Breastfeeding in Public
The good, the bad, and how you can help ensure your rights
In the United States and around the word, there continue to be unfortunate situations in which nursing mothers are told they cannot breastfeed in public. Often times, nursing mothers are wrongly asked to retreat to a more private place in order to breastfed.
In Boulder, Colorado, for example, one mother was told by a staff member at a public pool that she would have to go to the restroom to nurse her baby. Knowing her rights, the mother staged a "nurse in" as she and other nursing mothers gathered at the pool and discreetly breastfed their children. Sure enough, it turned out the nursing mother had every right to breastfeed her child at the public pool. She was later offered an apology by the pool staff.
The good news about breastfeeding in public is that in the United States, women are gaining more breastfeeding rights. In 1998, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (a Democrat from New York) introduced legislation (The Right to Breastfeed Act, H.R. 1848) to protect a woman's right to breastfeed on federal property where she and her child have a right to be. The bill was signed into law on Sept. 28, 1999 when President Clinton signed the Treasury Postal Appropriations bill, which included Rep. Maloney's Right to Breastfeed Act.
"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," said Rep. Maloney. "Until now, women had no recourse."
The bad news is there are still many public places women do not feel comfortable nursing their children. In Australia, for example, the majority of restaurants and shopping centers included in a recent survey were found to be unsupportive of nursing mothers.
A group of researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia printed the finding of their survey in the Journal of Human Lactation in June, 1999.
The researchers surveyed nearly 100 restaurant and shopping center managers, asking them about breastfeeding in their facilities. Only one third of the restaurant managers and less than half (48 percent) of the shopping center managers said that mothers can breastfeed anywhere in their facilities regardless of what other customers might say.
The remaining two thirds of the restaurant managers and 52 percent of shopping center managers said they would either discourage breastfeeding anywhere in their facility, suggested a mother move to private area, or they were unsure how they would react.
The researchers concluded that the, "..variability in support for breastfeeding by managers of restaurants and shopping centers will continue to create uncertainty for mothers wishing to breastfeed in these public places."