Breastfeeding: To Cover or Not to Cover? Knowing Your Rights and Options

By on August 6, 2018

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Late last month, you might have seen some surprising headlines: Breastfeeding in Public is FINALLY Legal in All 50 States.

You probably thought to yourself, “It’s 2018—wasn’t breastfeeding already legal everywhere?”

Or maybe you’re a breastfeeding advocate who has long been aware of the holes in many of our country’s breastfeeding laws. Because while it wasn’t necessarily illegal to breastfeed anywhere prior to these recent law changes, there were still some states that didn’t have laws on the books explicitly protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed in public.

Utah and Idaho were the final holdouts. And as of July 2018, they have both joined the rest of the modern world.

So, as the headlines read, all 50 states (plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) now have laws on the books that allow a woman to breastfeed in any public or private location.

That’s certainly reason to celebrate. But you may still have to cover up while breastfeeding, as only 30 states (plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) have laws exempting breastfeeding mothers from public indecency laws (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.)

What that means is that while you can legally breastfeed anywhere, in 20 states you may still be at risk if you breastfeed without a cover.

Obviously, it’s important to know the laws in your state, but it’s also important to know what you’re comfortable with. For many moms, covering up is the only way they feel comfortable breastfeeding in public. And for some, breastfeeding in public doesn’t feel comfortable at all—they will always seek out a quiet car or room to breastfeed in instead.

That’s okay! Personal choice and comfort matters, and you should be doing whatever feels right for you. It helps that there are so many adorable nursing covers to choose from nowadays.

But not all breastfeeding mothers (or their babies, for that matter) feel the need to use a cover while breastfeeding. And some feel downright uncomfortable doing so. Especially in warmer climates, adding one extra layer can be stifling.

So what’s a mom to do if she lives in a state that may not protect her from public indecency laws while breastfeeding?

Well, the good news is: There are a lot of ways to nurse discreetly even without a nursing cover. You could opt for tops that are specially designed for breastfeeding, or use your diaper bag as a shield by placing it on a table in front of you. And most experienced breastfeeding mamas will tell you that eventually, you become so accustomed to breastfeeding that you’re able to latch baby on without anyone around even noticing.

But you may have to judge each situation for yourself. What state do you live in? How experienced are you with breastfeeding? What’s the weather like? Where are you and how do you think those around you might react? How do you feel about covering up?

And most importantly, how does your baby feel?

There are no right or wrong answers here. There’s just being smart about the circumstances you’re in and recognizing that you may not have the same level of protection everywhere you go.

So if you do need to cover up, have something in your diaper bag that can fit the situation. This could be an elaborate nursing cover you buy on Etsy, or it may just be a light muslin baby blanket you drape over your shoulder when necessary.

It shouldn’t be necessary of course. This should be about the comfort level of mother and baby, and no one else. But knowing your rights is important so that you can make the best decision for each situation you’re in.

Even if that best decision is choosing not to cover up in a state where you may not be as well protected, purely to bring light to an issue that’s important to you.

You do you, Mama.

It’s 2018 and breastfeeding in public just became legal in all 50 states. Hopefully that means we’re moving in the right direction, and it won’t be long before our society starts to recognize breastfeeding more for what it is: feeding a baby, which is so obviously infinitely more important than the misguided discomfort of anyone else. When that day comes, perhaps how you choose to breastfeed (covered or not) won’t matter as much.

Until then, make sure you’re doing what’s best for you and your little one. And surround yourself with people who support your breastfeeding journey in whatever way feels most natural to you.

We here at Milk Stork applaud you whether you’re draped in an adorable cover or not.

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