Are there any legal issues to breastfeeding in public?

shutterstock_333965207Women who breastfeed in public are at times faced with the dilemma of enduring disapproving stares and hateful remarks from disgusted strangers. There are also cases wherein breastfeeding women are forced to leave both public and private places such as restaurants, airplanes, stores, parks, government buildings and even courtrooms.

Working women who plan to continue breastfeeding when they get back to work may find themselves being discriminated upon and deprived by their employers of their much needed space or breaks that would require a regular schedule for pumping breast milk.

Indecent exposure 

Some US states have explicitly included the female breast when they define the term “private parts” that are not allowed to be exposed in public. In other words, exposing a female breast in public can be considered as a crime or a state offense which can lead to an indictment.

One notable case involved a shocked, upset and angry mother who felt like she was being treated like a criminal just because she was providing food for her son. Based on her narration, she was breastfeeding her baby in a government building when she was approached by two security guards who then asked her to stop because what she was doing with her child was deemed indecent.

Rights of proprietors of private businesses 

In general, private business owners have the right to create and set rules that would outline which type of customer behaviour is acceptable and which ones they can pick as a basis for excluding customers from complying with their set of rules. The main limit in executing this right is based on public accommodations laws wherein businesses are discouraged and prevented from exercising their right to control or exclude potential customers in a way that is discriminating.

Public accommodations law and public breastfeeding 

Public accommodations law in most states now explicitly allows public or private breastfeeding among women. These laws have minor variations wherein some are defined within the full context of public accommodations law and would therefore vary in scope according to the varying definitions of the term “public accommodation.”

Some are independent laws which would apply solely to breastfeeding. For instance, there are laws that protect the mother’s right to breastfeed in any type of location apart from another person’s house.

However, public places such as a “house of worship” have their own norms which breastfeeding mothers are expected to follow.

Some states protect breastfeeding only on properties that are owned by the state.

At times, breastfeeding mothers are given the right to breastfeed in any location where she is authorized to do so. In some states, women are allowed to breastfeed anywhere although they are required to do it discreetly. 

Ways to breastfeed in public discreetly

  1. Choose clothes that are designed in such a way that you can easily gain access to your breasts. These can include tops which you can pull up or those which you can button down.
  1. Find a blanket which you can use particularly for breastfeeding. You can wrap it around your shoulders to cover your baby although some babies may dislike it. In time however, your baby may eventually get used to it so just see what works for you and your baby.
  1. You can place your baby in a sling while you breastfeed him. Slings or any other soft baby carriers can be very useful when you’re travelling. Not only will it keep your baby feeling comforted, he will also have the chance to be close to you.
  1. You can breastfeed your baby discreetly using a women’s lounge or a dressing room.
  1. When you want to be really sure that you would feel comfortable with what you would be revealing every time you would breastfeed in public, you can first practice inside your home.
  1. You can take someone with you such as a friend or a relative who has an older baby and knows the right places where you would feel comfortable to sit and feed. It would also be nice to have someone you can talk to.
  1. Never attempt to breastfeed your baby in a public toilet. You know for yourself that you would never think about eating in such a place which is highly likely similar to what your baby would feel.

What are my legal rights as a breastfeeding mother? 

Breastfeeding, as stated in the Australian Federal Law, is a right and not a privilege. Based on the federal “Sex Discrimination Act 1984,” any act that discriminates a person whether directly or indirectly because of breastfeeding is considered as illegal.

Additionally, each of the nation’s Individual States and Territories have implemented their own laws which are designed to protect the rights of nursing mothers in areas that include education, work and the provision of services and goods.

The US’ Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) Section 4207 requires employers to allow nursing mothers get reasonable break time.

The nation’s State laws protect breastfeeding in public by saying that mothers have the right to breastfeed in public. The laws also specify that the act of public breastfeeding is absolutely not a case of indecent exposure.

The new Equality Act states that treating a woman unfavorably because she is breastfeeding in public is an example of sex discrimination. The scope of the Act covers anyone who is into providing benefits, services, facilities and premises to the public bodies, public, and association from further and higher education. Discrimination would include denying service to a person, providing a type of service that has a lower standard, or providing a service but it is on different terms.

What can I do if I am criticized for breastfeeding my baby in public? 

In this situation, you have to learn how to speak up for yourself and forget about being shy to do so. It is advised that more nursing women, when they do speak up, should do it politely and inform the “criticizing party” that as a nursing mother, they are within their legal rights and that what they are doing is something that is good for the baby.

Here are some other ways on how you can respond.

  1. You can simply ignore the comment or you can try changing the subject.
  1. If you have the ability to crack jokes, you can make a joke about your situation or about yourself which can help to lighten the mood a bit.
  1. Perhaps the person is not well-informed about breastfeeding. You can help the person change his anti-public breastfeeding remarks by sharing with him some information.
  1. Try to be empathetic to what the person is saying and show that you understand how he feels and what he meant.
  1. You can also ask further questions to show how much you understand the person’s opinion but you don’t need to agree or respond to the criticism.








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