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Know Your Public Breastfeeding Rights: A Tale of One Mother’s Brush With the Law

Known Your Breastfeeding Rights

There are times in our lives when we feel the need to stand up for ourselves, for our children, and for the children around us. Breastfeeding rights is one of those.

Breastfeeding in public has been a heated issue in the news. Lately, scheduled nurse-ins at restaurants or clothing stores have occurred, due to some manager with a need to enforce ludicrous rules that are not baby friendly—and certainly not in the best interest of the mother. Never mind that they are unlawful to begin with!

Here’s a phrase I have mentioned countless times to the mothers I have worked with:

“You need to know your breastfeeding rights. In most states, you are protected by law to breastfeed anywhere (public or private) you are otherwise authorized to be.”

That implies it is illegal for someone to ask you not to breastfeed, illegal to ask you to cover up, or otherwise imply you can’t do it in that public/private place you are authorized to be.

My family and a sweet young mama friend and her baby boy were swimming in a local public pool in Juneau, AK. Midway through our visit, one of the lifeguards kindly (initially, mind you) approached me and we began a discourse that quickly became heated—on his end.

“Excuse me ma’am, I am going to have to ask you to get out of the pool because it is not allowed to breastfeed ‘in’ the pool. There is a concern over bodily fluids. You can get out and breastfeed over there, but you can’t breastfeed in the pool.”

Now many of you are probably thinking, “Why didn’t she just get out of the pool? Bodily fluids rule and all? They didn’t say she couldn’t breastfeed, they just said she couldn’t do it in the pool?”

I’ll tell you why, mammas. Because, first of all, the issue of bodily fluids is not even a concern. Second, I need to be near my children, who are having fun swimming. Third, I refuse to get out to nurse, which would then mean I would have to make my four children get out, in order to satisfy a rule that is not even legal to enforce. Fourth, because there was another younger breastfeeding mama with me with a baby who might need to breastfeed and, sometimes, the fight is worth it.

Our conversation continued thus:

“I see, sir (who was actually just a teenager, no more than 18). Well, did you realize it is actually illegal in the state of Alaska for you to ask me to not breastfeed in the pool? Alaska state law protects me, stating that I am allowed to breastfeed anywhere I am otherwise allowed to be.”

“You are welcome to speak with my supervisor.”

“Sure, that’s fine (insert sweet smile).”

Know Your Public Breastfeeding Rights: A Tale of One Mother's Brush With the LawSupervisor takes over, and it’s he and I discussing the issue now.

“Well, we aren’t saying you can’t breastfeed—just not in the pool.”

“I see what you mean, but I have no intention of getting out of the pool because what you are asking me is not lawful. You see, I am just trying to help you understand that while I have no intention of suing you; someone else less gracious will have no problem doing so.” 

“Well ma’am, you are welcome to take it to whatever level you would like, but I am going to have to ask you to leave.”

“I will not be leaving, and you are welcome to call the authorities if you feel it’s necessary.” (Insert second lovely smile—did you guys know I have a nice smile? One of my best features!)

“All right.”

After that encounter, I was proud of myself for not losing control. But, I understood my rights were being violated. Had I not known, I would have gotten out of the pool frustrated and probably just left because of the inconvenience with 4 kids, juggling one of them begging to nurse.

I waited, with my stomach in knots, speculating what my evening would hold.

public breastfeedingI waited for the police to barge in, and say something to the effect of,”Ma’am I am going to have to escort you off of the premises.” I was honestly planning out how I would manage a night in jail, hand expressing in a sink.

Strangely, nothing else happened. That pool supervisor was talking for quite some time to someone on the phone, though. Alas, no police came to take me away, no other pool nazis hounded me. It was uneventful, other than my amazing kids showing off their swimming skills with pizzazz. Did I mention my two-year old loves to jump in all by herself? Yes: That’s what the focus of the night should have been.

And, of course, an adorable 7-month-old with big blue eyes giggling at splashing water.

What are your breastfeeding rights in your state?

This is moi: breastfeeding, birthing, butt-kicking, Jesus loving, woman of God, who happens to be married to a hot Coastie and has four fabulous mammy-hackers. I'm a "boobie doc" and birth junkie(aka lactation counselor and birth doula) and have no plans on weaning, ever. As in, I am thinking college might not be quite long enough for my youngest to gain full independence.


  1. Isn’t there a rule of no food in the pool? If I can’t eat in the pool why does the baby get to? I do not support moms breast feeding in pools if they do not support my right to eat in the pool.

    Consider also the myriad of chemicals in the pool too, if that is on her breast when the baby begins to feed, then that baby is going to get chlorine and other human germs in its mouth.

    Get out of the pool, rinse your breast off, take a seat on one of the wall benches and then feed. You can still be able to observe your children and not have to get them all out of the pool. Disgusting and childish is what this is, shame on the mother.

    • Sarah Harkins says

      Let me attempt to address your concerns and I’ll try to ignore you’re opinion of my character. You have a right to your opinion, but before speaking it, it might behoove you to educate yourself on the matter at hand. Your comment shows a lack of understanding about how breast milk operates. It is, by its nature, antiviral, antibacterial and protects the baby from the very pathogens present in pool water. Which, by the way, are already exposed to said child the moment they enter the water. Food particles will create a breeding ground for bacteria. Breast milk will not. It actually inhibits bacteria growth. Furthermore, my children are too young, and not accomplished swimmers so leaving them out of arm’s reach is out of the question. However, this is not even the point of the article. I believe the issue is directly related to the pool employee’s lack of training in this area. This was confirmed by the apology I received at a later date. Women should be able to breastfeed, period. It is not something that needs rules or regulations.

      • Sara I have to say I am so glad this was you and not another young mama who didn’t know her rights! Thank you for standing up for what’s right! I had an instance after your incident where I was at the same pool and my baby wanted to nurse….it was frustrating to me that I felt uncomfortable doing so because I knew about your experience. I hope I can build up my courage so that if I am ever in a situation like that I can handle it as gracefully as you did.

  2. Sarah Jones says

    Yes, Brianne. Shame on the mother. What an appropriate choice of words when your issue is so clearly not what chemicals and germs Sarah’s baby is ingesting.
    Also, the irony of you calling her childish while you throw a temper tantrum about not having the same rights as an infant is not lost on me. You are an adult. You understand reason. You have self control, although not evident in your post. You understand when you are hungry and can’t eat right away that food will come eventually. A baby doesn’t.
    You are the problem, dear. You are why moms constantly feel judged. You assume you know her exact situation, and judge immediately. She has young children…the issue should be their safety, not an infant nursing when you don’t ‘get to’ eat. Would you have been fine with her leaving her children unattended in the pool? She then would have been judged for not keeping her children safe. What about if she had dragged them all out, and they were whining as they sat there anxious to get back in? Noisy, unruly children. But yet, when she did what she thought safest and best for all of them, she was still judged by you.
    Please think before you post next time. Not only were you commenting on a subject that you clearly hadn’t researched, evident by your disgust, but you judged a mom for doing what was best for her kids, and came off ignorant and rude.

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