La Leche League officials say women need to know that it's legal – not obscene – to breastfeed in public. "The purpose of legislation is not to legalize it but to clarify the fact that women have the right to breastfeed in public, or that it is not a criminal offense, such as indecent exposure," the LLL website says.
The fear of being scolded or asked to leave a public venue while nursing is potent and can scare women away from nursing outside of the home, said Jody Wright, breastfeeding proponent and president of Motherwear, a clothing maker that produces nursing wear. "We're afraid someone's going to say something to us," said Wright, who nursed her four children, three of whom were adopted. When federal or state legislation is passed -- pointedly expressing governmental and law enforcement support for breastfeeding -- Wright said that can "make women feel empowered because they have the law behind them."
Dr. Barbara L. Philipp, medical director of The Breastfeeding Center at Boston Medical Center, said having government officials hold press conferences to discuss breastfeeding as a natural and healthy thing would help change the climate for nursing, which she and others say can be hostile. "My sense is that in our United States culture, breasts are for sex," Philipp said. ". . . Our country is a very bad breastfeeding nation."
A 2001 study reported in the medical journal Pediatrics, found nearly 70 percent of American women were nursing within the first few days after birth, and 33 percent made it to six months. Those figures mark an increase since the 2000 LLL report which found 68 percent of new mothers in the United States breastfeeding their babies in the days after delivery. By the time the infants were six months old, 31 percent were breastfed, and at a year old, 18 percent were still nursing, LLL reported.
Those percentages are way too low as far as Philipp is concerned. Federal government officials have set a national goal to have 75 percent of newborns breastfeeding while still in the hospital and 25 percent nursing at 12 months.
A 2000 HHS report on how to increase American breastfeeding rates equated any breastfeeding increase with the support of federal, state and local officials, as well as professional organizations, health professionals and the general public. LLL echoed the federal department's sentiments saying that, "Legislation that recognizes the importance of breastfeeding is just one step toward helping our society become more supportive of breastfeeding."