Breastfeeding in Public Laws & Tips (2020 Update)

​Breastfeeding in Public Laws & Tips (20​20 Update)

​If you're accustomed to breastfeeding your baby exclusively, then breastfeeding in public (BIP) may not seem like such a big deal to you.

If you live in the western world, it is absolutely fine and does not require a second thought besides finding a fairly private place to do so.

However, what if you learned that you could actually be breaking laws by breastfeeding in public? If this question caught you off guard, it is important that you read this article to the end and don't leave anything to chance.

After all, we're just trying to ensure our baby is well provided for, is that a crime?

Let's find out exactly what the law says.

Is It Legal To ​Breastfeed in Public In The USA?

​Today, it is perfectly legal to breastfeed in public in all US states, with the last remaining holdout of Idaho passing the law to protect breastfeeding moms in February 20​20[1].

And yet while it isn't expressly a given that breastfeeding is legal in all the states, there is at least a minimal level of modification that makes it permissible. No woman has been prosecuted for indecent exposure when it comes to BIP [2].

For instance, South Dakota and Virginia instead exempt breastfeeding mothers in public from their public nudity or indecency laws, while virtually all other countries today make it absolutely permissible.

Above all else, know your rights and you can comfortably breastfeed without fear.

Why Is ​Breastfeeding ​In Public An Issue?

​The whole issue of breastfeeding in public being inappropriate stems from two things​: perception and your discretion.

Many people who are against breastfeeding in public base their arguments on the sexuali​​zation of the breasts.

In the minds of these people, the breast is solely associated with being sexual in nature, and hence not suitable for public exposure.

On the other hand​ are mothers who blatantly show no discretion when needing to breastfeed.

We understand that you may forget home a cover shawl or blanket occasionally, but there are mothers who have no consideration when it's time to feed, and their exposure in reality borders on indecent exposure.

The Arguments Against Breastfeeding ​In Public

​Persons who are opposed to breastfeeding in public usually justify their beliefs with the same template reasons over and over again.

Given​ that you cannot easily change one's beliefs, even though they are very weak arguments, to begin with.

The most common ones encountered include [3]:

1) It Is Illegal

​Many people try to instill fear into breastfeeding moms who may not know any better by claiming that it is illegal to do so in the particular area you are currently in (of course) and that they will call the cops on your for indecent exposure if you don't stop right now.

Of course, this is a flawed claim and one that can easily be debunked given that you know your rights. Then, if they do decide to follow through on their fake claims, the only one likely to end up in trouble is the troublemaker as the law makes provisions for moms. Heck, a harassment charge can be leveled against them.

2) It Is Indecent

​If the legal fallacy is debunked, the next best thing is to appeal to your morality, right? This is the approach most anti-feeders take, telling you that you have no shame and are a "loose woman".

Their argument is based on the fact that breasts are considered one of a woman's private areas, and need not be revealed in public, regardless of the reason.

They see no problem in scantily clad women parading through the streets, however, in low cut tops that may show much more than a mother discreetly feeding her child.

3) It Is Dangerous To You

​Not dangerous in the sense that it causes an illness, but rather that is can leave you prone to danger. This is probably the best argument that can be mustered, even though it is a far cry from what may actually happen.

A sensible woman will not go breastfeed in an alleyway with known drug addicts, exposing herself to real harm, but will do so discreetly in a semi-public area.

True, there are sickos in the world, but the odds of you encountering a dangerous situation is extremely thin.

​Breastfeeding ​In Public Controversy

​Over the past few decades, there have been notable occurrences of public breastfeeding controversies, sensationalized by the media at the time.

While some of the events were indeed controversial to an extent, breastfeeding above all else shows compassion on the part of a mother. A couple notable controversies to arise over the past 20 years include [4]:

  • ​A Black Woman Breastfeeding During Her College Graduation - a 25-year-old woman who decided to feed her baby during her graduation in 2014 stirred up a lot of negative comments all based on her decision to feed her child during the ceremony. Many of the comment involved race, which in reality should not have been an issue as a woman of any race might have done the exact same thing.
  • ​Breastfeeding Mother on The Cover of TIME Magazine -​ in 2012 a 26-year-old mother was featured on the cover breastfeeding her 3-year-old child, firing up another debate of inappropriateness. Death threats even followed the brave mother, who just wanted to break the stigma associated with public displays of breastfeeding.
  • ​Breastfeeding Woman Kicked Off Of Plane [5] - a woman was ordered to get off of a Delta airlines flight in 2006 by a flight attendant who felt that she was exposing herself inappropriately while feeding her 22-month-old child. The woman claims that she was breastfeeding in a window seat, with her husband offering coverage in the aisle seat. Nevertheless, the attendant offered a blanket and the mother declined, prompting the order to get off. The airline later voiced their support for women who choose to breastfeed, and eventually settled with the woman after she filed civil lawsuits against them.

Breastfeeding ​In Public Statistics

​Breastfeeding in public can be embarrassing to the mother, but in many cases is unavoidable and considered perfectly natural.

Data published by the Lansinoh Global breastfeeding survey in 201​5 found that overall, the majority of countries polled reacted favorably to breastfeeding in public, even though many frowned upon breastfeeding past the age of 2 years.

breastfeeding in public statistics

​Likewise, in due manner, an annual survey conducted by SummerStyles / HealthStyles in collaboration with the CDC[6] revealed the generally supportive stance of the majority of American over the age of 18 years, even though quite a large proportion of those surveyed are undecided whether they support or disprove of offering mothers special privileges.


# Analyzed Respondents


​Neither Agree/Disagree


I am comfortable when mother breastfeed their babies near me in a public place, such as a shopping center, bus station, etc.





I believe women should have the right to breastfeed in public places.





Women should be encouraged to breastfeed.





Public buildings need to have a room where women could breastfeed and pump milk for their babies.





A mother needs lots of support to breastfeed her baby.





I believe employers should provide extended maternity leave to make it easier for mother to breastfeed.





I would support financial incentives for employers who make special accommodation to make it easier for mother to breastfeed.





There should be paid maternity leave to workers.





Foods that babies eat influence what they eat as older children.





Baby and toddler foods should not have added sugar.





Is Breastfeeding ​In Public Without A Cover Illegal?

​To a large extent, the answer to this question depends on where you live.

In general, if you live in the United States, it is not illegal to breastfeed in public without a cover, even if the breast if partially exposed [7].

Some states clearly make it known that it is not illegal in any manner, while others do not give such clear-cut answers. At a minimum, you are protected from indecent exposure laws.  

The best thing to do?

Use your discretion.

The need to cover or lack thereof depends heavily on learning to read the room.

If you are in a park where lots of other moms feed openly, observe their patterns. Similarly, some neighborhoods are much more conservative than others when it comes to breastfeeding. You do not want to offend people by just being oblivious.

Start by wearing clothing especially suited to making breastfeeding as private as possible, with specially crafted panels that offer modesty.

The best approach is to try to cover yourself as much as possible because not doing it does nothing to support your desire to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding ​At Work​ - My Boss Doesn't Willingly Let Me Do So, How Do I Deal?

BIP At Work

Effective 2010, a federal law was passed (in the USA) making it mandatory that employers provide a reasonable time for breast milk expression, in a private area away from the public.

They must make provisions for this practice up to the point of the baby becoming 1 year old (at a minimum). Many employers today make provisions for mothers past this one year mark as well, as compassion generally trumps.

What your employer is not obligated to do is pay you for these breaks, but it is your right to take these breaks as deemed necessary [8].

Why Is Breastfeeding ​In Public Wrong In Many Countries?

​Sadly, up until recently, many countries still do not actively promote breastfeeding, owing to one reason or another, but in many cases, cultural beliefs [9].

For example, in most parts of the US, Europe, and the Western World, breastfeeding in public is the norm, and generally does not warrant any intervention.

However, this is not as clear-cut in many other places.

For example, a few countries in Africa, while not expressly prohibiting it, do place mothers in a rather uncomfortable spot in making decisions that no mothers should have to.

​Based off of cultural myths, a mother might have to choose between her husband and baby, as some cultures say that women cannot breastfeed and have a sexual relationship with her husband.

​This makes it so that mother needs to choose to keep her husband (as he is not expected to abstain) or provide nourishment for her baby.

In other parts of the world, such as in Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia, it is expressly forbidden to express the breast in public, be that for breastfeeding or anything else.

In India, though it is not against the law, culturally many women choose not to breastfeed as it is believed only the poorest in the country do so and attach an unnecessary stigma to the act.

Celebrity​ ​Breastfeeding ​In Public - The Perfect Advocates

​When it comes to breastfeeding in public, the perfect advocates are celebrities, who can help to break social taboos and show that it is absolutely fine to do.

Celebrities including Gwen Stefani, Olivia Wilde, and Gisele Bundchen have all been photographed while breastfeeding [10] and going about their daily routine, as they aptly put it "no part of me is complete without showing my side as a mother".

This is exactly what needs to be relayed to the parts of society that frown on the practice, as many people look up to these celebrities as a source of inspiration.

Even more notable was Salma Hayek's visit to an impoverished African nation, where she openly breastfed an African child [11].

While this stirred up quite a bit of controversy, it also showed the compassionate side of a mother, who just wants to take care of helpless babies.

It's especially tough in certain African states where HIV transmission rates are high via breastfeeding, leaving mothers sometimes unable to provide for their babies owing to this reason.

Nevertheless, this did not hamper her motherly instincts from kicking in.

​Tips For Breastfeeding In Public

1) Know Your Rights

​Before you first attempt to breastfeed in public, be sure to learn your rights. For example, if you are living in the US, you are unlikely to run into much opposition if you choose to do so, but in other countries, it is not necessarily fair game [12].

In some places, it is even illegal for someone to prevent you from breastfeeding, as discrimination charges are likely for that individual. It is better to start informing yourself during your pregnancy, since if breastfeeding is important to you it is essential to know your rights.

2) Master Breastfeeding At Home

​Before stepping out into the great outdoors try as much as possible to master proper breastfeeding technique. There is nothing more frustrating than struggling with a latch, all while your baby cries incessantly.

It may seem intimidating finding the perfect position when breastfeeding in public the first few things, but with sufficient practice at home, the learning curve is much shorter.

3) Dress For The Occasion

​Listen, we all love to dress up and look stunning, but when there is a high probability that you will need to breastfeed, you need to be practical.

Dress in something that makes it easy to get the breast out, and offers some degree of coverage at the same time [13].

Wearing nursing tank tops under your clothing makes virtually any top breastfeeding friendly, and is something I advise most mothers take advantage of.

4) Walk With A Blanket Or Nursing Cover

​Instead of putting yourself in the uncomfortable position of having to entertain a debate about why you're not covering, why not just save yourself the trouble?

Walk with a cover blanket. Nursing covers actually give you greater freedom while adjusting yourself, as you do not risk accidentally flashing someone as you try to get the perfect latch [14].

As your child grows, you may experience resistance with covers as she may not want the blanket on, but while your baby is young there is literally no reason to not use one.

5) Don't Use Bathroom Stalls

​Sometimes in desperation, it is likely (it is actually still very common) that you would retreat to the safety of a bathroom stall, even though this should never be the case.

Would you prepare milk for your baby or eat in one of those filthy stalls? We think not.

Don't be afraid to speak up, if it's at a restaurant, ask a manager. They may willingly offer you an empty booth or table in a quiet corner with not a lot of foot traffic, or if you're in a park, move to a bench that is a little distance from busy areas.

There are many others options you can take advantage of, none of which need to be a bathroom stall.

6) Don't Be Intimidated By Unpleasant Remarks

When confronted by ignorant people, your first response may be to lash out. However, a little more diplomatic response may be the way to go.

If someone confronts you for being inappropriate, a simple well-crafted response along the lines of "my baby is hungry, so I'm feeding her.

Now please excuse me you're making me feel uncomfortable" should suffice nicely and do the job most of the time [15].

By emphatically making it known that the person is making you uncomfortable you also have an added defence in the event they wish to make themselves a public spectable.

​7) Learn Your Baby's Cues

​After feeding for a while, you learn how frequently your baby nurses, and general temperament along with other factors only you will know.

Thus, if you know your baby feeds every 3 hours almost like clockwork, do not wait for the 3-hour mark to trigger a crying session and draw attention to you needing to breastfeed as well.

​Final Words

​For the most part, breastfeeding in public should not be an awkward experience, though some people may seem bent on making it difficult.

If you live in the United States or many European and Westernized countries, it is legal for you to breastfeed in public without fear of repercussions.

Just keep in mind- aim for modesty and nurse discreetly when you can. Walk with your nursing covers and above all, know your rights.

Don't be intimidated by people who don't respect your rights, and as always do what's in the best interest of your baby.

Feel more confident about breastfeeding in public now?

Share this with someone else who may feel uneasy about breastfeeding and help them ease their fears.

Have any other tips for ​breastfeeding in public?

Comment below and let us know!

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