‘Couldn’t she find somewhere more private to do that?’ or ‘ Is she really going to feed that baby out here in the open?’ are two out of the derogatory questions people murmur under their breaths when a nursing mother feeds her child in a public setting.
Breastfeeding laws on federal property varied from state to state until it first became legalized in the U.S. in 1999. Prior to this enactment, women had been walked out of various public places for breastfeeding their babies.
It was also permissible by some state laws for nursing moms to be fined for indecency. This prompted an uprising of legal actions and advocacy all over the country. Breastfeeding is a natural thing and shouldn’t be turned into what it’s not.
The amendment passed in 1999 stated that “A woman may breastfeed her child at any location, in a Federal building or on Federal property, if the woman and her child are otherwise authorized to be present at the location.” By 2006, 36 States had amended and incorporated the act into their state laws.
As time went on, following strong advocacy, more states began to pass the bill. Early 2018 left just Idaho and Utah out of the loop.
Against all odds in Utah
The plans to legalize public breastfeeding in Utah nearly fell through. As reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, the act made it through by a miraculous 6-5 win after the committee voted.
Proposed by North Ogden’s representative, Justin Fawson, the originally worded bill in Utah stated that “breastfeeding is legal in any place of public accommodation, irrespective of whether the woman’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.”
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Rep. Fawson advocated strongly for nursing moms all over the state. In a talk with KUER News Station, he said, “I don’t feel that we should ever relegate a woman to a restroom to breast-feed her child. I would ask you when the last time you had a meal in a restroom was. I would say probably never. It’s not a very comfortable place to hang out,” His sense of humor is as remarkable as his determination. No one should really have to eat in the restroom, especially not babies.
The wording of the act didn’t sit well with some of the reps. They insisted certain language used in the bill would give way to uncontrolled immodesty and indecency. During the initial hearing, Logan’s representative, Rep. Curt Webb had said, “This seems to say you don’t have to cover up at all. I’m not comfortable with that, I’m just not. It’s really in your face.”
This argument led to a removal of the language that was considered a ticket to immodesty. The House Business and Labor Committee voted 6-5, in favor of bill HB196. The bill was further sent the Senate for final approval, and on February 28th, 2018, breastfeeding in public became legal in the State of Utah. One up for breastfeeding moms (and nursing babies too!).
A Lesser struggle in Idaho
The Breastfeeding Act was passed following a unanimous 66-0 vote in the state of Idaho, rounding up the national stats to 100%. The bill was proposed by Coeur d’Alene’s representative, Rep. Paul Amador. Amazingly, the proposal met no opposition in the House. Perhaps the State was beginning to feel the discomfort of being left out of the revolution.
According to Idahostatesman.com, Rep. Amador, father of a five-month-old baby boy had said during the hearing, “Unfortunately, Idaho is the one state that currently has no protections for breastfeeding mothers. Personally, I find it disappointing that we’re in 2018 and we still haven’t passed this law in Idaho. I think we can take a proactive stance here through legislation to promote the natural bond and health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child. I also believe the health and nutritional choices of our families are best left as decisions for our families, not our government.”
Legalized – yes. Normalized – not so much.
The fact that breastfeeding in public is not against the law in all 50 states, doesn’t mean women don’t still get shamed for doing it. In most countries all over the world, public breastfeeding isn’t seen as a problem that requires legal actions and advocacy.
A major factor contributing to this issue is that not all women (especially nursing moms) are for it; a good number are against public breastfeeding. There’s always great difficulty in helping someone who doesn’t want your help. It makes no sense that something so natural should be sexualized and tagged indecent or immodest.
Today thankfully, every state in the U.S. now has laws in place to protect nursing mums from embarrassment and harassment if they choose to feed their infants in public. The general public just needs time and enlightenment to get used to it.
- TREASURY AND GENERAL GOVERNMENT APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2000. Retrieved from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/PLAW-106publ58/html/PLAW-106publ58.htm
- Lee Davidson. 2018, February 21. Protection of breastfeeding in public will go into law after signed by governor. Retrieved from https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2018/01/23/bill-seeks-to-clearly-allow-breastfeeding-in-public/
- Admin. No date available. Idaho Breastfeeding Laws. Retrieved from https://www.mamava.com/breastfeeding-law/idaho
- Betsy Russell. 2018, February 18. For the first time, bill to protect breastfeeding Idaho moms passes House with no debate. Retrieved from https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article201571859.html
- Azure Hall. 2018, July 24. Idaho & Utah Legalize Breastfeeding In Public, Making It Legal In All 50 States. Retrieved from https://www.romper.com/p/idaho-utah-legalize-breastfeeding-in-public-making-it-legal-in-all-50-states-9860172
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