Breastfeeding in Public
The first thing you need to know about breastfeeding in public is that it’s legal. Anywhere you are allowed to be, you are allowed to nurse your baby. That’s true in every state, though at least 44 states, plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, have passed laws additionally underlining a woman’s right to nurse her baby in any public or private location. Those 44 states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
In 28 states, plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, breastfeeding is explicitly exempt from public indecency laws. Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
And in Puerto Rico, shopping malls, airports, public service government centers and other select locations are legally required to have accessible areas suitable for breastfeeding and diaper changing that are not bathrooms. (Let’s hear it for Puerto Rico!)
What’s more, in 1998 Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced legislation that explicitly protected a woman’s right to breastfeed on federal property where she and her child have a right to be, and in 1999, President Bill Clinton signed Mahoney’s Right to Breastfeed Act, H.R. 1848 into law.
“It is a shame that we need this law to protect such a natural choice, but women were being harassed, told to leave national parks and museums and intimidated off of federal grounds simply for breastfeeding,” Rep. Maloney said at the time. “Until now, women had no recourse.”
But just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s always comfortable or hassle-free. You may get stares or comments. Some women prefer to wear loose clothing that covers up their nursing baby. Some women like to fling a scarf, shawl or nursing blanket over them for privacy. Others just figure that if someone doesn’t like the look of a woman nursing, that’s their problem, and that, further, by nursing in public without shame (and why should we feel even a hint of shame?) mothers are building awareness that will help make nursing in public easier for the next generation of moms.
Regardless, nursing – in public or in private – is your and your baby’s right. And if anyone hassles you, just remember: The law and many, many mothers are on your side.