The debate has raged for decades: whether new mothers should be allowed to breastfeed their babies in public. Restaurants have refused to serve them or asked them to leave while feminists have called it natural and urged them to stay. Now the Michigan legislature has weighed in in favor of the right to breastfeed.
The new Breastfeeding Anti-Discrimination Act, which went into effect at the end of June 2014, makes it illegal for any place open to the general public, including businesses, schools, and state agencies, from denying the use of their facilities to nursing mothers. If they do, the mother can sue them.
The law was partnered with two amendments to the state’s criminal code. The first excluded breastfeeding from the definition of indecent exposure and the second from indecent conduct under the disorderly person statute. Both of those statutes could have subjected the new mothers to misdemeanor charges for feeding their hungry children based on their exposed breasts.
Michigan is late to the game enacting these laws. 45 other states already have laws specifically allowing mothers to breastfeed in public. As a result, Michigan is in the bottom third of state breastfeeding rates in the nation.
Proponents of the new law emphasize the health benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and child.
“There’s nothing more natural than giving birth and there’s nothing more natural than feeding your child using your body,”
says Shannon Polk, executive director of the Michigan Breastfeeding Network. Even Governor Snyder calls breastfeeding a “natural act with many proven benefits.” Those benefits include providing nourishment, protecting infants from disease, and fighting obesity. For mothers, breastfeeding can reduce the risks of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and postpartum depression.
Mothers with infants no longer need to fear being relegated to the bathroom or asked to leave when they feed their babies. But businesses may be slow to learn about the new law. If you know someone who is denied service for breastfeeding, have them contact Schmidt Law Services for a consultation.