We have all heard the struggles past and present of mothers who felt stigma and discomfort from doing the most natural thing imaginable: feeding their baby.  While the struggle is real, it has certainly improved in the past couple of years (at least for American mommas.)  This article will give a quick look at your rights and other’s attitudes towards breastfeeding since the turn of the century.

In the workplace

For the past 20 years Porter Novelli has been conducting a “SummerSurvey” that asks a sample of 4,000 people various questions of the day revolving around people’s thoughts on health, fitness and specifically- breastfeeding! The Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes a summary of the breastfeeding facts every year at:  https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/healthstyles_survey/index.htm

SummerSurvey used to ask “I believe employers should provide a private room for breastfeeding mothers to pump their milk at work” from 2010-2014.  In 2010, only 45% of respondents said “Yes”, while 24% affirmatively saying “No.”  This number changed fast and by 2014 it was 57% and 12% respectively, in part because the Affordable Care Act passed two wonderful things:

  1. Employers are required to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”
  2. Employers are also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” (https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs73.pdf)*

In 2014, SummerStyles officially stopped asking any questions about feeding in the workplace as opinion became less important than compliance with the law. To continue on your state’s particular rights, the Department of Labor has a wonderful resource that breaks them down by:

  • Employment protections for workers who are pregnant or nursing
  • State-level protections against pregnancy discrimination
  • State-level provisions for pregnancy accommodation
  • State-level workplace breastfeeding rights
Department of Labor State Protections Graph: https://www.dol.gov/wb/maps/4.htm

In short, express at work and if you find resistance, you can file with the Department of Labor

*There are exceptions to companies with less than 50 people where this would place ‘undue hardship’ on the employer

In Public

Perceptions on where and when women can breastfeed have certainly evolved over the past 20 years.  In 2001, 43% of people “Agreed” women should have the right to breastfeed in public. As of 2018, that number is 68%, with another 21% “Neither Disagreeing/Nor Agreeing.”

While the ACA grants women the right to pump at work, feeding in public is handled at the state level.   According to family.findlaw.com, all 50 states (and dc) have protection for breastfeeding in public, usually defined as ‘where ever the woman is lawfully allowed to be.’ For example, you can bf in an amusement park, if you have a ticket.  What tends to vary is further rights, such as exemption from public indecency or an exemption from jury duty. 

30 states + DC provide explicit protection against public indecency for feeding

*Alaska has an exemption but is not shown. Also that has to be one of the harder places to do it…

16 states provide an exemption or postponement of jury duty. 

Findlaw notes that laws are subject to change and I stress I am not a lawyer. Click the link to view a breakout of your state’s particular public breastfeeding laws

Informal Milk Exchanges

As it has become more the norm to feed in public or at work, SummerSurvey added two new questions:

  1. “I believe it is acceptable for mothers to feed their baby with the breast milk obtained informally from another mother (not including pasteurized breast milk from a milk bank)”
  2. Have you ever heard about mothers feeding their babies with breast milk from another mother through an informal arrangement such as an internet exchange (not including pasteurized breast milk from a milk bank)?

Those who agree with the practice of feeding babies informally obtained breast milk is 34%, with another 45% Neither disagreeing nor agreeing.  However, only 40% of respondents had even heard of the practice to begin with, making it possible to extrapolate that although this process is relatively unknown, there is huge potential to accept it.  Anecdotally, JR’s momma was a real trooper and overproduced several hundred ounces.  We had a lovely arrangement with people we met on Facebook through “Human Milk 4 Human Babies” who traded us duck eggs for milk.  (I had never had them before and am hooked.) 

There you have it! You’re far more likely to be surrounded by those supporting your rights to feed your baby and, in many cases, the law is on your side.  So remember: if your little one is crying out, whip it out!


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Bertie Epson · March 6, 2020 at 10:24 am

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