Do I have to cover up while breastfeeding in public?

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Question:

I am nursing my four-month-old daughter, and I am concerned about breastfeeding in public places such as shopping malls, parks, or restaurants. Does the law require me to cover up when I breastfeed in public?

Answer:

It depends on where you live. State laws differ on public breastfeeding -- and many offer no clear-cut rule that specifies whether you have to cover up when breastfeeding in public. Some states specifically give mothers the right to nurse in public -- even if the mother's breast is partially exposed -- and gives mothers the right to bring a legal action against anyone who interferes with her breastfeeding. Other states allow public nursing, but don't specify whether the mother needs to cover up or don't offer any guidance on how to enforce this right. And a few state laws merely provide that nursing is not considered indecent exposure. For more on breastfeeding and the law, see www.llli.org/lawus.html.

No matter where you live, the best thing to do is to use your judgment and cover up whenever you feel the situation demands it. Some cities, even some neighborhoods, are more conservative than others; if you want to avoid stares or disputes, adjust your nursing style to fit the location.

La Leche League International says that the easiest way to breastfeed discreetly is by wearing loose-fitting clothing that you can lift up or unbutton to give your baby access to your breast without exposing yourself. There are also special nursing blouses that you can sew or buy that have hidden but strategically placed slits or panels. In addition, some women find it helpful to hold their babies in slings while breastfeeding.

To learn more about the financial, legal, and practical concerns that come with parenthood, seeĀ Parent Savvy: Straight Answers to Your Family's Financial, Legal & Practical Questions, by Nihara K. Choudhri (Nolo). For more tips on discreet nursing, read the La Leche League's article on the subject at www.llli.org/FAQ/discreet.html.

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