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Breastfeeding State Laws

Health professionals and public health officials promote breastfeeding to improve infant health.

Both mothers and children benefit from breast milk. Breast milk contains antibodies that protect infants from bacteria and viruses. Breastfed children have fewer ear, respiratory and urinary tract infections and have diarrhea less often. Infants who are exclusively breastfed tend to need fewer health care visits, prescriptions and hospitalizations resulting in a lower total medical care cost compared to never-breastfed infants.

Breastfeeding also provides long-term preventative effects for the mother, including an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight and a reduced risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and osteoporosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 84 percent of infants are ever breastfed and 25 percent are breastfed exclusively through six months.

Federal Health Reform and Nursing Mothers

President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on March 30, 2010. (See the combined full text of Public Laws 111-148 and 111-152 here.) Among many provisions, Section 4207 of the law amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 (29 U.S. Code 207) to require an employer to provide 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 is not required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time for any work time spent for such purpose. The employer must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to express breast milk. If these requirements impose undue hardship, an employer that employs fewer than 50 employees is not subject to these requirements. The federal requirements shall not preempt a state law that provides greater protections to employees.

Location

Most US states now have laws that allow a mother to breastfeed her baby anywhere. In hospitals, rooming-in care permits the baby to stay with the mother and simplifies the process. Some commercial establishments provide breastfeeding rooms, although laws generally specify that mothers may breastfeed anywhere, without requiring a special area. Despite these laws, many women in the United States continue to be publicly shamed or asked to refrain from breastfeeding in public. In the United Kingdom, the Equality Act 2010 makes the prevention of a woman breastfeeding in any public place discrimination under the law. In Scotland, it is a criminal offense to try to prevent a woman feeding a child under 24 months in public.

Breastfeeding is a right for all mothers. Governments are obliged to make the necessary legal arrangements in order to use this right. There are many locations where the law can exercise this right granted to mothers. With the developed websites and applications, you can easily find these locations and use your right to breastfeed. If the company you work for cannot provide this opportunity, there are breastfeeding rooms in your state that are allocated for this purpose. You can use geolocation apps like whatmylocation.net to find the closest of these nursing rooms to you.

The laws guarantee the privacy of breastfeeding rooms. The Office of Women's Health makes a statement on this issue as follows:

Women will feel comfortable and safe when the door to the lactation room can be locked. If a lockable door is not possible, provide a sign outside the door with a clear policy to help prevent others from entering the space. "Do not disturb" doorknob hanger signs may be used. Curtains or partitions by the door might be needed to provide an additional layer of privacy when a door is opened from the outside.

Lactation spaces with windows should have shades or other ways to shield a nursing mother from view. Lactation spaces should never have surveillance cameras, webcams, or any type of visual recording device inside the room. Some companies do have standard surveillance outside of the lactation room to help ensure the safety of employees using the space.

Privacy should also be provided to individual users within a multi-user room. Curtains, screens, partitions, and cubicle dividers can create individual spaces within a larger multi-user room. Another option is to construct walls to create individual milk expression rooms within a lactation suite.

While laws in the U.S. that passed in 2010 which required that nursing mothers who had returned to work be given a non-bathroom space to express milk and a reasonable break time to do so, as of 2016 the majority of women still did not have access to both accommodations. As of 2018, some establishments have placed small portable nursing "pods" with electrical outlets for nursing pumps to provide their places of business with a comfortable private area to nurse or express milk. The Minnesota Vikings were the first (2015) NFL franchise to implement the lactation pods. In 2018 it was reported that the pod manufacturer had placed 152 of them in 57 airports.

In 2014, newly elected Pope Francis drew worldwide commentary when he encouraged mothers to breastfeed babies in church. During a papal baptism, he 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."