Breastfeeding in Public: Know Your Rights!

When my second son was about 3 months old a dear childhood friend of mine asked if I would stand up in her summer wedding. Of course I was honored and excited. Being the unconventional woman that she is, she wanted us to pick out our own bridesmaids dresses. While most friends might appreciate this freedom, I almost preferred being assigned a poofy, lacey, hot pink, over-priced bridesmaid dress that would surely be ordered 3 sizes too big so the store could make additional money on alternations. Honestly that seemed easier to me than picking out my own dress. I’m terrible when it comes to fashion and not a fan of shopping at.all However I am willing to do most things in the name of friendship, even if it includes braving the mall in search of a nondescript bridesmaid dress.

I brought my 3 month old with me on this mission since he was exclusively breastfed at the time and I had no idea how long this mission would take to complete. Upon entering the department store I felt lost among the sea of choices not knowing what was in style, what would fit my newly postpartum body, or what size I might be in a few months. One additional criteria was I had to be able to nurse in the dress. After some browsing I realized finding a breastfeeding accessible dress might prove to be my biggest challenge. Many of the dresses inspired visions of myself half naked in the reception hall bathroom trying to nurse my son who would be completely distracted by all the loud, tipsy wedding guests coming and going.

About an hour into the shopping trip my son began to fuss. He was hungry. I looked around scoping out a comfortable place for us to sit and nurse. I was in an upscale department store and there happened to be a nice, plush bench in the middle of the women’s section. It looked like the perfect place to park ourselves so he could nurse. By three months of age we were pretty adept at breastfeeding. He was able to latch on quickly and I was able to be discreet. After he had been nursing a few minutes a saleslady approached me suggesting that I “finish doing that in the dressing room”. It was actually a request disguised as a suggestion. I replied with a direct “No thank you. We are comfortable here.” A silent stare down ensued for what felt like an eternity before she finally walked away, huffing loudly. As soon as she left my heart started to beat fast. Please, oh please don’t get a manager and make this into a bigger confrontation, I thought to myself. See the thing is I knew my right to breastfeed my son in public and was prepared to exercise it as needed, however I simply wanted to nurse my son in peace and continue shopping. Thankfully she resumed her position behind the counter and resorted to shooting me occasional cold, angry glances. No big deal. I could cope with that especially because my son was fast and efficient when it came to nursing. He finished fairly quickly and we were ready to move away from the negative energy in that store.

Do you know that there are laws to protect the rights of breastfeeding mothers? Breastfeeding laws, like car seat laws, vary from state to state. As a breastfeeding mother it is important to be familiar with your state’s laws should you need to exercise your right to nurse in public. In AZ (where I reside) the law allows mothers to breastfeed any age child in any public domain without needing to cover up or risk being cited for “indecent exposure”. My local La Leche League group suggests that if you are breastfeeding in public and asked to move, respond by asking “am I allowed to be here with my child if  I was not breastfeeding?” If the answer is yes, then you have every right to be there while breastfeeding. I find having a clear response such as this tucked away to use if needed helps me feel more confident in knowing how to handle such a situation. Your response might vary per state so be sure to understand your state’s specific language regarding breastfeeding in public.

I encourage you to confidently nurse your baby wherever YOU feel comfortable knowing that the law supports a baby’s RIGHT to acess mother’s milk in public!

Have you ever had a confrontation regarding breastfeeding in public? If so how did you repsond?


By the way in case you were curious here is the bridesmaid dress I ended up getting. That’s my two year old with a ridiculously forced smile and my nursling who wanted nothing to do with the photographer. And me…pre-dreads and *gasp* with makeup on!




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3 Responses to “Breastfeeding in Public: Know Your Rights!”

  1. Sarah J says:

    I am currently 8 months pregnant with my first and plan to breastfed. I must say I have been encouraged by your post and other mamas fighting for their right to lovingly feed their children. I always smile when I see nursing moms and almost all of my friend nurse their babies. Heck my mom nursed me and has always spoken of breastfeeding in a positive way. I am now going to look up my rights and be ready with a response. I hope I can come up with a non snarky one, hehe.

  2. Amy says:

    We have a lot of problems with moms getting terrible treatment on our military installation. Our local support group has created a business card template for moms to print out and hand out with the language from H.R. Appropriations Act of 2005, which states
    “A woman may breastfeed her child anywhere on federal property where she and the child are otherwise authorized to be.”

    That way, moms can just hand the card out without even responding verbally. I’ve never had to use it, but I do keep a snarky response tucked away just in case “I may not like the way you eat, either, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to tell you you have to starve.”

  3. ashleigh says:

    Love that you were able to confidently stand up to her! I am hoping to nurse this second baby a lot longer. My son who is 15 months was only nursed for 7 weeks due to horrible latching and lack of support.