Breastfeeding Laws Everyone Should Know

By Published On: November 9th, 2021

For breastfeeding mothers, it may seem like each mealtime is a special experience that only exists between you and your baby, but when it comes to feedings outside of your home, a lot of people—some with high-level positions—have opinions on lactation and location. Thankfully, federal and state laws are stationed to protect breastfeeding rights for women in hopes of promoting the benefits of breastfeeding and encouraging mothers to exclusively nurse for longer.

While there’s still plenty of work to do, a great place to start is knowing what powers are in place. Read on for more information on lactation support and share with the fellow milk makers in your circle.

Public Laws on Public Places

First off, all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow mothers to breastfeed in any public or private location. Basically, if you’re allowed to be in a public space and are not trespassing (restaurants, stores, airports), you’re allowed to breastfeed your child. In July of 2018, Idaho and Utah finally joined the rest of the nation in passing legislation that permitted nursing out in the open, but it unfortunately doesn’t stop the shaming that often comes with it.

One question that still remains is whether or not a woman must cover up, and the answer is it largely depends on where you live. Thirty states have taken the added step to make breastfeeding exempt from public indecency laws, meaning in the event a mother exposes her breasts while feeding, she will not be accused of a crime. (Crazy that can happen, right?)

The 30 states include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

One legal loophole to have on your radar is the right of a business to ask a nursing mother to leave an establishment when she is no longer a welcomed customer. For example, if you’re breastfeeding in a department store and the owner asks you to cover up, you can certainly refuse. However, if the owner then asks you to leave the property and you ignore their request, you could be accused of trespassing and face legal action. While the right to breastfeed and the offense of trespassing are not directly connected, this scenario illustrates how a mother may still encounter obstacles when trying to feed in a public place.

If you feel you have been discriminated against by a business for breastfeeding out in the open, you can follow up with an attorney or local breastfeeding support advocacy group for advice.

Breastfeeding and the Break Room

Nursing moms returning to the workforce must keep up with a pumping schedule to maintain their milk supplies while away from home. In 2010, a federal law was passed under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) that required employers to provide a private space (other than a bathroom toilet stall) and reasonable break time for nursing mothers to express breast milk at work until the child is age 1. While this space does not have to be a designated lactation room full-time, it must be shielded from view and free from intrusion of other co-workers and the public during designated time slots.

On the flip side, The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require an employer to compensate a breastfeeding employee for time spent using their breast pump on worksite property, and some moms are exempt due to FLSA’s overtime pay requirements, though this may change depending on your specific state laws. (Some states offer further protection for workers, such as paid breaks, providing break times to exempt employees and allowing break time beyond the child’s first birthday. Make sure you know what your specific state offers!) Regardless of overtime, the U.S. Department of Labor encourages all employers to offer employees break time for the expression of breast milk.

Note that the FLSA also offers smaller businesses with less than 50 employees an exemption if the profit and productivity of the business will endure undue hardship by including adequate time for pumping in the workday. Talk with your employer if you believe this may apply to your vocation beforehand to see what can be done once you return to work.

Additional Federal Laws You Should Know

There are many existing breastfeeding laws set in place thanks to advocacy individuals and groups across the nation. Here’s some additional information from the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) on current legislation and resources to better understand your rights.

Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act (2019): The Act requires that certain public buildings that contain a public restroom also provide a lactation room, other than a bathroom, that is hygienic and available for use by a member of the public.

Friendly Airports for Mother’s Act (FAM) (2018): The five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) included language that requires airports to provide lactation rooms that are accessible to the public.

The bill defines “lactation area” to mean a room or other location in a commercial service airport for members of the public to express breast milk that:

  • is shielded from view and free from intrusion from the public
  • has a door that can be locked
  • includes a place to sit, a table or other flat surface, and an electrical outlet
  • is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities
  • is not located in a restroom

Bottles and Breastfeeding Equipment Screening Act (BABES Act) (2016): This act requires the TSA to provide ongoing training to ensure its officers consistently enforce TSA Special Procedures related to breast milk, formula, and infant feeding equipment across all airport security checkpoints.

Safe Medications for Moms and Babies Act (2016): The measure establishes a taskforce of federal and medical experts to advance research and information sharing on medication use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Lauren Lisle