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Woman claims deputy balked at breast-feeding

A Skokie woman is suing Cook County, claiming a sheriff’s deputy tried to stop her from breast-feeding by demanding she move from a courthouse lobby to a public bathroom — a request she says was not only illegal, but “degrading.”

Natalie Petrovic, a first-time mom who lives in Skokie, filed the suit Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court against Sheriff Tom Dart and Cook County.

She was at the county Municipal Courthouse in Skokie on April 18, waiting to apply for food-assistance benefits and covering herself and her daughter with a blanket when a female deputy approached her, the suit claims. The deputy told her to either stop breast-feeding or move to the public bathroom. Illinois legislators passed the state’s Right to Breastfeed Act in 2004, which says mothers may breast-feed in any public or private location where they are otherwise allowed to be, even if they aren’t modestly covered.

Petrovic said even though it was her first time trying to publicly breast-feed her daughter Lisette, then 7 weeks old, she knew women have a right to breast-feed in public — what she calls “a completely natural thing.”

“It got me really frustrated that this woman, she’s a sheriff’s [deputy] and she didn’t know what people’s rights are,” said Petrovic 21, when reached at her home Wednesday night.

She ultimately stopped because she did not want to risk getting kicked out of the courthouse and disrupting her application for benefits, and because feeding her baby in a public bathroom would have been “unsanitary, uncomfortable and degrading,” the suit claims.

“She stopped me from feeding my baby and that should never happen,” Petrovic said.

She said she tried to file a formal complaint against the deputy on her way out of the courthouse but could not because a sheriff’s office worker, though apologetic, kept talking over her and cutting her off.

“I know a lot of women who breast-fed before,” Petrovic said. “My mother breastfeed me, my sister breast-fed her two sons in public and this never happened to them.”

She says the encounter has taught her that anyone — not just breast-feeding mothers ­— need to know their rights and follow their instincts.

“Do what you know is right, and don’t let someone stop you from doing if you know you’re in the right,” Petrovic said.

The lawsuit suit seeks an injunction preventing courthouse staff from denying any other women their right to breast-feed there, plus attorney’s fees and the costs of the suit.

A sheriff’s office spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

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