Breastfeeding: Legal FAQs

As a topic of modern concern, ministry leaders might be wondering what approach should be taken when it comes to breastfeeding on ministry property. Your staff and ministry families may have differing opinions on the issue, so it can be hard to discern the climate of your congregation. Even your nursing mothers may not have consensus on the issue.

Before finalizing an official policy for ministry operations, it may be helpful for your leaders to understand some of the more frequently asked questions surrounding the topic of breastfeeding in public.

Q: What is the trend in public opinion of breast feeding in public?
A: The act of breastfeeding is not new, of course, but public support for breastfeeding in public fluctuates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 57 percent of respondents said they are comfortable with mothers breastfeeding in a public place. More than 68 percent of respondents agreed that a woman should have the right to breastfeed in public. 

Q: How often do infants need to be fed?
A: The CDC notes that newborn babies need to be fed typically 8–12 times per day, or every 2–3 hours. Breast-fed babies usually feed more often than babies that are formula fed; breastmilk is easier on a baby’s digestive system and takes less time for the baby to process. By approximately two months of age, feedings typically reduce to 7–9 times per day.

Q: What does the law say about breastfeeding?
A: According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico recognize the right of mothers to breastfeed in public places, either explicitly permitting it or simply exempting the activity from public indecency laws. Most states have enacted statutes permitting women to breastfeed their children any place they are “otherwise authorized to be”. 

Q: As a church, are we legally obligated to allow mothers to breastfeed anywhere on our property?
A: Your church may choose to support nursing mothers by offering a quiet room or setting aside an area restricted for breastfeeding. Owners of ministry property, or appointed board members, are likely allowed to create policies that “authorize” where certain activities may take place. However, ministry leaders should be sure to carefully communicate the policy to avoid misunderstanding.

Q: Are ministries required to let employees breastfeed or express/pump breast milk during working hours?
A: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) made many changes regarding health law in the United States, not just pertaining to health insurance coverage. The ACA amended Section 7(r) of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. 207) to require employers to provide both of the following:

  • A reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.
  • A place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion by coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.

The law also provides that “an employer shall not be required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time…for any work time spent for such purpose.” 

Some ministries may qualify for an exception to the ACA’s nursing accommodations. The exception applies to employers with less the 50 employees if the accommodation would cause an undue hardship based on size, financial resources, nature, and structure of the employer’s business. Individual states can pass laws which provide greater protections than does this federal law, so check for similar laws in your state.

Q: How often do working mothers need to pump or express breast milk?
A: When mothers return to work before their baby is six months old, the CDC says that maintaining the supply of breast milk needed to feed the baby may require that the mother express/pump milk as often as she would normally feed her baby. This likely means that the mother will need time to express/pump milk for every three hours that she is apart from her child.

Additional Guidance

We hope this information will help ministries begin to understand some of the issues regarding breastfeeding. For more information, read: