Understanding Breastfeeding Laws
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 3, May-June 2006, pp. 124-125
"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I was recently nursing my six-week-old baby in a public toilet facility at a shopping center. I got many smiles and comments on my beautiful baby, but then one woman approached me and demanded that I stop what I was doing or she would call the police! Our state legislature recently tabled a measure that would have protected a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, so she said it meant that breastfeeding in public is illegal in our state. I was taken completely off guard and didn't know how to respond. I simply packed up and left. Is it really illegal to nurse in public? How could I have handled the situation differently?
You don't mention what state you live in, but every nursing mother should know that there is no state in which it is illegal to breastfeed in public. If you would like to know the specifics of your own state law, you can find it on the LLLI Web site at www.lalecheleague.org/Law/LawMain.html.
While unfortunately there are few states in which there is any legal action you can take if you are harassed for public breastfeeding, the way you handle a stranger harassing you is entirely your choice. If you are comfortable telling such a person how strongly you disagree with her, feel free. If you are more comfortable leaving the room, then do that.
I hope there will be no next time for you, but I would love to see you breastfeeding in the atrium rather than the toilet facility and feeling comfortable telling anyone who bothers you to go right ahead and call the police. Knowing your state law and standing your ground is your best defense against such ignorance.
Jake Aryeh Marcus
Wyncote PA USA
I would be speechless, too! One is seldom prepared for this type of confrontation. It may give you some comfort to know breastfeeding in public is not illegal in any state. Although your state does not have a law protecting a mother's right to breastfeed in public, this does not mean it is illegal to do so. It only means you have no protection in a situation where you are asked to leave a private business. You can learn more about breastfeeding and the law at www.lalecheleague.org/Law/LawMain.html.
There is an excellent article in the Nov-Dec 2005 issue of NEW BEGINNINGS entitled "Breastfeeding in Public," which has also been adapted into a pamphlet. These materials provide information and tips that may help you feel more comfortable with breastfeeding in public. (Ask your local Leader or call the LLLI Order Department at 800-LALECHE to find out how to obtain copies.) I encourage you to contact your state legislators and ask them to support legislation that protects a mother's right to breastfeed in public so other mothers may not have to face what you experienced.
Armed with knowledge, if you get approached again about breastfeeding in public you can speak with confidence knowing your rights. Just keep in mind that you are a positive role model to others. The more people see mothers nursing in public, the more acceptable it will become.
Manhattan KS USA
I have two children, both of whom breastfed into toddlerhood. My son nursed until he was 20 months old and my daughter is still going strong at 28 months. My son was always a big boy and seemed older then his age. I breastfed him everywhere, whenever he needed it, and predictably, there were times when people commented. The same, of course, is happening with my daughter.
My usual response to people's criticism is respectful, but always to the point: "Would you feel uncomfortable eating in public? Probably not, so why should my child? Would you give your child a drink if he was thirsty? You would, so why shouldn't I?"
Although I don't know all of the legal details, I know that it's not illegal to breastfeed in public. I feel that I have to meet my child's basic needs and I will not let people's narrow-mindedness stop me from doing it!
Nashua NH USA
A law was passed in the state of Connecticut a few years ago to protect the rights of mothers breastfeeding in public. This resulted from a situation where a mother was reprimanded by police for breastfeeding in her parked car. The incident was broadcast by local news media and resulted in a vigorous public discussion of the need for a law. Additionally, the area Junior League became involved to support passing the law. They are an international group of philanthropic, community service-oriented women whose mission is to build better communities for women and children (www.ajli.org). As a former nursing mother, this legislation came about when my children were little and needed to nurse frequently, often in public. I did my best to be discreet, but being unsure about the law was unnerving! Unfortunately, without a law protecting your right to breastfeed in public, I'd say you did the best thing you could do by leaving the store and not creating a scene.
Madison CT USA