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Chicago Woman Arrested for Breastfeeding in Public

By Suzanne MacNevin - August 2004.

That was the headline at least, in the New York Times. Then I read further. According to the New York Times about 12,000 women per year get arrested for breastfeeding in public in the United States. Another 30,000 women per year get arrested for being "topless" under various "indecency" laws across many states in the US.

I was immediately reminded of Charles Moffat's painting of a woman breastfeeding in an elevator. (With such high statistics it seems unlikely there was that many cops out there who are against public breastfeeding. Perhaps the NYT is exaggerating the numbers?)

Women breastfeed in public regularly in Canada (or at least in Toronto, where I live). I see them in shopping malls, on subways, cafeterias, at my university. I even remember a relative of mine breastfeeding in a funeral home when a member of my family died in Prince Edward Island.

So the differences between Canada and the United States become obvious when we start comparing the laws we uphold. I have never even HEARD of a woman being arrested for breastfeeding in public in Canada. The fact that SO MANY women in the US get arrested for it shows two things however.

#1. The US is filled with nitpickers who are obsessed about anything that shows a nipple. Which is weird, because when you watch the Oscars/etc, the female celebrities are usually wearing something see-thru, and the camera man ZOOMS in on their nipples. The US is filled with hypocrites.

#2. Many women (including women with children) choose to IGNORE that law. The fact that so many choose to ignore that law, and only a percentage of those who ignore it get arrested, shows that there is a LOT of women who think that indecency laws simply don't apply to breasts.

And WHY should they? We go to the Oscars, we see breasts. We go to an art gallery, we see breasts. We open up a Cosmopolitan magazine for WOMEN.., we see breasts. We see breasts on such a regular basis, what difference does it make if a nursing mother decides to breastfeed?

Or alternatively, someone mowing grass in their backyard? The privacy of your backyard should mean that you are not a public nuisance in terms of indecency. Its a sweaty job and many people like to do it with their shirt OFF.

Henceforth known as being TOPLESS.

And any other kind of sweaty job, what do men like to do? Take their shirt off so the shirt doesn't get ruined from sweat... its common sense. Why should "common sense" be any different for women.

This is really an equality issue. If a man can go topless, why can't a woman?

Canada, Europe, South America, Australia, Africa and many places in the world have no laws against toplessness. Which is to say, that the only places that are offended by it are.... The United States, conservative Asian countries, and Arab countries.

Does this mean the United States is equally as CONSERVATIVE as those countries? In terms of their archaic laws, yes, it does.

That and laws prohibiting women from going topless are against the US Constitution (which says all men and women are equal and should be treated equally). And in the United States, the US Constitution can overrule smaller laws.

So WHY has these small indecency laws not been changed/fixed so that women can go topless?

Because 90% of the Senate and EVERY US president ever elected is a man. Thats why. Usually a rich white one.

Now that doesn't mean I'm bashing men. I like men... a lot. But I also like my rights and my freedom. And being able to go topless as part of that freedom means I am very proud to be Canadian.

On a personal note: I support anyone who chooses to become a mother and have children. And breastfeeding is the most natural and healthy way to raise a young baby. If the United States' laws prohibit women from breastfeeding (in public or anywhere else), then they are prohibiting them from doing something that both God and nature intended women to do. Whether you believe in a god, mother nature, or anything else it doesn't change the fact that babies are meant to be breastfed. Its just as simple as that. Government laws don't mean anything compared to the laws of nature.

Breastfeeding in Public - A Human Rights Issue (CANADA)

Please Visit INFACT Canada and learn more!

To be empowered, women must have not only the ability to act, but also the right to do so. One of the obstacles to breastfeeding continues to be concern over whether or not it is acceptable to do so in public. Some women fear offending others if they breastfeed in public places. We believe that women have the right to breastfeed whenever and wherever they want. Communities need to be sensitized to the ways in which they can actively support breastfeeding.

What would you do if you, or someone you know, was asked to leave a public place because they were breastfeeding? What are your rights? At INFACT Canada we receive calls every month from women who find themselves in this situation. A public place can be defined as anywhere you go that does not require a personal invitation. If this happens to you there are several possible courses of action. You can:

  • Stand your ground and refuse to leave. Calmly but confidently state your right to feed your infant without discrimination. Unfortunately many new mothers feel intimidated in such situations, and it is often after they have had time to think about what has happened that they wish to respond in some way
  • Lodge a formal complaint with your provincial Human Rights Commission
  • Write to your local community newspapers about the incident
  • Let your local councilor, school trustee, MP and MPP know. Choose the government official connected with the actual place where the incident occurred, for example if you are asked to leave a school setting it would be best to go to the local school trustee with your complaint. If you are unsure start with local councilors and MPPs
  • Contact your local public health unit. They can provide you with suggestions on how to proceed and can probably put you in touch with local breastfeeding networks or coalitions
  • Let INFACT Canada know Phone: 416-595-9819
  • Boycott the place where the incident occurred and encourage friends and family to do the same. It is a good idea to let the facility know what you are doing and why

    Breastfeeding and the Law (USA)

    Basically breastfeeding in public IS legal in the United States, though sometimes people simply don't know it and therefore might complain about it. This means you can nurse your baby anywhere that you are allowed to be with the baby. About 20 states have additionally passed a law that explicitly states that fact. Note: These laws exist to clarify the legality of breastfeeding. If a state does not have such a clarifying law, breastfeeding in public is still legal. See A Current Summary of Breastfeeding Legislation in the U.S. , or 50 States Summary of Breastfeeding Laws for more details.

    If someone seems to be bothered by you nursing, or asks you to leave, you can kindly remind the person that breastfeeding is legal, normal and the best nutrition for the baby, or other facts about breastfeeding.

    If you have had problems with public breastfeeding and have been asked to leave malls, pools, restaurants, etc., or to go to restroom to nurse, or if you have had problems at workplace, report it to the National Alliance of Breastfeeding Advocacy (NABA).

    Besides nursing in public, other issues with legislation include a woman's right to express milk at work, and receive an exemption from jury duty. Some states mandate that employers enable women to breastfeed. Even if you don't have legislation behind you, you can do a lot to facilitate pumping breast milk at work.'s page for working moms has lots of information about pumping milk at work, including breast pump info, dealing with the boss and milk storage.

    Another possibility is to introduce your employer to Mothers at Work program from LifeCare, Inc. Mothers at Work is the worlds leading workplace breastfeeding program that helps organizations create a supportive work environment, and recruit and retain valued employees. It offers 24-hour pre- and postnatal lactation counseling, access to high-quality breastpumping equipment, educational materials, on-site breastfeeding classes, and other tools to support breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.

    Also, United States Breastfeeding Committee has published a free issue paper Workplace breastfeeding support that explains to businesses as to how to make the workplace brastfeeding friendly.

    Cases of public breastfeeding

    One person can make a difference! Individual women and activist groups have had many victories in defending women's right to breastfeed in public.

  • For example, Kerry Madden-Lunsford filed a lawsuit against a bookstore whose clerk had told her she couldn't breastfeed and had suggested the rest room. The suit was later settled in an encouraging way: the company educated its employees aboutn breastfeeding and even posted notices in store windows saying that breastfeeding moms were welcome. Breastfeeding Mom's Bill of Rights by Katherine Kam
  • Amy Swan from Kansas was breast-feeding her 6-month-old daughter in a health club in 2003 when a man told her he didnít want his son exposed to the sight. After that incident, lobbying by common women and mothers led to the passing of a new bill in Kansas in early 2006 that reaffirms that mother has a right to breastfeed in public. Read a news article: Moms' Effort a Succes.
  • A mother was asked to breastfeed in the bathroom or cover her child with a blanket at a Maryland Starbucks store in violation of Maryland law which protects the rights of mothers to breastfeed in public. When the mother protested, the store responded with an apology to the mother and by informing its employees about Maryland law. But from this has grown a whole movement Nurse your baby at Starbuck that aims, using public nurse-ins and letters to Starbucks, to get the company to publish a national policy allowing breastfeeding in its coffee stores.
  • Breastfeeding at Municipal pools in Canada

    The Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton (BACE) was organized in the summer of 2001 as a response to several "breastfeeding incidents" at a municipal pool in Edmonton. At least as far back as 1996 women breastfeeding while sitting on the side ledge of the warm pool had been routinely asked to stop nursing or leave the pool.

    In August 2001, BACE submitted a formal report to the Edmonton leisure centre department outlining concerns about this policy and about the "breastfeeding incidents". In September 2001 the city responded to BACE with a three page letter essentially addressing all of our concerns. The letter stated in part:

    "From this point, we will inform any patrons who complain that breast feeding is an acceptable practice in facilities and does not contravene any legislation. Our staff, as well, will inform patrons in appropriate cases, that there is no strong evidence of any health risk, to infants or to other users of the facility through people breastfeeding in the water... The new policy provides for discussion with the person complaining, not the breastfeeding woman. We will also be directing staff to ensure this is dealt with from a customer service viewpoint, by being sensitive to the issue from both the mothers and other patrons perspective at all times."

    The leisure centre department also invited BACE to place breastfeeding brochures and other literature in designated public areas of their facilities.

    Nursing discreetly

    The term 'nursing discreetly' refers to covering up the breast and especially nipple while breastfeeding in public. Some women use a blanket to cover the whole situation including the baby.

  • The need for discreet nursing stems from the idea that seeing exposed breast supposedly arouses sexual feelings. Indeed it does so in some men, but only because of the way they have been raised and influenced to think in this society that is so obsessed by woman's breasts. In many other cultures, no one thinks twice about a nursing mother and there is no need for covering up while nursing. Read for yourself comments we've received from people from all around the world about nursing in public in their country.

    It is good to be discreet in presence of others if you know they might be offended by your breastfeeding - which is true if you are nursing in public. But it is worth considering which really is being more discreet and getting less attention: a blanket set-up might only point out in big letters that you are breastfeeding, whereas lifting your shirt quickly and just enough to let baby latch on is probably much more unnoticeable. And when people don't notice or pay mind to your nursing, you are being very discreet. (In fact, the older baby might plain refuse to nurse underneath a blanket or it might sometimes be dangerously hot to nurse with all covers on.)

    Also, for the laws' sake you do NOT need to cover yourself up totally with a blanket. There is nothing in the legislation stating that a nursing mother would need to only show x amount of bare skin/nipple. It naturally takes a little time to get baby to the breast, and is very common for older babies to sometimes let go of the nipple to see what's going on.

    So don't be overly afraid if your nipple shows for a LITTLE while while getting baby on breast - it is just part of the normal breastfeeding experience and people should understand that. Many moms find that people in general don't stare, and after a while they become more comfortable with nursing in public and don't anymore think much about it.

    As far as men staring at the partially bare breast are concerned, some men indeed might get aroused by the sight, but many probably just try to not pay any mind so that you wouldn't feel uncomfortable. Also, many men are simply curious about female breasts and breast-feeding since the society has made it a taboo. They are not necessarily wanting to look at you with lust, but are simply interested since it is something they may have not seen. It is well known that if you make the taboo available and expose it (whatever it might be), then it gradually loses its attractiveness.

    At a certain time woman's ankle was a fetish - today men are not turned on by seeing womens ankles. Covering up makes it 'something forbidden', which produces feelings of curiosity.

    It is noted among naturists and nudists that they have lower rate of teenage sexual relationships. Why? Because to those teens the human body is not a taboo; they know what it looks like and are not obsessed by bare skin.

    Similarly, the more women breastfeed out in the open, the more everybody and especially men get to see the normal breast fulfilling its natural function of feeding babies, the less taboo the breast becomes, and the less obsessed men will be by it. So by nursing in public you can actually help those poor fellows whose thinking has been turned backwards by media and society.

    One of the main things affecting how the general public feels about breastfeeding in public is how much mothers do so! Just imagine, if practically all mothers nursed their babies, then it would be commonplace to see nursing infants and older babies in public, too. Then women wouldn't have to be embarrassed by it, nor would others present pay much mind to such an everyday occurrence. And though it might be difficult, nursing mothers can change other people's views about breastfeeding. So be encouraged to nurse in public places - you are making it a little easier for all the other moms, while at the same time you can let men and boys see the real purpose of breasts.

    Our society is desperately in need of mothers nursing their babies in public openly. We also need books and TV programs featuring breastfeeding mothers. Our children need breastfeeding dolls, not bottle-feeding ones. If a girl grows up thinking that breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby, she will be much more likely to try it, and knowing that a lot of women can do it with no difficulty, she'll have more confidence in herself as a nursing mother. Bottle-feeding culture at

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