to hide. It's that concept in our culture that makes us uncomfortable with seeing nursing mothers in public, and makes mothers afraid to nurse in public.

    Some recent CDC data show that only 34% of mothers who are nursing at *7 months* feel comfortable nursing around people who are not close friends. The rates are lower for first time moms and women of color:

    Bottle images are everywhere, so we accept it as the norm. I've never seen a baby shower card or wrapping paper, or a baby doll (notwithstanding that Spanish doll) with a breastfeeding image.

  20. Ted Greiner says:

    Dear Ms. Schlegelsuko,

    I am responding to your statement to Melissa Berggren on her blog. First, I appreciate that Ridedale Center offers Nursing Rooms. In fact, if the purpose is simply to provide support to people caring for children, men should have access as well.

    If the purpose is to provide support to nursing mothers, then it probably should be restricted to women.

    You say that the feeding bottle is a universally recognized symbol for feeding. That may be true in the USA for the past century or so, and in many other countries for much shorter periods of time, but that hardly makes it universal.

    More importantly, the fact that anyone considers a baby bottle to be a universal symbol for infant feeding is itself a problem. Breastfeeding rates in the USA are much lower than in most of the rest of the world and one of the reasons is that from the time they were young children, women there are exposed to such symbols, bottle feeding baby dolls, and mass media images that tell them, if only subliminally, that bottle feeding is the norm.

    The language commonly used even by breastfeeding-supportive health care workers actually supports this by saying “breastfeeding has advantages.” Indirectly this means that what it has advantages over is the norm. This is commonly done to avoid saying the truth openly (bottle feeding puts babies at risk) out of fear of making mothers feel guilty. (Which is odd, because we never talked about the “advantages of not leaving your child alone when you run an errand” or worried about making mothers feel guilty in reminding them to avoid other behaviors that put children at risk. Like bottle feeding, such behavior is sometimes necessary, sometimes even the best thing to do for that mother at that time, but should hardly be considered the norm even if it is common.)

    Norms are powerful influencers of certain behaviors, certainly how infants are fed in any given society, and only if they can be changed are American babies going to get the optimal feeding that they deserve just as much as those in the many countries where upwards of 98% are breastfed (including some wealthy countries where breastfeeding may be considered “unnecessary” such as Sweden and Norway).


    Ted Greiner, PhD
    Professor of Nutrition
    Department of Food and Nutrition
    Hanyang University
    17 Haengdang-dong, Seongdong-gu
    Seoul 133-790 South Korea

  21. Rebecca says:


    I have to chime in.

    First, a dad commented that a bottle is a good sign for feeding rooms available for dads. My understanding is that this is a room designated for breastfeeding mothers and that it wouldn't be open to dads because the purpose is to provide privacy for women who don't feel comfortable breastfeeding in public. Is it a room for feeding babies or a room for breastfeeding mothers to have some privacy? The bottle symbol could be confusing if you were looking for a dad-friendly family room.

    Second, I do agree that it is frustrating that the bottle symbol is universally accepted in the US as a sign for baby-feeding. It's not that bottle feeding (formula or pumped mama milk) is bad. It's just that we as a culture still can't associate breastfeeding with feeding babies. Why? Because our culture tells women that breasfeeding belongs behind "nursing" doors. Now, I understand that there are women who feel more comfortable breastfeeding their babies in privacy than in public. That's fine – whatever makes you comfortable when you feed your baby. It's just frustrating that public breastfeeding is still seen as gross and perverse.

    Third, on a related point, many commenters here, including breastfeeding mamas, didn't even recognize the internal symbol for breastfeeding. That tells you something. That's another reason why the symbol needs to be used. Show a bottle when you mean "feeding" and the breastfeeding symbol when you mean "breastfeeding."

    Next, I love that one of your commenters noted that the word "nursing" is also horrible. Can I go in there to get my flu vaccine? Can I get my blood pressure checked in there? Is the word "breast" really that bad that we have to use the word "nursing"?

    Finally, I appreciate your frustration with the erroneous sign – that a bottle is used for a room that appears to be targeted towards breastfeeding mothers. The messaging doesn't match. It makes me twitch, too. It's a tweaky grammar-like thing. It's like saying "truck show!" with a picture of a Mini-Cooper.

    OK, those were my thoughts, both humours and serious. Thanks for the post.

    p.s. Question – do moms and dads go into "nursing" rooms or bathrooms to bottle feed their babies? I know "nursing" moms do for privacy, but I didn't realize that bottle-feeding parents did, too. I learned something new today.

  22. Peggy says:

    I found your post while doing a quick image search for the international breastfeeding symbol. As a nursing/pumping mom, I wanted to make a door knob sign to hang on the knobs of the rooms that employees and guests sometimes use. We unfortunately do not have a designated space, but it concerns me that businesses are so obviously clueless! Shame on Ridgedale!



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