Six Laws that Protect Moms and their Babies
There’s always been a lot of controversy surrounding breastfeeding. From health benefits to best practices to breastfeeding in public, it seems everyone has a lot to say about something that has existed since the beginning of time. Despite being an essential part of human reproduction, a lot of people are still uncomfortable about breastfeeding, and that perception fuels pressure and, at times, obstacles to a mother’s success.
The law of public opinion is largely to blame. Today, four out of five babies are breastfed at birth, but that number drops to half at three months and to only a third by a year. Despite recommendations that mothers breastfeed for a year (and exclusively breastfeed for the first six months), more moms are breastfeeding initially and then realizing it’s too hard to sustain, in part because culturally we don’t adequately support the healthy habit.
Case in point: In 2018, fewer than three out of four people believed women have the right to breastfeed in public places, even when their baby is hungry. Moreover, discussion about what constitutes “indecent exposure” and caveats to long-overdue legislation that include rules for covering up have fueled public debate about an issue that really should be more black-and-white.
In practice, there are laws that protect breastfeeding women, but many moms don’t know they exist or they don’t know the specifics well enough to defend them. August is National Breastfeeding Month, but even today, many women will retreat to their car or hide out in a storage closet or bathroom stall to feed their baby, and they deserve better. If you’re feeling pressure about how, when, where and why to breastfeed, here are six laws that are on your side:
- It’s legal to breastfeed in public in all 50 states. Just last year, Idaho and Utah joined the rest of the country by passing this long overdue legislation.
- New moms are entitled to break time and private space to breastfeed at work. Companies with more than 50 employees are bound by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide basic breastfeeding accommodations for moms during their baby’s first year, and no, bathrooms do not count.
- Insurance must cover the cost of a breast pump and counseling, which includes a lactation consultant. The Affordable Care Act provides for more comprehensive coverage for new moms. If you are having trouble accessing benefits, call the Cover Her Hotline sponsored by the National Women’s Law Center.
- Families can fly with breastmilk, even if it exceeds 3.4 ounces. It may be subject to additional screening, but it’s your right to fly with breastmilk, regardless of whether you’re flying with your child.
- You may get to postpone jury duty, or skip it altogether. Seventeen states have specific laws that address jury duty for new moms.
- You may not owe sales tax on breastfeeding supplies. Maryland and Louisiana don’t charge sales tax on breastfeeding-related purchases.
Breastfeeding can be challenging enough without having to navigate unnecessary hurdles like discrimination. For the sake of moms and babies, it’s time we make new moms comfortable and confident in their choice to breastfeed. Knowing and enforcing these laws is a necessary start, so share them openly and stand up for the moms out there doing what’s best for their family! To learn more, visit wechoosenps.org.