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Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding in Public

By Elizabeth Pantley, Author of Gentle Baby Care

In many parts of the world, the sight of a nursing mother is an ordinary aspect of daily life. In our society, however, some people are still uncomfortable seeing a mother breastfeed in public. Slowly but surely, though, people are coming to see breastfeeding as the natural, normal way of feeding a baby that it is. And thanks to public education campaigns, people are becoming more knowledgeable about the many benefits of breastfeeding.

Your legal right to breastfeed

Society has conditioned many people to view breasts only from a sexual standpoint and not as a body part with a crucial biological function - to feed a baby. Breastfeeding is the natural default for baby feeding - not bottlefeeding - yet no one harangues a woman who is feeding her baby from a bottle in a public place. If anyone even suggests that you shouldn't be feeding your baby in public, be aware that you are well within your rights. Keep in mind that it’s the onlooker’s problem, not yours.

From a legal perspective, you have a right to breastfeed your baby in public anywhere in the United States. Some states have gone so far as to implement specific legislation to that effect to protect the rights of both babies and their mothers; these states have set out legal consequences for violations, too. As of this writing, 17 states have passed laws that say you can breastfeed your baby in any public or private location; thirteen more exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. This may lead you to believe that the act is legal only in those states with legislation. The fact is, you have a legal right to breastfeed your baby in public even without a specific law. Don't be shy about letting an impolite person know this. For more information about the legal aspects of breastfeeding in public, check out the website of Elizabeth N. Baldwin, an attorney who specializes in this issue.

In Canada, the Human Rights Code protects women from discrimination on the basis of sex. Breastfeeding in public is not specifically labeled as a protected activity; however, many people are lobbying to explicitly include breastfeeding under this human rights code.

What about breastfeeding when in foreign countries? It’s best to respect the customs native to the country you are visiting. Even if you think you should breastfeed wherever you please, it’s important to understand and adhere to local customs. If you don't see other women breastfeeding their babies, then ask around. Talk to a woman with young children, ask a health professional, or do a little research. Once you know what is typically acceptable, then you can proceed confidently without risk of offending anyone, breaking a law, or embarrassing yourself.

Getting comfortable breastfeeding in public

Although you have the right to feed your baby in public, there is still the issue of your feelings about doing so. Each woman has her own comfort level. Most women want to find the right balance of pride and modesty - not overly exposing themselves, while feeling comfortable knowing that people are aware that they are breastfeeding. You'll probably need some practice with the particulars, simply because breastfeeding is a function that involves a private part of your anatomy that is normally not exposed in public. Wanting to be discreet doesn't mean that you are embarrassed or ashamed to feed your baby; it simply means that you don't want to cause yourself or others social discomfort.

The biggest issue for most new mothers is learning how to get settled with your baby modestly. Even a new mother who is breastfeeding with ease at home may fumble and struggle when she perceives that she has an audience; her tension then causes her impatient baby to cry. That only deepens the feeling that all eyes are on her. The reality is that most people are paying attention to their own activities and their own private conversations, by and large ignorant of what’s happening with other people. Once you become adept breastfeeding discreetly, you'll be able to comfortably nurse your baby anywhere. All it takes is a little practice.

PARENT TIP

“Always remember that what you are doing is necessary, beautiful, and miraculous. Breastfeed your baby with pride.”

Deborah, mother to
Peter (five), Jeremy (three), and Claire (one)

Tips for breastfeeding in public


For more information

La Leche League International

INFACT Canada

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action

This article is an excerpt from Gentle Baby Care by Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)

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Donate by mail: Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation, 5890 Monkland Ave, Suite 16, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H4A 1G2.


© 2002-2017 Dr. Lenore Goldfarb, PhD, CCC, IBCLC, ALC and contributing authors to AskLenore.info. All rights reserved.


Disclaimer: All material provided in asklenore.info is provided for educational purposes only. Consult your physician regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation.

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