Breastfeeding in Public: Mother Sues Sheriff’s Deputy

Laura Gerdes Long

By Laura Gerdes Long

Co-authored by Laura Gerdes Long and Adrienne R. Lauf

A mother is suing a sheriff’s deputy in Cook County, Illinois for violation of the state’s Right to Breastfeed Act. The mother, who was at the courthouse to apply for food-assistance benefits, was breastfeeding her seven-week-old daughter in the lobby of the courthouse. The mother and her daughter were covered by a blanket at the time of the feeding. The deputy demanded that the mother move from the courthouse lobby to a public bathroom to breastfeed the baby. Because the mother feared she would disrupt the application process for her benefits if she were kicked out of the courthouse, she quit feeding her daughter instead of moving.

Right to Breastfeed in Illinois

In 2004 the General Assembly of Illinois passed the Right to Breastfeed Act. The stated purpose being:

“The General Assembly finds that breast milk offers better nutrition, immunity, and digestion, and may raise a baby’s IQ, and that breastfeeding offers other benefits such as improved mother-baby bonding, and its encouragement has been established as a major goal of this decade by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund. The General Assembly finds and declares that the Surgeon General of the United States recommends that babies be fed breast milk, unless medically contraindicated, in order to attain an optimal healthy start.”

A 1995 Illinois law further states that “[b]reast-feeding of infants is not an act of public indecency,” and the Right to Breastfeed Act gives the mother the right to

“… breastfeed in any location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the mother and child are covered during breastfeeding….”

Similar Rights in Missouri?

Missourians also have a statutory right to breastfeed in public. However, the law requires the mother use as much discretion as possible when breastfeeding. Missouri, just like Illinois, permits breastfeeding in any location where the mother would “otherwise be authorized to be.”

Posted by Attorney Laura Gerdes Long and law clerk Adrienne R. Lauf. Long practices in tort, insurance defense, legal malpractice, health care, and employment law. Well-versed in employment law policies and processes related to HIPAA, she serves as a trainer and advisor to health care providers, insurers, self-insured employers, and municipalities. Lauf is a rising third year student at Saint Louis University School of Law and is a Lead Executive Editor of the Saint Louis University Public Law Review. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2008 with Bachelor and Master degrees in accounting. She received her CPA license in February of 2009 while working as an auditor at a Big Four accounting firm in Kansas City, MO.

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