Breast Feeding in Public, to Be or not to Be?

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Breastfeeding in public is forbidden in some jurisdictions, not addressed by law in others, and a granted legal right in public and the workplace in yet others. Where it is a legal right, some mothers may nevertheless be reluctant to breastfeed, and some people may object to the practice.

breastfeeding naturalMany women have reported feeling uncomfortable breastfeeding in public, even doing so discreetly. But it is important to remember that you are feeding your baby. Breastfeeding is considered the healthiest option for baby and can be continued for more than one year. In some cases, back to back pregnancies can mean mom is still breastfeeding one child while pregnant with another.

Is breastfeeding while pregnant a safe option for mom and baby?

How does breastfeeding affect fertility?

You are not doing anything inappropriate.

And even though it may seem taboo in some places, awareness of the need to support new breastfeeding mothers is building.

The federal government and many states have laws that protect nursing women. These laws are based on the recognition of organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Public Health Association, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and the World Health Organization (WHO) that breastfeeding is the best choice for the health of a mother and her baby.

Even with the growing awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding, you may find it difficult to do so in public. Yet it is important to believe in yourself and your choice. Remind yourself that you can succeed and wear your confidence! Some tips for breastfeeding in public include:

Safety Warning

Follow the instructions for infant slings very carefully. Check in with the Consumer Product Safety Commission for warnings before buying a sling.
Wear clothes that allow easy access to your breasts, such as tops that pull up from the waist or button down.

Use a special breastfeeding blanket around your shoulders. Some babies do not like this, though, so you’ll have to see what works for your baby.
Breastfeed your baby in a sling. Slings or other soft infant carriers are especially helpful for traveling — it makes it easier to keep your baby comforted and close to you.

  • Slip into a women’s lounge or dressing room to breastfeed.
  • Practice at home so that you can ensure you are only being as revealing as you feel comfortable with.

la lecheIt helps to breastfeed your baby before he or she becomes fussy so that you have time to get into a comfortable place or position to feed. (Over time, you will learn your baby’s early hunger cues.)

When you get to your destination, scout out a place you can breastfeed, if that makes you feel more comfortable.

If someone criticizes you for breastfeeding in public, the La Leche League International offers a few different ways to respond:

  • Ignore the comment or change the subject.
  • Share information on breastfeeding with the other person.
  • Make a joke about the situation or yourself to lighten the mood.
  • Show that you are recognizing the person’s viewpoint by asking further questions without agreeing or responding to the criticism.
  • Be empathetic — show that you understand the other person’s feeling and meaning.

Most of all, it is important to remember that you are meeting your baby’s needs. It isn’t possible to stay home all the time and you can feel free to feed your baby while out and about. You should be proud of your commitment! Plus, no bottles and formula means fewer supplies to pack!

Attitudes by Country


Breastfeeding in public is a right for Australian women, protected nationally by the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. State legislation differs, but it remains illegal to discriminate against women breastfeeding in public as a protected attribute in five states and by proxy from other existing legislation in remaining states.


In Canada, Section 28 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives equal rights and freedoms to men and women, without explicitly mentioning breastfeeding. INFACT Canada (Infant Feeding Action Coalition) is a national non-governmental organization that aims to protect infant and young child health as well as maternal well-being through the promotion and support of breastfeeding and optimal infant feeding practices. It is an organization that provides support and education for Canadian mothers.

Outside of degrading or dehumanizing purposes, law regards the breasts of women in Canada as equal to the breasts of men in Canada. See Topfreedom in Canada.

A woman asked in 2009 at a shop by an employee to stop breastfeeding publicly, supported by a manager, later received an apology and acknowledgement of customers’ right to breastfeed.

A worker at the YMCA in St.John told a breastfeeding mother to leave the premises. The mother was in a private change room which costs fee every month, feeding her 7-month-old daughter. YMCA CEO Jason Brown apologized, stating “This situation has caused us to reflect and review, and certainly we see no reason why there should be a restriction to women breastfeed their babies in the adult-only change room.

Inuit Issues

Inuit children have the lowest breastfeeding rates amongst other Aboriginal populations, as well as the Canadian average. According to a 2006 statistics report, 24% of Inuit children have never been breastfed. There have been health promotion programs created in order to increase the knowledge of the benefits of breastfeeding amongst Inuit women.


In Shanghai, breastfeeding in public is considered embarrassing by some, but it is also accepted by many. There have been calls for the establishment of babycare facilities in public places. Traditionally, breastfeeding in public has been a non-issue in China.


Public breastfeeding is legal and widely accepted.


While public breastfeeding is widely accepted, especially since the Movement of 1968 when public “Nurse-Ins” (German: Still-Inns) were common, there is no legislation that specifically addresses breastfeeding in public.

Paragraph 2 Article 6 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany provides that “the care and upbringing of children as the natural right of parents” while paragraph 4 “entitles every mother to the protection and care of the community”.

Later, acceptance for public breastfeeding appears to have decreased and, according to surveys, an increasing number of mothers try to avoid breastfeeding in public whenever possible. In a Bundestag session a breastfeeding member of the SPD party had to leave the floor after members of the Christian Democratic Union complained that they felt disturbed by her.

India has no legal statute dealing with breastfeeding. Prevalence and social acceptance vary from region to region.


Discreet breastfeeding in public is accepted in Malaysia.


Public breastfeeding is common and widely social accepted. There are no laws against public breastfeeding. Dutch law states that when an employee wishes to breastfeed her baby the employer is obligated to provide the first 9 months after the birth a suitable nursing room and allow for 25% of work time to be spend on feeding the baby or pumping while on pay. After the first nine months the employer is still required to assure conditions for breastfeeding are met (like timely breaks, nursing rooms, safe environment, etc.) but does not have to pay anymore for the time spend on breastfeeding or pumping.


Public breastfeeding is widespread and uncontroversial.


In the Philippines, breastfeeding is protected by various laws, such as the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009 and the Milk Code of the Philippines (Executive Order 51). Mothers are allowed to breastfeed in public. Employers are required to allow lactating employees breaks to breastfeed or express breast milk. Offices, public establishments such as malls and schools, and government institutions are required to establish lactation stations separate from the bathroom, where mothers can breastfeed their babies or express milk. The Milk Code prohibits the advertising of infant formula or bottle teats for infants under two years old.

Saudi Arabia

Women in Saudi Arabia only breastfeed their infants discreetly. It is prohibited for women to show any part of the body in public except the face and the hands.

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. During a goodwill trip to the country, actress Salma Hayek breastfed on camera a hungry week-old infant whose mother could not produce milk. She said she did it to reduce the stigma associated with breastfeeding and to encourage infant nutrition.


The Public Breastfeeding Act since November 2010 safeguards the right to breastfeed in public, while lactation rooms are set up to deal with privacy and to provide access to hot water and power supplies, with fines against interfering with a mother’s right to breastfeed. After evicting a breastfeeding mother from the National Palace Museum on 18 July 2012 and enraging many Taiwanese website users, the supposedly offending employee and her employer were both fined 6000 new Taiwan dollars (about 200 United States dollars), said the Department of Health, Taipei City Government (Chinese: 臺北市政府衛生局), but the Museum would appeal.

United Kingdom

Breastfeeding in public (restaurants, cafes, libraries etc.) is protected under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 under the provision of goods, facilities and services section. If the child is under 6 months old, the mother has additional protection under a 2008 amendment to the act which protects maternity rights. This is superseded by the Equality Act 2010 which clarifies that a business must not discriminate against a woman who is breastfeeding a child of any age in a public place. Her companion(s) are also protected by this act.

A 2004 UK Department of Health survey found that 84% (about 5 out of 6 people) find breastfeeding in public acceptable if done discreetly; however, 67% (2 out of 3) of mothers were worried about general opinion being against public breastfeeding. To combat these fears in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation safeguarding the freedom of women to breastfeed in public in 2005. The legislation allows for fines of up to £2500 for preventing breastfeeding of a child up to the age of 2 years old in public places.

United States

In the United States, legislation regarding breastfeeding varies from state to state and a limited federal law only applies to federal government premises. A United States House of Representatives appropriations bill (HR 2490) contained an amendment specifically permitting breastfeeding was signed into law on September 29, 1999. It stipulated that no government funds may be used to enforce any prohibition on women breastfeeding their children in Federal buildings or on Federal property.

Further, a Federal law also enacted in 1999 specifically provides that “a woman may breastfeed her child at any location in a federal building or on federal property, if the woman and her child are otherwise authorized to be present at the location.”

Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act and required employers to provide a reasonable break time for an employee to breastfeed her child if it is less than one year old. The employee must be allowed to breastfeed in a private place, other than a bathroom. The employer is not required to pay the employee during the break time. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not required to comply with the law if doing so would impose an undue hardship to the employer based on its size, finances, nature, or structure of its business.

A number of incidents of harassment of nursing mothers which gained media attention prompted a number of U.S. states to act. All 50 states have passed legislation that either explicitly allows women to breastfeed in public, or exempts them from prosecution for public indecency or indecent exposure for doing so.

Recent Controversies

Breastfeeding at Work

Although, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms women are protected against discrimination, Canada was one of the only countries that did not have paid breastfeeding breaks. Over 86% of mothers breastfeed, many of them are forced to stop due to work restrictions.

Public breastfeeding

There have been incidents of owners of premises, or people present, objecting to or forbidding breastfeeding. In some cases the mothers have left; in others, where a law guaranteeing the right to breastfeed has been broken, there has been legal action. Sometimes a company has apologized after the fact.

One woman not allowed to breastfeed despite showing the Kentucky, USA law that gave the right left, but later organized several “nurse-in” protests in front of the restaurant and other public places.

In June 2007, Brooke Ryan was dining in a booth at the rear of an Applebee’s restaurant when she found it necessary to breastfeed her 7-month-old son.

While she said she attempted to be discreet, another patron complained to the manager about indecent exposure. Both a waitress and the manager asked her to cover up. She handed him a copy of the Kentucky law that permitted public breastfeeding, but he would not relent. She ended up feeding her son in her car and later organized “nurse-out” protests in front of the restaurant and other public locations. Most U.S. states (40 as of January 2009) have laws clarifying a woman’s right to breastfeed in public.

In 2008 a woman in New Orleans, USA put a tent over her truck at a street festival so she could nurse her daughter privately. She was cited by police for an “unauthorized booth” and removed from the street festival.

In 2014, newly elected Pope Francis drew world-wide commentary when he encouraged mothers to breastfeed in church if their babies were hungry. During a special papal baptism Pope Francis said that mothers “should not stand on ceremony” if their children were hungry. “If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice,” he said, smiling. “Because they are the most important people here.”

This is another one of those “why didn’t we think of that” products.

An infinity scarf nursing cover? Such a great idea.

Itzy Ritzy just released their new Nursing Happens Infinity Breastfeeding Scarf. We are big supporters of breastfeeding here at Project Nursery, and anything that makes it easier for moms is a plus.

breast feed Infinity-Scarf-Nursing-Cover

Infinity Scarf Nursing Cover

It’s funny because easy feeding on-the-go is a big benefit of breastfeeding—no carrying supplies, no mixing, no cooling, no cleanup—but it’s also one of those things that can be difficult for new moms to feel comfortable doing. We love that this infinity scarf nursing cover can be with you all the time, and it truly makes breastfeeding while out simple, streamlined and discreet.

With scarves becoming more popular in all seasons, this scarf will fit right in with your wardrobe. Wear it in a double loop as a scarf and a single loop as a nursing cover.

Karlesha Thurman at her graduation ceremony#breastfeedingis the Hashtag on Twitter that addresses all commentary on Breast Feeding.

Karlesha Thurman wasn’t looking for controversy when she posted a picture of herself breastfeeding at her graduation ceremony on Facebook.

“I found out I was pregnant [in] my last year of college,” the 25-year-old American wrote. “She was my motivation to keep going, so me receiving my BA was OUR moment.”

Nevertheless after the image went viral, Thurman faced an onslaught of sexist criticism. Commenters bemoaned her “inappropriate” behavior; others indulged in some misogynistic name-calling. “Nobody told her to hoe around in 3rd period She should’ve been doing her work & maybe she wouldn’t be breastfeeding during her graduation”, offered one charming Twitter user.

Comment is free Attacks on breastfeeding mothers speak to a far bigger online problem.

The abuse generated by a picture of a student breastfeeding at her graduation is an indication of the scale of woman-shaming on the web.

Facebook controversy

breastfeeding issues on FB

Facebook has come under fire for removing photos of mothers breastfeeding their children, citing offensive content in violation of the Facebook Terms of Service. Facebook claimed that these photos violated their decency code by showing an exposed breast, even when the baby covered the nipple. This action was described as hypocritical, since Facebook took several days to respond to calls to deactivate a paid advertisement for a dating service that used a photo of a topless model.

The breastfeeding photos controversy continued following public protests and the growth in the online membership in the Facebook group titled “Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene! (Official petition to Facebook).” In December 2011 Facebook removed photos of mothers breastfeeding and, after public criticism, restored them. The company said it had removed the photos because they violated the pornographic rules in the company’s terms and conditions. During February, 2012, the company once again removed photos of mothers breastfeeding. Founders of a Facebook group “Respect the Breast” reported that “women say they are tired of people lashing out at what is natural and what they believe is healthy for their children.”

Breast Feeding in Public, to Be or not to Be?


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