What The Law Says About Breastfeeding In Public

Breastfeeding in public is one of those issues that polarises opinion. It may help to know your rights and, if you’re feeding, how you can keep it discreet.

breastfeeding in public

We’ve all seen the headlines. Mothers vilified for breastfeeding in public, accused of outraging public decency or being provocative. We’ve read about restaurants asking nursing mothers to leave or people calling the police because they think breastfeeding in public is illegal.

No mother should be made to feel guilty or embarrassed for feeding their baby. It’s not her fault some people can’t differentiate between nurturing a child and Hollywood titillation. It’s a good idea to know where you stand legally, though. And nobody wants to invite confrontation, so we’ve got some helpful tips to make breastfeeding in public a positive experience.

Is breastfeeding in public legal?

The law on breastfeeding in public will vary according to where you live. You should check for your own country if it’s not included here.

  • UK: You can breastfeed in any public space and it’s unlawful for businesses to discriminate against a breastfeeding woman. It’s only ok to stop a woman breastfeeding in a public place if there’s a real health or safety risk, or if it’s somewhere that lawfully offers services solely to men; an example would be in some religious settings.
  • US: It’s been legal to breastfeed in public in all 50 US states since 2018. Mothers are allowed to nurse their hungry babies anywhere they are entitled to be, including private establishments such as shops or restaurants. (Obviously there are some exceptions, such as if there is significant danger because you’re in a moving car.)
  • Australia: Under Australian Federal Law, breastfeeding is viewed as a right, not a privilege. Some individual states and territories have also enacted their own laws to protect the rights of breastfeeding women in areas such as work, education, and places where goods and services are provided.
  • Canada: The right of nursing mothers to breastfeed in public is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedom in Canada. While not every province or territory has specifically detailed the rights of breastfeeding mothers in their Human Rights Code, it still ensures women can’t be discriminated against based on their gender.
  • On a plane: Most international airlines support a mother’s right to breastfeed her baby. However, there have been several high-profile media stories where some women were told to stop, cover up, and even thrown off their flight. Our advice is to check with your airline before you fly, just to make sure there won’t be a problem.

Tips for breastfeeding in public

  • Wear clothes that give your baby easy access to his meals. Dresses that open from the front can work well, or tops and shirts that button from the bottom. You can also buy special nursing tops that are designed with hidden flaps.
  • Not all babies like them and some women don’t see why they should use one, but nursing covers can be useful if you’re unsure about breastfeeding in public. Make sure your baby has plenty of room and can feed and breathe easily. Make sure it’s well-ventilated so they don’t overheat.
  • Sling on a sling. A baby carrier can be convenient when it comes to breastfeeding in public.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask if there’s a mother-and-baby room. Many public places, such as shopping centres and restaurants, now have private rooms where you can feed your baby. You don’t have to use it, but if you’re self-conscious about feeding in the open, it’s worth finding out.

What if someone harasses me?

You might want to take pre-emptive action and carry a copy of your country or state’s law about breastfeeding in public with you. That way, if anyone does complain or try to stop you, you can prove you’re within your rights.

Try to stay calm and avoid shouting, especially as this will also upset your baby. If someone is being threatening, call the police if you feel unsafe. If it’s a member of staff who is harassing you somewhere, complain – either to their manager or in writing to their customer service department or the owner.

If you’re comfortable doing so, you could post about your experience on social media. Most businesses have Facebook pages, Instagram profiles and Twitter accounts where you can interact with them directly and discuss what happened. It can also be extremely effective, as no business likes negative reviews.

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Rebecca Parsley
Rebecca Parsley, originally from the UK, now lives on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. She has been married for 27 years and has two children – Adam, 25, and Emma, 19. She believes looking after dogs and cats is easier than parenting. A freelance writer and journalist, she enjoys salsa dancing and motorsport.