It seems every other week a story hits the news about a mother being told to stop or otherwise being “shamed” for publicly breastfeeding her child. Invariably, the media erupts into a debate about whether women should be discrete, cover up, feed their child in the baby change room or basically just stay home to feed and never leave the house until their baby graduates from university.
These situations are generally the exceptions _ that’s why they’re news _ and most women breastfeed in a variety of places without issue. But what doesn’t get discussed during this debate, at least not loudly enough, are your breastfeeding rights.
Here is where the law in NSW stands:
Can I Breastfeed in Public?
You can breastfeed or express milk anywhere you like, except if there is a valid health or safety issue. That’s it. Unless you’re breastfeeding on a rollercoaster at a theme park while juggling hand grenades, you are within your rights to attend to your hungry baby. It’s even ok to do it where a sign says no eating or drinking.
What About if They Ask Me to Cover Up?
Same thing. Some women feel self-conscious and prefer to cover up, especially while they are still mastering breastfeeding. Besides, babies are individuals too. For some, covering their head cuts down on distractions, while others baulk at having their head covered. Given that it’s virtually impossible to leave the house with a baby without packing more stuff than what you’d take on a six months backpacking trip around Europe, you might not want another thing to think about. The point is that it’s your choice to cover up, not anyone else’s.
What About if They Tell Me to Go Into a Particular Space?
It’s not unusual to hear “why don’t you do it in the baby change room?” For one thing, sometimes baby change rooms are nice clean spaces with comfortable seating and a play area for older siblings and other times it is essentially a cupboard with a grotty plastic chair that hasn’t been cleaned since John Howard was Prime Minister. Some women prefer the quiet of a feeding room, others know that if they don’t wolf down a sushi pack in the food court while they feed, they will never eat or get anything done. It’s nice if places provide facilities for those who want them, but you’re under no obligation to use them.
What If I’m Expressing?
You have exactly the same rights as a someone breastfeeding a baby.
What Can I Do if Someone Asks Me to Stop?
If it’s a member of the public, they can tell you their opinion, but you don’t have to listen or even acknowledge them, any more than you are obliged to indulge people’s opinions on other topics. They may just be ignorant about the situation, so you can politely thank them for their concern and tell them that you are within your rights to breastfeed here if you wish. It’s a different story if the staff of the place you are in tell you to stop or go elsewhere. That’s classified as discrimination and against the law.
When stories emerge of women being told to stop, it sends a message that breastfeeding is shameful, not normal or that women and children don’t belong in public spaces. Unless there is a risk to you or your baby, breastfeeding is your right no matter where you are and don’t need to listen to anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.
At Caring 4 Kids childcare centres, we do all we can to support breastfeeding. Contact us to see how we can help.