A Mom's Right: Breastfeeding in Public
Breastfeeding in public is legal, but common sense and a little discretion go a long way.
For many women, the decision to breastfeed is an easy
one. But figuring out the logistics of just how to fit nursing into a busy
schedule can present another challenge entirely.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises at least
six months of exclusive breastfeeding (that is, only mother's milk – no water,
juice, other liquids, or foods), followed by breastfeeding through a baby's
first year of life. But often the desire to nurse is sharply curtailed the
moment mom comes face-to-face with the idea that she may not be in the privacy
of her bedroom every time baby is hungry.
"There are definitely those who, for whatever
reason, are opposed to a woman breastfeeding in public. They can make a woman
feel extremely uncomfortable doing so, particularly the first time she
tries," says Myrtle Hodge, RN, a lactation counselor at Maimonides Medical
Center in New York.
Still, Hodge says she encourages women not to hide,
even when in a public place such as restaurant or park.
"I tell nursing moms never go into the bathroom to
breastfeed your baby because nobody goes in there to eat. You sit where it's
feasible for you and your baby," Hodge tells WebMD.
Here are some facts that any breastfeeding mom should
- Breastfeeding in public is a right in all 50 states,
a fact many women don't realize. At least half of states have laws specifically
protecting the rights of the breastfeeding mom.
- In addition, some states have laws on the books
specifically geared to protect women who breastfeed in public, excluding them
from prosecution under other laws that deal with indecent exposure or
obscenity. In this way you are protected against any criminal charges for
nursing in public.
- In other states -- for example New York and
California -- specific civil statutes address breastfeeding in public and grant
women the right to do so. Being denied that opportunity means a woman can sue
for violation of her civil rights.
- Under current federal law, a woman has the right to
breastfeed in public on any federal property or within any federal
"At La Leche we have small cards printed up that
women can hand out to anyone who questions her right to breastfeed in public.
The cards state that it is a woman's legal right," says Carol Huotari,
IBCLC, a certified lactation counselor and manager of the Breastfeeding
Information Center at La Leche League International in Schaumberg,
Soon the rights of breastfeeding women across the
United States may get an even bigger boost thanks to The Breastfeeding
Promotion Act, a bill introduced in May 2005 by Rep. Carolyn Maloney
"Moms contact me all the time frustrated because
they would like to breastfeed but face some really tough obstacles both at work
and in public settings, " says Maloney, whose record on health issues
concerning women and children clearly make her a new mom's best