HARRISBURG - Leigh Bellini says she didn't think she would offend anyone when she breast-fed her infant son on a bench inside a Reading-area mall in February.
She had parked his stroller in front of her to obscure the view of passersby, but security guards told her she had to cover her baby's head with a blanket, nurse him in the restroom, or leave.
"Imagine having the police called because you are nourishing your infant the way you have chosen," said Bellini, 30, of Shillington. "Let me put it another way: It is legal to have an infant and his mother removed from a public place because he has gotten hungry."
Bellini and nearly 100 women and children gathered in the Capitol Rotunda for a rally in support of legislation to allow breast-feeding in public places. A few held signs expressing sentiments such as "I won't eat in the restroom" and "Bathrooms are for diapers - not dinner."
Sen. Connie Williams (D., Montgomery) said stories such as Bellini's reinforce the need for a bill she has introduced to allow public breast-feeding. The Senate was expected to vote on it this week.
"Would you want to eat in a bathroom?" Williams said.
Fourteen states, including Pennsylvania, do not specifically allow women to breast-feed in public or private places, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Bellini's experience at Berkshire Mall with son Enzo, now nine months old, prompted dozens of women to stage a "nurse-in" at the mall a week later.
Breast-feeding provides better nutrition for babies than bottle feeding, and creates a better bonding experience between mothers and infants, said Donna Sinnott, president of the Pennsylvania Resources Organization for Lactation Consultants.
"A baby is born to seek the basic human needs - food, protection and love - and breast-feeding does all three," Sinnott said.
Suzanna Donahue, 36, of West Grove, said she feels more comfortable shopping and dining in Delaware, where mothers are allowed to breast-feed in public.
"If I know I have to breast-feed, I'd sooner go to a state where I know I can do it without any repercussions," Donahue said after the rally as she held her six-month-old daughter, Maren.
Legislation similar to Williams' bill has been introduced in the House by Tim Solobay (D., Washington) and is awaiting a vote by the Children and Youth Committee.
Gov. Rendell's spokesman, Chuck Ardo, said that if the House and Senate pass the legislation in its current form, "he's inclined to look at it favorably."
Williams and Solobay are also sponsoring identical bills - both still in committee - that would ban companies from firing women for breast-feeding or using a breast pump at work.
Additionally, Williams is sponsoring a measure that would provide tax credits to businesses that encourage breast-feeding or the use of breast pumps by employees who are nursing. That bill is not likely to win widespread legislative support, given the state's budget difficulties this year, said Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware).