U.S. Breastfeeding Laws

“Would we find greater societal support of breastfeeding if both men and women engaged in the practice?” (Noonan & Rippeyoung, 2011).

Breastfeeding is a trending topic that has been stigmatized due to public outcries and societal lack of support, forcing women to suffer the consequences on a bigger scale. Health benefits for both women and their offspring have been scientifically proven by an array of research throughout the past decades, all agreeing that breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition during the first stages of child development. These health benefits directly translate into advantages that impact society as a whole. For that reason, Congress and federal policies annually spend substantial amounts of money to promote and encourage breastfeeding (Suski, 2001), and breastfeeding laws have been recently established. Yet a big percentage of women choose to formula-feed their children instead. Not only is the constant juggle between motherhood duties and holding a job in an industrialized world to blame, but also the social neglect towards breastfeeding as a natural act that can be performed publicly, which has affected the outcome of women’s lifestyle and breastfeeding decisions. The problem is that the main purpose of breastfeeding laws is not to protect women, but to clarify the legality of breastfeeding (Peterson, 2004); hence, the laws have done women a disservice by limiting their lifestyle choices. Breastfeeding laws in the United States claim to support women by making it legal to breastfeed in public, but these laws actually limit women’s choices because they don’t include measures for enforcement nor extend to the workplace, and they need to be reformed.

Without measures to enforce them, breastfeeding laws do not protect women against active discrimination, harassment and humiliation; ergo, allowing them to be vulnerable targets. Since breastfeeding laws do not offer any solution to these problems, citizens are well within their right to wonder what the intention for establishing these laws was in the first place. In a research conducted by the lawyer Jake A. Marcus, different situations in which breastfeeding women are targeted and persecuted are compared and contrasted. The author acknowledges that “the strongest state laws are those that both protect a woman’s right to breastfeed anywhere she or her child have a right to be, regardless of whether the breast is showing, and that also give the woman the power to bring a legal action against anyone who interferes with her breastfeeding” (Jake, 2007). He points out that all laws have been designed to create social awareness by promoting breastfeeding as a legal act, but not to protect women’s ability to exercise their right. The law is a system set in place to govern people on their actions, establishing guidelines to clarify the distinction between what is right and wrong, what is tolerable and unacceptable; thus consequences are established for those breaking the law. As Jake (2007) well stated, “A basic maxim of American law is that a right without a remedy is no right at all.” In addition, breastfeeding laws are disparate from state to state. Breastfeeding laws in the United States need to be enforced so that women can protect themselves against those who interfere with their rights, and law differences between states need to be limited as well. Otherwise, what sense does it make to create breastfeeding laws in the absence of an enforcement provision, when women are not able to defend their right to breastfeed wherever it has been legally stipulated to?

Breastfeeding laws have been designed to support the act in public, but the workplace has not been included in the stipulation, although it constitutes a more private place to perform the act when compared to any other public place that the law supports. Based on the private nature of breastfeeding, why has the workplace not been included in the guidelines of the law? This pretense suggests that breastfeeding laws are not formulated clearly because of a deeper-rooted ground that consciously allows for ambiguity. Emily Suski (2001), an assistant clinical professor of Family Law, argued that breastfeeding at work is not only supported by the Eleventh Circuit of Appeals, but also protected by the Bill of Rights. Yet the single case has never been followed, and breastfeeding rights have rather been limited (Suski, 2001). Therefore, it seems plausible to claim that a patriarchal modus operandi and intention has been used to design breastfeeding laws, in order to limit women’s lifestyle choices. The right to breastfeed has been restricted, which is creating obstacles that could result in the exclusion of women from the workplace. Women are forced to choose between engaging in breastfeeding, “a practice that leads to the loss of financial and familiar autonomy”, or to be involved in the workforce and formula-feed their children, “a practice that leads to a loss of autonomy over their bodies” (Noonan & Rippeyoung, 2011). Unfortunately the way that social policies are currently set does not allow for women to be able to do both at the same time. Unlike many other countries around the world, the United States breastfeeding laws do not support breastfeeding mothers, and motherhood in general. This aligns with a patriarchy ideology that is based on the role of women inside of the household, and not as part of the workforce because ‘women cannot have it all’.

The United States could follow the example of other countries that have included laws that promote breastfeeding without restricting women’s role in the workplace. Data provided by a Medical Doctor stated, “In Norway, mothers may receive 100% pay for 42 weeks’ maternity leave, or 80% pay for 52 weeks, an arrangement highly conductive to healthy child development” (Frank, 1998). This is only one of the many examples that prove that other countries truly understand the importance of breastfeeding, and have consequentially accommodated for it.   Pursuing the exclusion of women from the workforce would not benefit the country’s economy based on the fact that currently 51% of the Unites States population is female. Hence, a balance between motherhood and employment options is a necessary goal from which the nation would benefit as a whole.

Another research conducted by two sociologists states, “It is essential that the state take at least partial responsibility for the care of infants via paid parental leave, as is done in all industrialized countries except the United States” (Noonan & Rippeyoung, 2011). Not only would the United States experience economical advantages by encouraging women to be part of the workforce and simultaneously breastfeed their offspring, but it would also experience benefits in health care for the generations to come; therefore, improving overall birth and mortality rates and reducing medical costs. Instead of limiting women’s lifestyle options, more breastfeeding-friendly workplace environments need to be created, in which employees are seen as human beings that also have other responsibilities and duties outside of the workplace (Noonan & Rippenyoung, 2011). Perhaps this can be accomplished by shifting the focus of public health campaigns away from women to regain a breastfeeding culture. In turn, society will continue to be under the wrong impression that this topic is exclusive to women, while mothers are the only ones targeted to promote and encourage breastfeeding. As a result, people will continue to single out breastfeeding women due to a cultural perception that is based on a lack of education, misinformation, and patriarchal ideology that does not serve as an advantage to the population. Although performed by women and not men, this matter involves society as a whole because the benefits of breastfeeding affect future generations, and the wellbeing and comfort of women impacts all of the populace. So other social groups, such as fathers, communities, and employers should be equally involved to help the human race strive, as it is in the best interest of all.

Breastfeeding is a human right. Women have been naturally designed to breastfeed; hence, they have the right to use their bodies the same way that men’s anatomical and physiological functions have not been restricted. If changes are not made and women’s lifestyle choices continue to be limited, then the following could happen: (1) women that can afford to stay at home, which is represented by a minority, will choose to breastfeed; thus, this will positively affect healthcare, but will negatively impact the overall economy in a nation in which women represent the majority of the population, and (2) women that cannot afford to stay at home, which represents a majority, will choose to remain in the workplace, and whether formula-feed or no longer engage in child bearing; therefore, negatively affecting healthcare and population rates. Adapting the laws to make them more effective will only focus the aim on the branches, but will eventually allow for the opportunity to change the perception of breastfeeding at its root by sparking cultural change. The patriarchal ideology is obsolete. It acts as a crutch in today’s society, hindering its positive evolution. Women are valuable to civilization; their employment and breastfeeding rights deserve all kinds of support.


Frank, E. (1998). Breastfeeding and maternal employment: Two rights don’t make a wrong. The Lancet, 352(9134), 1083-4. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.nu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/198999620?accountid=25320

Jake, A. M. (2007). Lactation and the LAW. Mothering, 48-57. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.nu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/212581506?accountid=25320

Noonan, M. C., & Rippeyoung, P. L. F. (2011). The economic costs of breastfeeding for women. Breastfeeding Medicine, 6(5), 325+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA272510848&v=2.1&u=nu_main&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=ca8cafa7981504bcd6f03945abbbe8fd

Peterson, J., & Garman, K. (2004). Breastfeeding laws, needed or not? Kansas Nurse, 79(1), 1-3. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.nu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/212317522?accountid=25320

Suski, Emily F. (2001). In One Place, But Not Another: When the Law Encourages Breastfeeding in Public While Simultaneously Discouraging It at Work. UCLA Women’s Law Journal, 12(1). Retrieved from: http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/1bm740wm


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