Leading health organizations such as the World Health Organization recommend breastfeeding for two years and beyond.
Despite this, in some parts of the world people still feel uncomfortable about women breastfeeding in public – particularly if they’re not doing it ‘discreetly’.
Society tells mothers breastfeeding is a very important thing to do.
It’s hypocritical then if society doesn’t support breastfeeding in public.
If society is to continue to encourage breastfeeding and promote breastfeeding, then society must regard breastfeeding in public places as perfectly acceptable.
Some people associate breastfeeding with a sexual act. This is because breasts are viewed as sexual objects in our society. Although there is plenty of educational material on this subject, people still tend to forget that there is nothing wrong with nursing a baby in public.
In Western societies, many women wear revealing clothing, and the sight of exposed and semi-exposed breasts in public places is widely accepted.
It seems contradictory that breastfeeding in public should be perceived as being scandalous or ‘indiscreet’.
Any breastfeeding mother who has to wrangle a diaper bag, other children, and a screaming baby in a shopping mall knows there’s absolutely nothing sexual about whipping a breast out of a tank top to breastfeed.
Women have breasts for a clear biological purpose: to nourish and nurture babies.
Nasty looks in shopping areas and other public spaces cause nursing mothers to feel they are involved in illegal behavior or indecent exposure. In fact, state legislatures protect public nursing.
Breastfeeding in public is protected by law.
Despite this, many breastfeeding mothers feel uncomfortable nursing their babies in public.
Social stigma related to breastfeeding in public spaces negatively affects women who want to breastfeed.
Some mothers might choose to practice nursing in a private space, such as a fitting room, to avoid negative comments.
Some women might breastfeed their baby daughter using a nursing cover.
Other women don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public at all. This might mean they need to express milk for bottle-feeding or give their baby infant formula.
In fact, both you and your baby have the right to this natural behavior and have nothing to be ashamed of.
This is what some people do not understand. Breastfeeding is easier and healthier than using other milk formulas.
Not all babies accept bottle-feeding, especially those who usually breastfeed exclusively; this makes feeding them in public spaces impossible.
Older babies are easily distracted and won’t be happy to feed if they aren’t comfortable (e.g. with a nursing cover over their heads). This distraction while feeding means they might not finished eating.
A breastfeeding woman shouldn’t have to wrestle a screaming baby under a nursing cover to avoid nasty looks and negative comments while feeding her baby in public places.
Although most nursing mothers are aware of their breastfeeding rights, negative comments and nasty looks lead to women finding ways to avoid public breastfeeding.
All women around the world have breasts but not all of them are mothers. Not everyone has an opportunity to breastfeed and nurse a baby.
Women should have full support in public nursing and feeding their babies. They shouldn’t need to carry a diaper bag or nursing cover just to be acceptable and not be harassed by other people.
Breastfeeding in public around the world
Regardless of what people might think, breastfeeding in public is protected by law in many countries around the world. State legislatures should have such laws because breastfeeding moms need to be protected at all costs.
This is often done by national conferences around the world. An example is the Ontario Human Rights Commission that develops policies and provides human rights.
Let’s look at what various countries have to say about breastfeeding in public.
Breastfeeding in public in Australia
Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984, breastfeeding in Australia is a right, not a privilege.
It’s against the law to prohibit a mother from breastfeeding her baby in any place she is legally able to be, regardless of her age, or because her breast is exposed while feeding her baby. It’s also against the law to discriminate against a mother on the grounds she is breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding in public in the UK
In the national conference in the UK, the Equality Act 2010 indicates that to treat a woman less favorably, on the grounds she is breastfeeding, is regarded as discrimination.
Discrimination can include refusing to provide a service, providing a lower quality service, or providing a service on different terms. A restaurant owner, for example, can’t make a woman stop breastfeeding her baby, or refuse to serve her.
Women can breastfeed without a nursing cover in public places such as public buildings, public transport, parks, sports facilities, shops, restaurants, restaurant booths, hospitals, theatres, cinemas, and petrol stations.
Nursing moms in the US
In almost all 50 states in the US, the law protects breastfeeding in public.
In 47 states, the federal property in Washington DC and the Virgin Islands, there are laws that specifically allow mothers to breastfeed a baby in public.
Two of the remaining states (South Dakota and Virginia) exempt nursing moms from indecent exposure or nudity laws.
Idaho is the only US state which has yet to pass any similar laws.
Currently, in Idaho, the only protection nursing mothers have is an exemption from jury duty.
Breastfeeding in public in the Philippines
In the Philippines, breastfeeding is protected by various laws, including the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009 and the Milk Code of the Philippines.
In addition, employers in the Philippines must allow breastfeeding employees breaks to breastfeed or express their breast milk.
Offices, public places (e.g. shopping malls and schools) must provide lactation stations, where mothers can breastfeed their babies or express breast milk. These stations must be separate from the bathrooms.
Breastfeeding in public in Europe
Public breastfeeding in Europe is widely accepted and legal.
In the national conference of Netherlands, the law states that for the first 9 months an employer is obligated to provide a breastfeeding mother with a suitable breastfeeding room and allow for 25% of work time to be spent on breastfeeding or expressing.
In other parts of Europe, public breastfeeding just is. There might not be specific laws to protect breastfeeding moms but it’s so commonplace laws are not needed.
Breastfeeding in public in Africa
While there are no laws in Africa about public breastfeeding, in many parts of the continent breastfeeding in public is the norm. Babies are typically carried around on their mother’s back and are moved around to the front for feeding.
Babies who are carried by their moms for most of the day tend not to cry very much.
In fact, in Africa, it’s assumed a baby who is crying is being carried around by a woman other than the baby’s mother.
That’s because if she were the mother, everyone would simply expect the woman to breastfeed the baby.
Breastfeeding in public in Nepal
In Nepal, breastfeeding is considered a must for mothers.
The country doesn’t have any particular laws about public breastfeeding but it is common and widely accepted.
Given the importance of breastfeeding, it is essential mothers feel confident about breastfeeding in public.
This is because if mothers don’t see other mothers doing it, it reinforces the idea breastfeeding is something to be done only in a private space.
Breastfeeding, in fact, should be done whenever and wherever a baby needs to be fed.
In the same way that people shouldn’t be prevented from eating whenever they are hungry, feeding a baby should not be a problem either.
Breastfeeding older children in public
No matter the age of your child, public breastfeeding is protected by law.
Depending on which part of the world you’re in, a woman breastfeeding an older child might receive more public disapproval than a woman breastfeeding a younger baby.
Breastfeeding in public is perfectly acceptable for every mother and child, regardless of age.
All state legislatures around the world should create concrete support for all mothers who nurse and breastfeed their babies in public, so that diaper bag and covers are no longer needed.
Breastfeeding mothers ‘nurse in’ (Australia)
In 2021 in Queensland, Australia, one woman was approached in a shopping center by another woman who felt uncomfortable seeing her breastfeeding in public.
It was suggested to the breastfeeding mother she would be more comfortable nursing her child in a private space. After refusing to move until her baby had finished nursing, the breastfeeding woman was asked to leave the ‘high-end’ section of the center.
After she took to social media to share her experience, many mothers were outraged and arranged a public ‘nurse in’.