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When is Breastfeeding Against the Law?

By Edward Tan, JD | Last updated on

The latest Time Magazine cover is stirring up some controversy over breastfeeding. While it's a practice that has gone on for ages, it hasn't always been on the right side of the law.

The cover shows a woman breastfeeding her almost 4-year-old son. While the photo was no doubt meant to provoke, the article is actually about attachment parenting. A movement inspired by Dr. William Sears. He wrote a book about the subject 20 years ago.

Attachment parenting is a method meant to allow parents to form tighter emotional bonds with their children. And breastfeeding kids into their toddler years is one aspect of it.

But when does breastfeeding go too far in the eyes of the law?

It's a debate that has raged on for decades. There have been many cases in the past of women being cited for breastfeeding in public. Even photos of the practice have led to arrests, such as in the case of Jacqueline Mercado.

Mercado dropped off photos to be developed at a local Texas drug store. One of the pictures showed her breastfeeding her infant son. She was arrested and indicted by a grand jury for "sexual performance of a child." The felony charge was punishable by up to 20 years in prison. However, the charge was later dropped.

Public breastfeeding and public indecency laws have always gone hand-in-hand. Today, 45 states have laws that allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. And a majority of states exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. Federal law even requires employers to give break time for women to nurse their children.

There are safety limits though. For instance, as one Ohio woman learned, breastfeeding while driving is still against the law. But most parents should already know that, right?

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