Happy National Breastfeeding Month, World Breastfeeding Week, and later this month, Black Breastfeeding Week! This month, we celebrate and inform on all things breastfeeding. Lamaze encourages parents to become informed on the benefits of breastfeeding as well as the how-tos and potential challenges. The more you know in advance of your breastfeeding journey, and the more support you have during breastfeeding, the more likely you are to be successful and enjoy the experience.
Today, I want to talk about breastfeeding laws. There are still people who encounter upsetting situations when they are breastfeeding in public and are told to cover up or leave by a business owner or employee. While these kinds of situations are happening less and are few in number (on the whole), they do still occur and if it happens to you, it helps to know your rights, the laws, and what to do.
Currently, all 50 states in the United States, as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, have laws that allow and protect a parent to breastfeed anywhere, public or private, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Each state's laws vary, with some offering more protection than others. You can find your state's specific laws on the NCSL list.
Some states' laws have specific language that protects a parent from public indecency laws while breastfeeding, while others do not. That said, to date, there has been no person who has been prosecuted for indecent exposure because of breastfeeding in public.
Some states' lack of robust and specific laws makes it more difficult for parents to take action against a business or employee if they are asked to cover up or leave. Unless a state has a specific law that prohibits a business from interfering with or preventing a person from breastfeeding, it is possible for a business owner's rights to overpower a parent's right to breastfeed. In other words, if a business claims you are trespassing and refuse to leave the location, you could be legally asked to leave. That's why it's important to know your state's laws, and even carry a copy of them with you when you're out and about with your baby. Even if your state's laws do not specifically protect you from being asked to leave, you can still state your right to breastfeed whenever, wherever.
What to Do If You Are Confronted in Public About Breastfeeding
Everyone handles themselves differently in a situation of confrontation. I'm not here to tell you what's right or wrong when dealing with a confrontational breastfeeding situation. I will say that speaking up and educating others are two of the most important things we can do to help normalize breastfeeding in our country so that these incidents become a thing of the past. Here are my recommendations for a public breastfeeding encounter in which you are asked to cover up or leave:
1. Stay calm and collected (at least on the outside). Even though you may feel rage or embarrassment, reacting with hostility doesn't usually get the most traction when you're trying to communicate effectively.
2. State your state's law. Show it in written form or on your phone if possible. Educating someone on your right, as governed by your state, to breastfeed anytime, anywhere should be a conversation stopper and your best first line of response. Point out, if necessary that your state's laws do not require you to be covered up to breastfeed.
3. Ask to speak to the manager. If the employee continues to ask you to leave or cover up, ask to speak to the manager. Reiterate the state's laws of protection.
4. If the situation escalates -- if the manager reiterates the need to leave or cover up, or if police are called, the choice is up to you (as it always is!). If you are confident in standing your ground, do so. If you've had enough, leave the establishment -- but don't leave the situation behind! Do something about it. Call the business' corporate office. Get on social media. Rally your local parents' group. Contact the local media. Stage a nurse-in. The more attention you can call to the situation, the more likely it is that policies will change and employers and employees will become educated on a person's right to breastfeed as well as the benefits of breastfeeding.
It's not always easy to stand up for yourself when you're in a vulnerable position, like breastfeeding your child in public. And it's unfortunate that we're put in a position to have to do so! But doing so helps create change on a national and even international level. The right to feed your child is a basic human right -- one that should not be limited!
For more information about World Breastfeeding Week, check out the WABA website and learn about this year's objectives and the long-term goals.