Breastfeeding and the law
Basically, breastfeeding in public IS legal in the United States, though sometimes people simply don't know it and therefore might complain about it. This means you can nurse your baby anywhere that you are allowed to be with the baby. Forty-three states (as of 2009) have additionally passed a law that explicitly states that fact. Note: These laws exist to clarify the legality of breastfeeding. If a state does not have such a clarifying law, breastfeeding in public is still legal.
If someone seems to be bothered by you nursing, or asks you to leave, you can kindly remind the person that breastfeeding is legal, normal and the best nutrition for the baby, or other facts about breastfeeding.
However, it may still happen that they "oust" you out. If you have had problems with public breastfeeding and have been asked to leave malls, pools, restaurants, etc., or to go to a restroom to nurse, or if you have had problems at workplace, you can report it to FirstRight. FirstRight takes every reported incident of discrimination seriously, aiming to establish a correspondence with the organization in question, and discuss to implement a breastfeeding friendly policy.
You can also report the problem to National Alliance of Breastfeeding Advocacy (NABA). NABA advocates breastfeeding at the state and federal levels, and collects information about breastfeeding discrimination incidents for statistical purposes.
Besides nursing in public, other issues with legislation include a woman's right to express milk at work and receive an exemption from jury duty. Some states mandate that employers enable women to breastfeed. Even if you don't have legislation behind you, you can do a lot to facilitate pumping breast milk at work.
Cases of public breastfeeding
The kinds of incidents listed below tend to hit the US national news every few months, so these are just a few examples. We could not possibly list them all. However, notice how in each case one person can make a difference! Individual women and activist groups have had many victories in defending women's right to breastfeed in public.
The term "nursing discreetly" refers to covering up the breast and especially the nipple while breastfeeding in public. Some women use a blanket to cover the whole situation including the baby.
The need for discreet nursing stems from the idea that seeing an exposed breast supposedly arouses sexual feelings in men. Indeed it does so in some men, but only because of the way they have been raised and influenced to think that seeing breasts is a source of sexual arousal. In many other cultures, no one thinks twice about a nursing mother and there is no need for covering up while nursing.
It is good to be discreet in presence of others if you know they might be offended by your breastfeeding. However, it is also worth considering which really is being more discreet and getting less attention: a blanket might only point out in big letters that you are breastfeeding, whereas lifting your shirt quickly and just enough to let the baby latch on is probably much more unnoticeable. And when people don't notice or pay mind to your nursing, you are being very discreet. (In fact, the older baby might plain refuse to nurse underneath a blanket, or it might sometimes be dangerously hot to nurse with a cover.)
For the laws' sake, you do NOT need to cover yourself totally with a blanket. There is nothing in the legislation stating that a nursing mother would need to only show x amount of bare skin/nipple. Also, it naturally takes a little time to get the baby to the breast, and it is very common for older babies to sometimes let go of the nipple to see what's going on around them.
For these reasons, don't be overly afraid if your nipple shows for a LITTLE while while getting the baby on breast—it is just a part of the normal breastfeeding experience and people should understand that. Many moms find that people in general don't stare, and after doing it for a while, they become totally comfortable with nursing in public.
As far as men staring, while some men indeed might get aroused by the sight of a partially bare breast, most simply try not to pay any mind so that you wouldn't feel uncomfortable. Also, many men are simply curious about female breasts and breast-feeding since the society has made it such a taboo. They are not wanting to look at you with lust, but are simply interested in the process since it is something they may have not seen much.
It is well known that if you make a taboo freely available and expose it (whatever it might be), then it gradually loses its attractiveness and taboo status. At a certain time in history, women's bare ankles were a fetish—yet today men are not turned on by seeing them. Covering up something makes it forbidden, which then produces feelings of curiosity.
It is noted among naturists and nudists that they have a lower rate of teenage sexual relationships. Why? Because to those teens the human body is not a taboo; they know what it looks like and are not obsessed or curious by bare skin.
Similarly, the more women breastfeed out in the open, the more EVERYBODY will get to see women's breasts fulfilling their natural function of feeding babies, the less taboo the breast becomes, and the less obsessed men will be by it. So, by nursing in public you can actually help all the people whose thinking has been turned backwards by the media and society.
One of the main things affecting how the general public feels about breastfeeding in public is how much mothers do so! Just imagine, if practically all mothers nursed their babies, then it would be commonplace to see nursing infants and older babies in public, too. Then women wouldn't have to be embarrassed by it, nor would others present pay much mind to such an everyday occurrence. And though it might be difficult, nursing mothers can change other people's views about breastfeeding. So be encouraged to nurse in public places - you are making it a little easier for all the other moms, while at the same time you can let men and boys see the real purpose of breasts.
We desperately need mothers breastfeeding their babies openly in public, so that children, teens, and also adults can see it happening and learn how natural it is. For the same reason, children also need breastfeeding dolls, not dolls with a bottle. They need to read books and see TV shows with nursing mothers. A girl who grows up realizing that breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby will be much more likely to try it. A boy who grows up having seen nursing moms is much more likely to be supportive of his wife's nursing. And all of us will be much less likely to be disturbed by breastfeeding moms out in public.
Women's stories on breastfeeding in public:
The international breastfeeding symbol
A multi-tasking breastfeeding mama