Tennessee Legislature Considering Eliminating 12 Month Limitation in Public Breastfeeding Law

Since its passage in 2006, Tennessee’s public breastfeeding law has been trouble. It reads:

68-58-101. Right to breastfeed in any location.

A mother has a right to breastfeed her child who is twelve (12) months of age or younger in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be present.

The only state breastfeeding law with an age limit, Tennessee’s statute isn’t just problematic because it reserves whatever protection it might provide to children twelve months or younger. It also creates the possibility that public breastfeeding of a child older than twelve months is unlawful in some way.

Breastfeeding in public is legal in every state. However, it is not protected in every state. Most U.S. states now have some law stating that a woman may breastfeed in public. However, women continue to be harassed and evicted from public space when they do. That is why state breastfeeding laws must have enforcement provisions – a legal recourse available to women who have been prevented from breastfeeding in public space.

Tennessee’s public breastfeeding law doesn’t have an enforcement provision. And this continues to be a problem. However, placing an age limit on the provision of the health code I quote above both creates the possibility that a store owner or police officer will assume public breastfeeding of children over twelve months is illegal but also creates a fear among women that they aren’t legally allowed to breastfeed older children in public.

A bill has been introduced in the Tennessee state Senate that would resolve one of these issues. Senate Bill 0083 states:

BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:
SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 68-58-101, is amended by deleting
the language “who is twelve (12) months of age or younger” in its entirety.
SECTION 2. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 39-13-511(d), is amended by
deleting the language “who is twelve (12) months of age or younger” in its entirety.
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect July 1, 2011, the public welfare requiring it.

Introduced this month by state Senator Mike Faulk, I haven’t seen much press on this bill. If you live in Tennessee, it is important you contact Senator Faulk’s office and find out what support this bill needs. While you are in touch with his office, adding that Tennessee’s public breastfeeding law needs an enforcement provision as well would help bring attention to this problem. But eliminating the age limitation is urgent and long overdue.

I’d love to hear from anyone in Tennessee who has had experience with this law or who can share her experience nursing in public. Are you a nursing Tennessean?

11 Comments

  • Joanna February 2, 2011 I was until very recently a nursing Tennessean, and never personally ran into a single negative word — but that’s not the case for everyone here. I will definitely do my best to get the word out about this! reply
  • teapot February 2, 2011 Still a Tennessean, but no longer nursing. Never had any problems with nursing in public when I was and as far as I know, my daughter never had had any problems. She was nursing her son until very recently, perhaps still is, but I don’t think so.Actually, nursing my son gave me a huge advantage when I had to give a deposition in 1983. In the first place, all the lawyers were thrown for a loop by the fact that I had the audacity to actually bring my 5mo with me. Then when I proceeded to nurse him when he got hungry, they were completely blown away. Nobody said anything, but I could tell that they were just about as uncomfortable about me nursing as I was about being deposed. Leveled the playing field, very nicely. Another plus: when I wanted to think about how I wanted to answer a question, I could ask for a break to change the baby’s diaper!I’ll be sure to contact my state reps about this. Thanks for posting about this, Jake.reply
    • Jake
      Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
      replied:February 2, 2011Great story! reply
  • Tweets that mention Tennessee Legislature Considering Eliminating 12 Month Limitation in Public Breastfeeding Law | Sustainable Mothering — Topsy.com February 3, 2011 […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Judy Masucci, Jake Aryeh Marcus. Jake Aryeh Marcus said: Tennessee Legislature Considering Eliminating 12 Month Limitation in Public #Breastfeeding Law http://bit.ly/hEjY1o #bfing […] reply
  • Lisa February 11, 2011I have blogged about this from the beginning. I wrote the initial letter to Sen. Faulk that brought this to his attention.
    I have breastfed my 3.5 year old in public in TN without any incidence, however, I would like to know that the law is on my side, if someone DID try to say something to me.Not just that, I think by eliminating the “age restriction” we may actually take a tiny baby step in putting a stop to childhood obesity in our state. Encourage more moms to breastfeed, which is proven to reduce the risk of childhood obesity.
    Lisa´s last [type] ..Support TN Bill to Remove Age Limitation on Protection of Breastfeeding Rights reply
  • Miralina February 14, 2011I started a Facebook page, “Knoxvillians for Breastfeeding Rights” in an effort to gather local patents together and hopefully have a “nurse-in” to raise awareness issue. Please feel free to “like” this page no matter where you are from. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Knoxvillians-for-Breastfeeding-Rights/129240427145728 reply
  • DanielleMarch 10, 2011 I nursed my daughter until she was about 5 months old (she’s now 1 year), and only stopped because of the trouble it was to find time to pump when I went back to work. I was not surprised at the negative reaction I received from nursing in public. Some people may not have outwardly said anything, but it was obvious that they were shocked or uncomfortable with it. While others would make rude comments out loud. I have never been ashamed of nursing and did not cover up (if anyone was offended by seeing what they did it would have been worse had I tried to hold a baby and situate a blanket over us and keep it from falling off). But I was surprised at the lack of support. It felt as if more women were offended by it than men, and it felt as if people had the general feeling of “breastfeeding is best, but no one wants to see or hear about it.” Support was also lacking in public health care. WIC will provide expensive formula from day one, no questions asked. But a nursing mother has to jump through hoops to qualify for a breast pump, and then it’s not even a quality pump. There definitely needs to be amendments to the law to protect mothers’ (and babies!) rights to nurse in public. If more women felt safe and supported doing it, the number of mother’s nursing would increase.reply
  • sho0g March 10, 2011 I have not had any problems with nursing in public here in Kingsport,Tn. Now that my nursling is 15 months I have wondered what the current law would mean to me. Would I be asked to leave? Or worse arrested? I think the age limit is silly and hope that the amendment gets passed. If for nothing else than piece of mind.reply
    • Jake
      Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
      replied:March 10, 2011You could be asked to leave and you could be arrested as a trespasser if you refuse. I have not heard of arrest happening to anyone but it is legally possible. reply
  • Lisa March 16, 2011 http://tnga.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=196&clip_id=3785&meta_id=68637
    Sen. Faulk’s response at approx. 27:50 on the video is spectacular!
    Lisa´s last [type] ..Support TN Bill to Remove Age Limitation on Protection of Breastfeeding Rights reply
  • Jules
    Twitter: sho0g
    March 16, 2011 http://tnga.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=196&clip_id=3785&meta_id=68637
    This is the video of Senate concerning SB 0083 it is awesome to watch how it was passed after much debate!