Issue Report: Breastfeeding in public

Should women breastfeed in public? Should it be legal and protected?

Breastfeeding in public has been a topic of debate for years. Many laws around the world make public breastfeeding legal and disallow companies from prohibiting it in the workplace. But, some people are uncomfortable with seeing a mother breastfeed her baby, and feel that private businesses and places should have the right to discourage and prohibit breastfeeding as a means maintaining the comfort of their customers. The main questions involved in this debate include the following: Should it be legal and should it be specifically protected in all walks of life, both in public places and private businesses? Is it fundamentally important to babies health? And, what about mothers’ health? Is it important to the bond between mother and child? Is public breastfeeding decent? Even if some people feel uncomfortable about it, should they be made to tolerate it? Should the onus be on onlookers to overt their eyes, instead of on breastfeeders to go somewhere else? Is public breastfeeding a fundamental right for women? Does restricting it limit the mobility of women and their right to raise their children how they see fit and on a consistent breastfeeding schedule? A separate but important topic is whether women should breast feed in full-view (with the whole breast showing) or “discreetly” while in public? (See: Debate: Full-view vs discreet breastfeeding in public) But, this article starts with the basic question of whether any kind of breast-feeding (discreet or full-view) should be allowed and legally protected in public places?

Babies' health: Is breastfeeding important to babies' health?

Breastfeeding is best for the health and development of babies

According to the World Health Organization, “Infants should be exclusively breastfed – i.e. receive only breast milk – for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. ‘Exclusive breastfeeding’ is defined as giving no other food or drink – not even water – except breast milk.”[1]

Public breastfeeding allows feeding whenever baby is hungry

Lindsey Nelson. "Breastfeeding Mothers Deserve Freedom of Movement." FirstRight Advisory Council Member on Opposing Views:

In order to achieve an optimal breastfeeding relationship, it is recommended that women breastfeed their child directly from the breast at the first hunger cues[2]. Children, especially the youngest babies, do not often have predictable feeding schedules and should not be required to wait to be fed or nurtured. It is not uncommon for a child to nurse for twenty or more minutes at a time and sometimes as often as once every hour or two[3]. Pumping milk into bottles for when the family is away from home, attempting to time outings around feedings or to slip away to a restroom or vehicle force mothers and children into isolation, may be detrimental to a successful breastfeeding relationship and are unrealistic expectations.”

Breastfeeding improves bond between mother and child

Breastfeeding is considered an important part of creating the life-long emotional bond between child and mother.

Mothers' health: Is it important to mother's health?

Breastfeeding improves health of mothers

Nancy Solomon. "Breastfeeding in Public Is a Basic Civil Right." WEnews. August 7, 2002

“breastfeeding offers significant health benefits to nursing mothers, including reduced risks of breast and other types of cancers, as well as osteoporosis.”

Breastfeeding can help new mothers lose weight

Some believe that breastfeeding during the first six months of a child’s life can help women lose weight during this period. This is because the body has to expend significant energy in producing milk for the child, and because the milk itself is made of significant quantities of fat, which must be derived from food that is eaten. If it is not given to the baby, it is retained inside a woman’s body.

Breastfeeding does not necessarily help women lose weight

Salma Hayek argued: “I gained a lot of weight, I had gestational diabetes. The pregnancy was really difficult for me. I thought, as soon as this baby is out, I’m just going to lose the weight super fast, because I’m going to breast feed, and everybody tells you that if you breastfeed it’s going to come out like this, it’s a lie! It’s not true. Except for a couple of exceptions, the only reason people lose weight like that when they’re breastfeeding, it’s because they’re not eating and they’re breastfeeding, and this is not good for the baby. You know how they tell you it takes nine months to get it, nine months to lose it? There are shortcuts, but it’s not good for the baby. So I’m taking my time. I’ve lost a lot, most of the weight, and I’m very proud of it because it’s been really hard work studying what kind of food to eat that’s healthy for me, healthy for the baby. But I’m still losing even if it’s slow, and I’ve been working out… and the rest is going to go when it’s time to go.”[2]

Legality: Should/is breastfeeding be legal/protect?

Breastfeeding in public is legal almost everywhere

Nancy Solomon. "Breastfeeding in Public Is a Basic Civil Right." WEnews. August 7, 2002:

“What many people do not know is that breastfeeding in public is legal in every state. A mother does not need to “cover up” or go somewhere more private. More than half of states have laws specifically protecting this right, but even in those that do not, it is still legal to breastfeed in public.”

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