Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world—after all, our bodies were built to feed our babies. And yet, public breastfeeding continues to be a hot-button issue. Whether in a store or at the park, when people spot a mother nursing her child while out and about, it often sparks a debate. Breastfeeding bullies claim indecent exposure. But according to law, is breastfeeding in public legal? The answer is yes: You can nurse baby wherever, whenever you want (with the exception of one state—more on that below). And that’s important, because when baby is hungry, the last thing you want to think about is where you can go to feed him. Curious to know what federal breastfeeding law specifically says? How about what’s considered legal in your individual home state? Read on to learn about your breastfeeding rights and breastfeeding laws by state.
Federal Breastfeeding Law
When it comes to breastfeeding in public, women’s breastfeeding rights are determined at the state level. But the federal government does have a pumping at work law on the books. Thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed by President Obama in 2010, women have the legal right to pump at work.
By law, employers are required to provide a reasonable break time for employees to express breast milk for their children for up to one year after giving birth, according to the Department of Labor. All employers (with more than 50 employees) also have to provide a lactation room at work that’s shielded from view and free from intrusions—and the bathroom doesn’t qualify. “As a breastfeeding mom, you need to be comfortable,” says Michele Dwyer, RN, IBCLC at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in Syracuse, New York.“You need a sink to wash your equipment. And you need a quiet, clean environment to pump every two hours.”
Currently pregnant? Now’s the time to talk to your employer. Plan a time during your second or third trimester to talk with your managers about your plan to breastfeed after returning from maternity leave. Ask where you can pump, and explain how frequently you’ll need to do it. “Having a conversation in advance makes it much easier to work out the details,” Dwyer says. “By the time baby comes, everything will already be in place.”
Breastfeeding Laws by State
Good news for breastfeeding moms: Nearly every state (with the exception of Idaho) has laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed anywhere they’d like, in public or private. But while breastfeeding in public is legal, the 49 states with breastfeeding laws all have unique interpretations. Some focus exclusively on where you can breastfeed (i.e., anywhere), while others take the workplace and jury duty into consideration. Scroll down to find breastfeeding laws by state and learn what’s considered legal where you live.
Alabama breastfeeding laws
In Alabama, a mother can breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be present.
Alaska breastfeeding laws
Alaska law specifically states that a mom breastfeeding her baby, either publically or in private, cannot be considered “lewd conduct,” “lewd touching,” “immoral conduct,” “indecent conduct” or any other similar term, as long as the mom and child are authorized to be in that space. Furthermore, municipalities aren’t allowed to enact ordinances that prohibit or restrict women from breastfeeding their babies in public or private locations.
Arizona breastfeeding laws
In Arizona, breastfeeding laws say a mother can breastfeed in any public area where she is lawfully present, and specifically exempt breastfeeding from Arizona’s indecent exposure statute.
Arkansas breastfeeding laws
Arkansas enacted breastfeeding in public laws back in 2007 that exempt public breastfeeding from the indecent exposure law. Moreover, the statute states that a woman can breastfeed a child in any public place or where other people are present.
California breastfeeding laws
A mother can breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mom and child are authorized to be present. The only exception is another person’s private home or residence. Jury duty is optional for breastfeeding mothers, and all general acute care hospitals must provide a breastfeeding consultant to new moms during their hospital stay.
Colorado breastfeeding laws
Colorado is determined to “become involved in the national movement to recognize the medical importance of breastfeeding,” its legislation states—which is why a mother can breastfeed in any place she has a right to be, including the workplace.
Connecticut breastfeeding laws
In 1997, Connecticut enacted a law that prohibited any person from restricting or limiting a mom’s right to breastfeed her child. The state was also ahead of the game on enforcing laws that give mothers the right to express breast milk in the workplace, in a clean, secluded location made available by the employer.
Delaware breastfeeding laws
In Delaware, mothers are entitled to breastfeed their babies in any public location where they are legally allowed to be.
District of Columbia breastfeeding laws
In DC, women are also allowed to breastfeed their babies in any location, public or private, where she has a right to be, and they are exempt from any indecent exposure laws.
Florida breastfeeding laws
Fun fact: Florida enacted the first comprehensive breastfeeding legislation in the US (a fact the state is very proud of.) It currently states that a women can breastfeed her child wherever she’d like, public or private. It also includes a breastfeeding encouragement policy for facilities that provide maternal and newborn care.
Georgia breastfeeding laws
Georgia law emphasizes the importance of breastfeeding and states that a mother has the right to breastfeed anywhere she’s allowed to be with her baby. (Previously, the law required that the breastfeeding was conducted in a “modest manner,” but that’s since been eliminated.)
Hawaii breastfeeding laws
In Hawaii, it’s considered a discrimination “to deny, or attempt to deny, the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of a place of public accommodations to a woman” because she’s breastfeeding a child. It’s also considered discrimination to refuse to hire, to fire or otherwise penalize an employee because she breastfeeds or needs to express breast milk at the workplace.
Idaho breastfeeding laws
Idaho is the only state that doesn’t protect women’s breastfeeding rights to nurse in public locations. However, a breastfeeding mother can postpone her jury duty service to when she’s no longer nursing her child.
Illinois breastfeeding laws
In Illinois, a mother is free to breastfeed her child in any place, public or private, where she’s authorized to be. The law notes that breastfeeding is not a public indecency, and it supports a public information campaign surrounding women’s breastfeeding rights.
Indiana breastfeeding laws
Women can breastfeed their children anywhere they have the right to be in Indiana.
Iowa breastfeeding laws
In Iowa, a woman can breastfeed her child anywhere she is authorized to be, and with proper documentation, she can also delay jury duty service until she’s done breastfeeding.
Kansas breastfeeding laws
Acknowledging the health benefits of breastfeeding, Kansas law also permits a woman to breastfeed anywhere she has the right to be and exempts breastfeeding women from jury duty.
Kentucky breastfeeding laws
Since 2006, Kentucky law has stipulated that breastfeeding in public is not considered indecent exposure, and that no one can interfere with a woman breastfeeding in any place she’s authorized to be.
Louisiana breastfeeding laws
Louisiana enacted the first state law prohibiting child care facilities from discriminating against breastfed babies. The law also says a mother can breastfeed in any public location, that it’s discrimination to prohibit a mother from breastfeeding in public, and that it’s a form of segregation to ask a woman to go somewhere else to breastfeed.
Maine breastfeeding laws
Maine recognizes a woman’s right to breastfeed in any location, public or private. With regard to divorce trials, it also considers whether or not a child under the age of one is being breastfed when deciding on parental rights.
Maryland breastfeeding laws
Maryland’s breastfeeding law is twofold: It gives women the right to breastfeed their children in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are authorized to be. Plus, all supplies related to breastfeeding are exempt from sales tax laws.
Massachusetts breastfeeding laws
In Massachusetts, women can breastfeed in any public place where she and her child are otherwise lawfully able to be (save for places of religious instruction or worship). Breastfeeding is also exempt from public indecency laws here.
Michigan breastfeeding laws
Women breastfeeding in Michigan are exempt from the public nudity statute. In addition, whether or not a child is breastfeeding is taken into account in family law cases.
Minnesota breastfeeding laws
Minnesota law protects the right of a mother to breastfeeding in public, clarifying that a woman can breastfeed anywhere she has the right to be.
Mississippi breastfeeding laws
In Mississippi, the law states that no county, municipality or other political division can restrict a woman’s right to breastfeed unless the state authorizes it.
Missouri breastfeeding laws
Missouri’s breastfeeding laws are slightly different. While a woman can breastfeed in any public or private location, she is asked to do so “with discretion.” Still, breastfeeding is exempt from public indecency laws in the state. Missouri law also requires that new mothers be given information by their hospital on the benefits of breastfeeding. They must also be offered breastfeeding consultations, if deemed appropriate by their attending physician.
Montana breastfeeding laws
Noting that “breastfeeding a baby is an important and basic act of nurturing that must be protected in the interests of maternal and child health and family values,” Montana law states that a mother has the right to breastfeed a child in any location, public or private, where the mother and child is authorized to be.
Nebraska breastfeeding laws
Nebraskan women can now breastfeed their children anywhere they’re authorized to be. They’re also excused from jury duty until they are no longer nursing.
Nevada breastfeeding laws
Women have the right to breastfeed in public in Nevada. Even if a mom’s breasts are exposed, it’s not considered an “indecent” or “criminal” act.
New Hampshire breastfeeding laws
In New Hampshire, breastfeeding in public is not considered an act of indecent exposure, and to limit the right of a mother to breastfeed is deemed discriminatory.
New Jersey breastfeeding laws
New Jersey’s breastfeeding laws note the importance of breastfeeding for health reasons, and clarifies that women have the right to breastfeed in any place of “public accommodation, resort or amusement” where the mother is permitted. New Jersey was one of the first states to provide a fine and penalty for a violation of its breastfeeding laws.
New Mexico breastfeeding laws
In New Mexico, a mother is legally allowed to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where she is authorized to be.
New York breastfeeding laws
Since 1984, New York has exempted breastfeeding from their criminal statute, and protects a mother’s right to breastfeed in public. New York is the only state to make provisions for female inmates with infants: Before the birth of the child, the woman must be given comfortable accommodations and medical care outside of the institution, under supervision, until she’s healthy enough to return, and her child may stay with her up to one year of age.
North Carolina breastfeeding laws
Since 1993, North Carolina breastfeeding laws have given women the right to breastfeed in public, even if her breasts are exposed, as it’s legally exempt from indecent exposure laws.
North Dakota breastfeeding laws
North Dakota breastfeeding laws note that a woman “discreetly breastfeeding her child” in public is not a violation of indecent exposure.
Ohio breastfeeding laws
In Ohio, a mother is entitled to breastfeed her baby in a location of “public accommodation” where she and her child would otherwise be permitted.
Oklahoma breastfeeding laws
Oklahoma’s breastfeeding laws protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public. Nursing Oklahoma mothers are also exempt from jury duty.
Oregon breastfeeding laws
Women are welcome to breastfeed their children in public places in Oregon, and they’re also excused from jury duty while nursing.
Pennsylvania breastfeeding laws
While Pennsylvania law exempts public breastfeeding from any criminal laws, it gives women “permission”—but not the “right”—to breastfeed in any public location mother and child are authorized to be.
Rhode Island breastfeeding laws
Women breastfeeding in public in Rhode Island are not subject to indecent exposure laws.
South Carolina breastfeeding laws
In South Carolina, women can breastfeed in any location the mother and child are permitted to be, and it’s not considered indecent exposure.
South Dakota breastfeeding laws
South Dakota’s laws exempt breastfeeding from its indecent exposure statutes.
Tennessee breastfeeding laws
In Tennessee, mothers can breastfeed their children in any location, public or private, where mother and child are authorized, and it’s not considered public indecency.
Texas breastfeeding laws
Texas moms can breastfeed anywhere they’re authorized to be. Plus, any state agencies that deal with maternal or child health care have to provide information that encourages breastfeeding to pregnant women or new moms.
Utah breastfeeding laws
In Utah, no legislative body can prohibit a woman from breastfeeding in any location she otherwise may rightfully be, regardless of whether her breasts are revealed while nursing.
Vermont breastfeeding laws
According to Vermont’s breastfeeding laws, a woman may breastfeed her child in any public place she and the child would otherwise have a right to be. If her breastfeeding rights are in any way violated, she can file a discrimination charge.
Virginia breastfeeding laws
Virginia exempts breastfeeding from its criminal statutes, stating that it’s not a violation to breastfeed a child in any public place. Virginia law gives a woman the right to breastfeed on any property owned, leased or controlled by the Commonwealth. And mothers who are breastfeeding are exempt from jury duty, upon request.
Washington breastfeeding laws
Washington’s breastfeeding laws exclude nursing and the expelling of breast milk from indecent exposure laws. The state has also set up an incentive program for employers by allowing them to advertise themselves as “infant-friendly” if proper lactation support is in place.
West Virginia breastfeeding laws
In West Virginia, a woman can breastfeed her child in any location that’s open to the public without being guilty of indecent exposure.
Wisconsin breastfeeding laws
Wisconsin law states that a woman not only has the right to breastfeed in any private or public location, she also can’t be asked to move to a different location to breastfeed or to cover her child or her breast while nursing.
Wyoming breastfeeding laws
Wyoming’s breastfeeding laws make clear that women are not committing an act of public indecency by breastfeeding in a public place.
Published July 2017