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It’s wild to think that in some places, it wasn’t until recently that women could legally breastfeed outside the home, thanks to some outdated anti-nudity or public decency laws. But oh, how times have changed!
Thankfully, in the past 30 years, some law has evolved, and now it’s all about embracing those breastfeeding rights! Yes, mama, you’ve got the right to breastfeed in public and private areas without any fuss. Feeling curious about your breastfeeding rights in the US?
Here, Briefly dishes out nine essential rights that every nursing parent should know.
But first, a little word of caution: Legal stuff can be a bit tricky and sometimes, it changes like the weather. So if you ever feel like your rights are being challenged, be sure to connect with a lawyer to set things straight.
1. You Have the Right to Breastfeed in Public
This is now the law in all states and territories of the US. We can all congratulate Idaho for being the last state in the Union to legalize public breastfeeding – which it did in 2018. Congrats, Idaho! Better late than never!
2. You Don’t Need to Cover up
In 31 states (and DC, PR, and the Virgin Islands, thankfully), you have the right to breastfeed without covering up. This is because those states exempt breastfeeding from public decently laws – meaning you can’t be arrested for indecent exposure for, you know, feeding your baby. In the other states, there’s a little more ambiguity – arrests for breastfeeding are very rare, but technically could still happen. Here’s hoping that the remaining states will pass new laws soon.
3. Private Locales are not Off Limits
You have the right to breastfeed even in the most private locations – including “public accommodations,” like restaurants, hotels, theaters, and in many cases. They might be able to kick you out, but they can’t stop you from breastfeeding!
4. The Friendly Skies Are, Well, Friendly!
You have the right to breastfeed or pump in airplanes – just like in any other “public accommodation.” (Most airlines have pretty good breastfeeding and pumping policies). Formula and breast milk are allowed in “reasonable quantities” in carry-on bags – you don’t need to follow the normal “3-1-1” liquids rule. (Wondering if anyone has ever tried to carry an “unreasonable” amount of breast milk onto a plane. Hmm…) You have the right to not have your milk X-rayed or opened. And breast pumps are allowed as carry-ons – some airlines even allow moms an extra carry-on bag for their pump. One note – TSA officers still have some discretion over some of these things if they feel something is off. But in almost all cases, these rights should be protected.
5. You Can Pump at Work
Moms in most workplaces have the right break time to pump breast milk at work. The Federal “break time” law applies to all companies with 50 or more employees; and to smaller companies unless they can prove that complying with the law would create an “undue hardship” – a very high bar to meet. A lot of states have laws that make this “break time” requirement stronger and more clear – you can see an up-to-date list of those laws on the website of the National Conference of State Legislators. This is a real legal right This is not about a nice employer doing you a favor. You cannot be retaliated against for asking for time to pump and you shouldn’t feel intimidated to ask.
6. You Have the Right to Pump Comfortably
Working moms who are breastfeeding have the right to a clean, private, place that is not a bathroom, for pumping at work. Same as in number 5 – the federal law applies to companies with 50 or more employees, or smaller companies unless they can prove “undue hardship” – and lots of states have passed stronger laws (you can refer to that great list here). There
7. You Have the Right to not be Discriminated Against
Women have the right not to be discriminated against at work because of breastfeeding (in most workplaces) – you can’t be harassed, demoted, not promoted, fired, etc. For example, work decisions should not be made based on stereotypes or assumptions about what you can or can’t take on – like your boss saying that he or she is going to give only easy work, or not send you on work travel, while you’re nursing to help you out (this happens all the time); and the workplace should prohibit harassment – like people calling you a “slacker” or excluding you from opportunities because you have to take time to pump.
8. Health Insurance Must Help
Families have the right to have their health insurance cover many of the costs of breastfeeding – including breast pumps and lactation counseling.
9. You’re in Control
In some states (and even some specific hospitals) you have the right to be with and breastfeed your baby in the hospital, after birth. New York, for example, has a Breastfeeding Mothers’ Bill of Rights, which gives new nursing moms a lot of control. This Bill of Rights also makes it hard for hospitals to help market formula brands – but this doesn’t exist in most states. So if you’re not interested in formula, just say no!
*Thirty-one states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.)