Breastfeeding in public: it’s your right
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It happens with distressing regularity: a breastfeeding mom is kicked out of someplace simply because she’s breastfeeding. In February, it was a courtroom in Alabama, where Jeanna Harris was kicked out of the courtroom for breastfeeding her 3-month-old child.
“[A court official] asked me to leave on my own or he would escort me out,” Harris told local WKRG-TV. “It was embarrassing.”
It was also illegal.
Many new moms worry enough about breastfeeding in public—they worry about it being embarrassing or exposing themselves—so it’s too bad that women also have to worry about being publicly humiliated by misguided law enforcement officials or other authorities.
The fact is that babies need to eat when they get hungry, and the law recognizes this. In all, 45 states have laws on the books (including Alabama) specifically allowing breastfeeding in public. Another 28 states went further and wrote laws exempting breastfeeding moms from public indecency laws, which were once used to punish breastfeeding mothers. If you want a complete state-by-state directory of state laws, check out the wonderful resource at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The freedom to breastfeed in public also extends to most workplaces. Under the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), employers who have 50 or more workers are now required by law to provide break time for pumping moms with babies younger than 12 months, with no restrictions on the number or length of these breaks. Additionally, employers have to provide a private place—and (this is the best part!) bathrooms are not considered a suitable space.
Some mothers feel more comfortable breastfeeding in public by wearing a nursing cover. This can be a nice way for a mom to feel she can feed her baby without needing to leave where she is or go to a secluded place. Some babies even feed better because the cover can help block out distractions!
It’s too bad that women are still punished for breastfeeding in public, but it’s great to see the law and culture moving toward greater acceptance of breastfeeding moms. After all, the benefits of breastfeeding are well known, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, wherever it’s possible.