Breastfeeding in Public: Moms, Know Your Rights

woman breastfeedingIf you’ve ever been challenged about your right to breastfeed your child in a public place, it’s important to know that the law in Massachusetts is on your side.

In this state, you can breastfeed in most public places where you and your child are otherwise lawfully permitted to be.

Breastfeeding is also exempt from public indecency laws in Massachusetts.

What’s more, no one can restrict, harass, or penalize a mom who’s breastfeeding her child, or ask you to leave, and civil action may be brought against anyone who violates this portion of the law.

Tips for Breastfeeding in Public

That said, it’s still possible that someone is unaware of the law and may take exception to your breastfeeding in public. Or perhaps there are certain people in your circle of family and friends you’d simply rather not breastfeed in front of, but you still want to be part of a social gathering or outing. To minimize the chance of a confrontation from someone who objects, or feeling uncomfortable while giving your child nourishment, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • Wear clothing that makes access fast and easy (such as a top that buttons in the front or that can lift from the waist).
  • Wear a scarf or wrap that can be used as a cover-up.
  • Face away from the room when latching.
  • At a restaurant, choose a table off to the side of the room, away from the flow of traffic.
  • Massachusetts law requires that employers provide a clean lactation room (not a bathroom!) for nursing mothers to pump breast milk during work hours. Many establishments also will allow patrons to use this room for breastfeeding. Simply call ahead of time to see if the establishment you’re planning to visit has such a resource.
  • Bring pumped breast milk in a bottle.

How to Handle Someone Who Challenges You

If someone still gives you a hard time about breastfeeding your baby in public, here are some tips on how to handle it:

  • Smile — a confident attitude can often soften the situation.
  • Give them the facts — should someone challenge you, emphasize the benefits of breastfeeding, and remind them they can simply look away.
  • Ignore them — if you don’t feel comfortable engaging with someone, don’t; you don’t have to justify your decision to breastfeed your baby.
  • Show your challenger your License to Breastfeed! The Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition has produced these “licenses” that succinctly explain your rights under the law.

Most important, always remember that what you’re doing is a beautiful, natural process that contributes to your baby’s health and well-being. And be assured that you’re entitled to breastfeed your baby in public without being harassed — or feeling defensive. That’s the law.

This blog post is part of our Simply Women initiative that caters to the unique health care needs of women and their families.

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