As more women choose to breastfeed their babies whenever the child is hungry rather than on a schedule, public nursing has become more commonplace. The appropriateness of public breastfeeding is a subject of hot debate, leading many locations to pass laws regarding the subject. Basic breastfeeding laws vary by area, but typically there will either be no laws at all regarding breastfeeding, protection from criminal charges only, or the right to breastfeed in any location where the mother is allowed to be. Some locations also have breastfeeding laws related to the workplace.
An area may not have any breastfeeding laws if the population does not consider them necessary. This may be the case in areas where nursing is the primary method of feeding infants, as people there likely view nursing as a natural, necessary action. Areas in which public nudity is not a concern will also likely find no need for breastfeeding laws, since exposed breasts may be a commonplace sight and not a reason for concern or legislation.
In places where breast exposure could lead to a woman being charged with indecent exposure, public obscenity or other nudity-related charges, lawmakers can opt to pass legislation excluding breastfeeding from these crimes. Breastfeeding laws of this nature only serve to protect nursing mothers from criminal charges related to the exposure of their breasts. As a result, women in these areas do not necessarily have the right to breastfeed in public.
Other areas not only exclude exposure for purposes of breastfeeding from criminal charges but also proclaim nursing in public as a right. Women in these areas may legally breastfeed their children in any public or private location in which they are authorized to be present. In some areas, these breastfeeding laws are expanded to not only allow public breastfeeding, but also to prohibit others from interfering with the nursing process. Outlawed interference generally includes asking a woman to leave the premises because she is nursing her child.
Since many breastfeeding mothers wish to continue nursing their children after they return to work, some areas have breastfeeding laws specifically for the workplace. Most provide that employers must give a reasonable amount of unpaid time for mothers to pump breast milk in a private location other than a toilet, near their workstations. Some work-related breastfeeding laws also prohibit employers from discriminating against employees who request pumping time and from refusing to hire applicants based solely on their anticipated pumping needs.