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You’re a law-abiding citizen and a breastfeeding mom. Here’s what you need to know about U.S. laws and your rights
Breastfeeding is a natural thing, but it’s normal to feel a bit nervous when you first nurse in public or pump at work. Is anyone watching? Am I doing it in an acceptable space? Am I allowed to take a break from work to pump? Unfortunately, not everyone you encounter will be educated on breastfeeding and the laws surrounding it. The good news? The law is on your side. We’ve put together an overview of important U.S. laws that protect breastfeeding moms. Use this as a personal reference and allow it to give you a boost of confidence next time you feel a little outside of your comfort zone.
Nursing in public
Laws about breastfeeding in public are determined at the state level. Believe it or not, it took until 2018, but it’s now legal to breastfeed in any public or private location in all 50 states. Utah and Idaho were the last states to legalize breastfeeding in public.
For many states, the law says a mother can breastfeed anywhere she’s “authorized” or “has a right to be.” The tricky part comes in when someone wrongfully asks you to move or leave a public location. If a business owner asks you to leave, are you still authorized to be there? The law also doesn’t really give insight into what to do if it’s violated. If you feel you’ve been discriminated against, you can follow up with a legal response.
Unfortunately, there is some vagueness in the legislation regarding whether a nursing mom needs to cover up. Thirty states explicitly exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. The bottom line: You’re legally allowed to breastfeed in public. Whether you cover up or not is up to your comfort level.
Pumping at work
When it comes to pumping at work, you are protected by federal law with the Fair Labor Standards Act. This legislation requires an employer to “provide a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express milk.” The employer must also provide a private place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to express breast milk. However, the employer is not required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time for any work time spent pumping. And an employer that employs fewer than 50 employees may not be subject to these requirements if they impose undue hardship—that is, “significant difficulty or expense.”
Some states have additional workplace breastfeeding protections, so be sure to check into your state’s workplace breastfeeding laws.
Because each state determines its laws regarding breastfeeding, it’s important to be familiar with your state’s legislation. The National Conference of State Legislatures has published a list of state statutes related to breastfeeding. You’ll see there is specific legislation regarding childcare facilities, schools, jury duty, hospitals, airports, as well as breastfeeding awareness and education campaigns.
Laws passed in 2019
Legislation in the breastfeeding space continues to make progress. In July 2019, the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act was signed into public law. This act requires certain public buildings that contain a public bathroom to also provide a lactation room that is open to members of the public. The room cannot be a bathroom and must be hygienic.
This act applies to places such as Capitol Hill, Senate and House office buildings, the Smithsonian buildings, courthouses and other federal agencies across the nation. Previously, these buildings were required to provide a space for employees to pump while at work, but the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act now extends that to include visitors to these locations.
As you head into the new year, we encourage you to stay informed, be your own advocate and tune out criticism. You are doing an important job feeding your baby. How, when and where you choose to breastfeed—whether that’s nursing or pumping—is no one’s business but your own. Have questions about breastfeeding, nursing in public or pumping at work? Get in touch with our Ashland Breast Pumps team. We’re here to support you!