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Know Your Breastfeeding Rights

Support for Mothers and the Law

It’s everywhere these days: Everyday moms and celebrity moms are talking more and more about breastfeeding in public. From Chrissy Teigen’s social media posts (and classic responses known as clapbacks to negative comments), to Kate Hudson’s Instagram pics of nursing her daughter in between workouts, many people have much to say about the appropriateness of breastfeeding in public. And needless to say, there are strong opinions on each side of the issue. 

Though there are a few nuances, the debate usually boils down to this question: Is breastfeeding perfectly natural or a public nuisance? 

As most would admit, the medical evidence supporting the benefits of breastfeeding is insurmountable. The belief that breastfeeding adds several health benefits to both baby and mother is widely accepted, even by those who oppose doing so in public. 

Although breastfeeding is getting a lot more press these days, there are still several questions out there for nursing moms. News outlets and social media resources often post stories of women who are asked to stop breastfeeding in public, others who are asked to cover up, or continue breastfeeding a baby in a public restroom. Even with all this attention, it is sometimes impossible to know for certain what is permitted and what is not. 

If you have a young baby, you might find yourself asking questions: What are my rights if I choose to breastfeed my child in public? Can I be asked to leave a public place if I am breastfeeding? Do I have to stop breastfeeding my child if someone asks me to?

Let’s take a moment to finally set the record straight. As of 2018, all fifty states have passed laws that protect a mother’s right to breastfeed in public. Idaho and Utah were the last two states to pass laws protecting nursing mothers, bringing the U.S. into the company of several other countries – including Australia and the United Kingdom – with comprehensive protections. 

Since 2015, Virginia law has supported a mother’s choice to breastfeed in any public or private place, as long as the mom is legally allowed to be there. This means that as long as a nursing mom is not trespassing or breastfeeding while in an otherwise restricted area, the law is on her side. This protection extends to nursing moms in restaurants, grocery stores, retail stores, parks, churches, coffee shops, and so on – basically anywhere held open to the public. In addition, Virginia’s laws go a step further to protect moms from being prosecuted for indecent exposure in connection with breastfeeding in public. 

Although it is lawful for moms to breastfeed in public, an important consideration is whether business owners and employees are aware of a mother’s rights. In fact, in order to be on the right side of the law, it is essential for business owners to know and to train all employees of these laws and the protections afforded to Virginia’s nursing mothers. Many employees may not be aware that in accordance with the law, business establishments may not ask a breastfeeding mom to leave, move, or stop breastfeeding. Even if a business has designated an exclusive area for nursing mothers, the nursing mother is not required to use it. 

So to all nursing moms and supporters of nursing moms, take a moment to celebrate your right to breastfeed, knowing that the law is on your side not only in Virginia, but in all fifty states. 

Syreeta B. Stewart is an attorney and owner of SBStewart Law, PLC, a law firm focusing on family law, bankruptcy, and small business development. A native Richmonder and UR graduate, Syreeta is a proud wife and mom to three busy children and one newly adopted fur-baby puppy named Sophie.
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