ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A Stamford mother who visited an Abilene prison unit says she was told she had to breastfeed in a restroom. Now, she’s fighting for her right to breastfeed during visitation in all Texas prisons.
Shalon Heidenheimer called her daughter “her entire world.” Getting to see her every day, and even getting to feed her, is what Heidenheimer said gets her through any bad day. Unfortunately, this isn’t something her husband is able to experience along her side.
“To not have him home has been… Has been a lot to try and process,” Heidenheimer explained through a deep sigh.
Because her husband is in prison after revoked probation from 2019 assault charges, Heidenheimer said she’s made it a priority to visit him with their daughter.
After making the 45-minute drive to get to the Middleton unit, and then going through the check-in process to begin her two-hour visitation, her 3-month-old is usually hungry by that time.
“I understand that there are people in there that could watch, but at the same time, I don’t care,” said Heidenheimer.
Not only was she told she can’t breastfeed in the visitation area even if she was covered, but Heidenheimer said she was sent to a restroom to feed her child.
“I’m not the one incarcerated. My child isn’t incarcerated,” Heidenheimer listed. “It’s degrading, it’s demoralizing, it’s nasty.”
Kristine Keller, president of the Texas Breastfeeding Coalition, told KTAB/KRBC this should never happen.
“You can’t determine when a baby is going to be hungry or when they’re not going to be hungry. I could see her frustration in that it’s affecting her visitation time,” reasoned Keller.
Keller brought up a Texas law, Sec. 165.002., which states, “A mother is entitled to breast-feed her baby or express breast milk in any location in which the mother’s presence is otherwise authorized.”
“If it’s a public place, then it should be allowed, and if it’s not allowed, then a place should be provided for that mom to be able to remove the milk,” Keller advocated.
However, this should not be a restroom, Keller continued, because women breastfeeding in bathrooms could lead to hygiene issues. Still, went as far as to say the mother should be able to breastfeed in front of her husband.
“The folks that are in jail, you want them to feel connected to someone, and when you separate people, you lose that connection,” explained Keller, tacking on that this connection helps people make better decisions.
This connection is what Heidenheimer told KTAB/KRBC she wants more than anything.
“I’m feeding my kid. I’m not getting up, waving myself around in other people’s faces,” Heidenheimer added. “I want him to be able to see me feed her because it’s important.”
Even if she cannot win that battle, Shalon Heidenheimer said she at least wants a private room to use instead of a restroom.
KTAB/KRBC reached out to a representative with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, who told us they do offer private rooms for breastfeeding mothers that are not restrooms. However, this mother divulged calls to multiple Texas units asking what accommodations they have, and most units told her she would need to use the restroom to breastfeed.