What is the law regarding breastfeeding in public?
North Carolina grants the right to nurse in any public location, regardless of the amount of exposure:
N.C. Gen. Stat. sec. 14-190.9 1993 N.C. ALS 301; 1993 N.C. Sess. Laws 301; 1993 N.C. Ch. 301; 1993 N.C. HB 1143 "§ 14-190.9. Indecent exposure. (B) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a woman may breast feed in any public or private location where she is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother's breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breast feeding.
Why can’t mothers just breastfeed at home or prepare to feed with a bottle?
Babies nurse to meet both nutritional and emotional needs, and while scheduled feedings may work for some, typically nursing happens frequently and unpredictably. Some breastfed babies will not accept a bottle, and not all nursing mothers regularly express their milk.
No one likes the notion of being confined to the home, and social isolation is painful for anyone. Even “stay at home mothers” must go out for practical purposes. Family friendly establishments should welcome the patronage of any mother and child.
What’s wrong with asking a nursing mother to cover up or to go somewhere more private?
For one, it is humiliating, as it assumes that breastfeeding is a shameful act that must be hidden. Breastfeeding is not obscene, and is defined and protected so by law. It is safe to assume that a nursing mother is doing the best she can to meet her child’s needs with as much decorum as possible. Blankets may work for some, but for others they can make nursing cumbersome and difficult. They can be a potential suffocation hazard, and many babies will not tolerate feeding with blankets over their heads. (Few people would!) Besides, covering a squirmy, fussy infant often draws unnecessary attention to the nursing pair.
Relocating in the midst of breastfeeding is a major inconvenience. Most babies will wail in frustration until they resume nursing, drawing even more attention and creating an unwelcome disruption for everyone nearby. Restrooms are for defecation and not a sanitary or comfortable place for anyone to dine.
How might customer complaints be handled?
As a business proprietor you undoubtedly wish for every guest to have a comfortable and enjoyable experience in your establishment. If a patron expresses discomfort with the sight of a nursing mother and child, you might refer to NC state law and offer seating in a more amenable location. You might also explain that disrupting the nursing pair is likely to create a greater disturbance, unpleasant for everyone in the vicinity.
Why make such a big deal about breastfeeding in public?
Breastfeeding shouldn’t be a big deal, but because bottle-feeding has been the norm in this country for a long time, many people are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with breastfeeding, particularly in public. Current success rates for breastfeeding are dismal; “according to the Center for Disease Control, only 12% of US children are exclusively breastfeed for 6 months, and only 21% are still breastfeeding at one year” (Bartick). The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding through age two, and as long afterward as mutually desired. Research is clear that increased success and duration of breastfeeding can significantly improve public health, with less infectious disease, diabetes and obesity for children and a decrease in certain types of cancer among mothers. The American Academy of Pediatrics cites lack of “broad societal support” and “portrayal of bottle feeding as normative” as significant obstacles (AAP). A welcoming attitude toward breastfeeding in public contributes to breastfeeding success by reducing the invisibility and isolation of nursing mothers and children and providing essential social support.
For more information:
American Academy of Pediatrics. “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.” PEDIATRICS 115.2 (2005): 496-506.
Bartick, Melissa. “Peaceful Revolution: Why Breastfeeding Needs to be Part of Health Care Reform.” The Huffington Post 29 May 2009.
Marcus, Jake Aryeh. “Lactation and the Law.” Mothering Magazine 143 July/August (2007).
O’mara, Peggy. “Breastfeeding in Whose Public?” Mothering Magazine 132 September/October (2005).
Trocola, Michaelene Gerster. “Breastfeeding in Public.” New Beginnings 22.6 (2005): 238-243.