When Karlesha Thurman got ready for her college graduation ceremony, she probably had no idea that she would be picking up international news coverage along with her accounting degree. Thurman’s three-month-old daughter became hungry during the festivities and Thurman did what countless other mothers have done–she nursed her hungry baby. A friend snapped a photograph of the moment and Thurman later posted it to Facebook in an effort to show that breastfeeding is “natural, it’s normal, there’s nothing wrong with it.” Thereafter, the photograph went viral and added further fuel to the widespread debate on public breastfeeding with supporters pointing out that it’s natural and healthy for babies and critics arguing that it should be kept behind closed doors.
The public breastfeeding debate has even inspired a new form of civil disobedience–the nurse-in. If you’re not familiar with the term, participants band together to nurse in public in a particular location at a particular time to show their solidarity. Some nurse-ins also include participants handing out pamphlets and other educational information about breastfeeding. Despite public health organizations and others trumpeting the health benefits (for both mothers and children) of breastfeeding, public breastfeeding remains a source of controversy and disagreement.
Although many of the comments were negative, Thurman has a lot of supporters. Indeed, public breastfeeding is legal in all 50 states, and most states have laws specifically allowing women to breastfeed in any public or private location. There are an increasing number of laws protecting breastfeeding mothers, including working mothers who face unique challenges of their own. For example, the Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to require employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time the employee has need to express the milk. Employers also are required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk. In addition, various states have enacted their own laws addressing lactation breaks for working mothers.