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NIP

The great New York breast-feeding test

Mostly milk of human kindness on bus, at Met & Le Cirque

By TRACY CONNOR
DAILY NEWS WRITER
Newser Tracy Connor nurses daughter at the Met.
When a Brooklyn mom claimed she was harassed for breast-feeding her baby at the Toys "R" Us store in Times Square, her story brought forth complaints from other mothers with similar tales of woe.

A state law, enacted in 2002, says that any mother can breast-feed a child in any place, public or privately owned, where she is otherwise authorized to be.

But to hear some mothers tell it, there are still stores and restaurants hostile to women who nurse in public - or NIP, the shorthand used on breast-feeding Web sites.

The Daily News put the issue to a test by dispatching reporter Tracy Connor and her 3-month-old daughter, Charlie, to nurse at humble and posh locations around town. Here's her account of who is hip to NIP and, perhaps surprisingly, who is not.

The Apple Store - Inside the gleaming white Mac mecca on Fifth Ave. and 59th St., where workers in identical T-shirts rush to straighten iPods knocked askew, I'm certain my baby and I will be a spectacle.

On a low circular concrete bench facing a busy bank of computers, I pick a spot between two guys - a businessman and a hipster glued to their laptops - and in full view of a dozen sales associates.

Out comes the nursing pillow, down goes the baby, up comes the shirt and I toss a coverup over my shoulder. Twenty minutes, we're done - and no one has said a peep. My benchmates never look up.

All in all, I would have created more of a stir if I'd announced my home computer is a Dell.

"I don't know if we have a policy that you can or can't do it, but breast-feeding is natural," one employee tells me. "Now, we do have people who come in and log onto certain sites on the Internet and take out certain body parts - that we don't allow."

Crosstown bus: We board a M79 at midday, taking a seat opposite the driver. At the next stop, the bus starts to fill up and we get down to business.

The baby wriggles around, exposing a few inches of skin - and all around me, riders develop the kind of glazed-eye look usually reserved for panhandlers and the mentally ill.

Finally, one passenger pipes up, "Can you do that someplace else?" But she's not talking to me - she's barking at a man talking loudly on his cell phone.

When we get to the end of the line, the driver tells me I'm his first breast-feeder passenger. He's not sure what the Transit Authority's policy on nursing is, but he has his own. "I don't see no objections to it," he says.

Babies "R" Us: After Toys "R" Us was the target of a high-profile "nurse-in" protest and warned by the New York Civil Liberties Union, I expect that employees at its corporate partner will politely ignore my breast-feeding. In the back of an aisle at the chain's Bay Parkway, Brooklyn, store, I feed my child quietly for five minutes - until a worker spots me.

"Excuse me, ma'am," she bellows. "We have a room where you can do that."

I explain that I had checked out the "mother's room" and found the sofa dirty, but she's undeterred.

"It's not good in the open like this...for the other people who can see," she presses.

When I remind her that I can legally breast-feed wherever I want, she changes her tune. "I just think you would be more comfortable," she says. "If you're comfortable here, that's fine."

Moments later, another clerk sees us and says, "Oh Lord!" She scurries off, perhaps to speak to a manager, and I brace for a new confrontation. But when she returns it's with the offer of a chair to use in the aisle and when I refuse it, she leaves us in peace.

Corporate spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh said the first worker broke store policy. An internal review is under way, and the chain may revamp its training.

"Any mother may breast-feed her child in the place of her choice in any of our stores," Waugh says.

Metropolitan Museum of Art - The airy wing that houses the Temple of Dendur looks like it would make an artful lactation lounge, so we settle on a stone wall right across from the ancient Nubian monument.

Throngs of tourists, mostly foreign, pay us no mind. A security guard issues stern warnings to every visitor using a video camera or cell phone, yet somehow misses the baby at my bosom.

But later he says that if he had seen us, he would have thrown us out. Why? "There's no eating or drinking in the galleries," he explains.

When I raise an eyebrow, he tells me to check with the information desk, where a woman consults a supervisor and confirms the guard was incorrect: "This is New York City, and a mother may feed her baby wherever she feels comfortable."

Le Cirque - A slightly chilly reception at the restaurant's front desk - an admonition about crying babies - makes me think nursing in the lap of luxury will turn some stomachs. But it's quite the opposite.

There is a little buzz among the wait staff and a few older diners as Charlie noisily tries to latch on several times from an awkward position on the banquette next to the kitchen.

But then everyone acts as though the suckling is as natural as a $100 lunch tab. Servers smile as they deliver bread, and one acknowledges the breast-feeding when I pull the baby off as my appetizer arrives.

"She's saying, 'Mommy, I want some more,'" the server says.

General manager Benito Sevarin tells me I'm hardly the first woman to breast-feed over four-star cuisine.

"In fact, a few days ago we had a woman - a very famous woman, I won't tell you her name - nursing her baby," he says. "There's nothing wrong with it."

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