Breastfeeding in Washington State (2023)


Updated October 2021

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  • Lactancia materna en el estado de Washington - Spanish

  • Грудное вскармливание в штате Вашингтон- Russian

This memo explains your rights about breastfeeding/expressing milk in public and in the workplace. It also gives some basic information on working with your employer to create a plan for expressing milk at work, as well as breastfeeding tips and resources.

Can I Breastfeed in Public?

Yes. In Washington, you have the right to breastfeed your child in any public place. This means you can breastfeed in restaurants, stores, parks, shopping malls, libraries, and other public places.

You have the right to uncover your breast to breastfeed. It is not considered “indecent exposure.” No one can make you stop breastfeeding, cover yourself, move, or leave.

If you are discriminated against for breastfeeding in public, you can:

  • file a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission,

  • file a complaint with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (if the discrimination happened in Seattle), and

  • file a private lawsuit in court.

See listings under Filing a Complaint and The Law in the Resources section below.

Can I Breastfeed or Express Milk at Work?

Many workers in Washington state have the legal right to take extra breaks to express milk or breastfeed their baby.

Even if your employer doesn’t have to offer these breaks, you can still make a plan with them to achieve breastfeeding goals.

(Video) Overlake Medical Center opens Washington state's first breast milk distribution site

If you do have the right to take these extra breaks, this right includes:

  • a reasonable break you need until your child is 2 years old,

  • a clean and private place to take these breaks that is .

These rules apply whether you are breastfeeding your child or expressing milk to use later. Your employer does not have to pay you for these extra breaks.

How Do I Know if My Employer Is Covered by This Law?

If your employer has fifteen or more employees working within 75 miles of each other, and is not a religious or sectarian nonprofit organization, you have the right to take these breaks.

Even if your employer is not required to give you these breaks, it is worth trying to work out a plan that will support your breastfeeding goals. Read on for information about making a plan with your employer.

Washington State law encourages employers to make policies that support breastfeeding in the workplace, like allowing flexible work schedules, having a place to refrigerate breast milk and wash supplies.

For more information, see the Resources section below.

How Can I Prepare to Breastfeed at Work?

Make a plan with your employer.

Before your baby is born, talk with your supervisor about a plan for expressing your breast milk during work hours. You can do this even if your workplace isn’t covered by the law. Here are some suggestions to help create this plan:

  • Your employer may not know about the laws that support most breastfeeding employees. Try to talk with your supervisor before returning to work about your breastfeeding goals. Be prepared to help them understand how simple it will be to meet your needs. The laws are linked below in the Resources list.

  • Have ideas in mind before you talk to your supervisor. Explain how long it should take you to pump, how often you will need to pump, and how you will schedule this around your work duties. Emphasize that these needs are temporary. Be flexible.

  • Ask for a clean, comfortable, private location to pump. If your employer does not have a ready location, look around and find a private, comfortable room with a door that locks from the inside, and suggest it. If there is no private room or you work in a non-office environment, there are other options for setting up a private place. Contact the Breastfeeding Coalition of WA for some ideas. See Breastfeeding Support in the Resources section below.

  • If you feel your employer is not giving you enough time or flexibility to express milk, talk with him or her about balancing your work and nursing needs. Could you shorten your lunch break to make time for other breaks when you pump? Could you come in early or leave late to make up for the missed time? Make it clear that you are not asking for extra time off, just a better combination of breaks.

  • Depending on your job and the needs of your employer, think about returning to work slowly, like starting part-time, trying job-sharing, or telecommuting.

  • If you discuss your needs with your employer and they are not making accommodations for you, you can file a complaint. See Resources below.

Some practical tips:

  • Make sure you have the breastfeeding equipment you need, like a pump to help you express milk, and contact your health insurance plan to ask about your breastfeeding benefits. Federal law requires most health insurance plans to provide breastfeeding pumps and other equipment and counseling, often at no cost. See “Insurance rights” listed under The Law in the Resources section below.

  • Visit the room that you will use to express milk. If you plan to use an electric pump, find and test the electrical outlet. Make sure there is a clean refrigerator and a sink for washing your hands and breast pump equipment.

  • Download or request a copy of My Guide to Working and Breastfeeding. This booklet provides tips on how to make working and breastfeeding work for you. It has resources and information on preparing to go back to work, pumping and storing your breast milk and much more. (See listing under in the Resources section below.)

My Milk Supply is Going Down. What Do I Do?

It is possible that your milk supply will start to go down once you return to work, even if you are pumping regularly. Breastfeeding support from a trained professional can be very helpful. Contact your local Le Leche League or WithinReach to find breastfeeding help near you. Also, kellymom offers a wealth of information on a wide range of topics related to breastfeeding, including what affects milk supply and how to increase milk supply. (See listings under Breastfeeding Support in the Resources section below.)


Breastfeeding Support

  • Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington: A statewide network of coalitions promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding as a vital part of the health and development of children and families.

    • By phone: (206) 838-8655

  • WithinReach:A statewide non-profit organization providing access to local resources and working with families, community partners, corporate and foundation leaders, and opinion makers.

    • WithinReach Family Health Hotline: 1-800-322-2588 or (206) 284-2465

  • My Guide to Working and Breastfeeding, by the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington

  • kellymom: Information about breastfeeding mothers, babies, breast milk, milk supply, common concerns and issues, and returning to work

    (Video) New breastfeeding laws could soon go into effect in Washington

  • La Leche League:Mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education.

    • By phone: 1-800-1-800-LA-LECHE

  • Office on Women’s Health:Information and support on a range of breastfeeding issues. (En español)

    • By phone:1-800-994-9662

For Employers

Filing a Complaint

The Law

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities.It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.

This information is current as of October 2021. Revised by Chloë Phalan, reviewed by JonaRose Feinberg and Andrew Kashyap.Acknowledgements to Jennifer Werdell, Alex Sosa, Inessa Baram-Blackwell, Tara Dotson, June Krumpotick, and Rachel Schwartz for their work on previous versions of this memo.

© 2021 Legal Voice — 1-206-682-9552

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justiceand to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)


Can you breastfeed in public in Washington state? ›

(RCW 43.70, 9A. 88.010). 2009: Breastfeeding mothers are protected under state anti-discrimination law, and can breastfeed their children in places of public accommodation such as restaurants, pools, theaters, government buildings, museums, libraries, busses, or parks. (RCW 49.60.

Is breastfeeding legal in all 50 states? ›

All fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. Thirty-one states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws.

Can you legally breastfeed anywhere UK? ›

You are legally allowed to breastfeed your baby in public. That might be a café, shop, library or on public transport (basically any business that provides a service to the public). The Equality Act states that it is sex discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably if she is breastfeeding.

What is considered reasonable break time for nursing mothers? ›

Two nursing breaks of 15 minutes are to be given. The employer will also allow an extra break for the purpose of travel to and from the place or creche where the children are left by the woman while on duty. The period of this travel should be sufficient depending upon the distance to be covered.

Is it OK to breastfeed in public? ›

During your baby's first few days, you may prefer to breastfeed only where you feel most comfortable. But, as you get more used to doing it, you're likely to feel more confident about breastfeeding in front of other people when you're out and about. Most people support women breastfeeding in public.

What does Islam say about breastfeeding? ›

Most Muslims see breastfeeding as the God (Allah) given right of the child according to the rules of Shariah (Islamic Law). The religious laws regarding breastfeeding are all from the Quran and give parents a degree of flexibility and choice.

How do you discreetly breastfeed in public? ›

It's easy to breastfeed discreetly in public if you wear the right clothes. A loose-fitting shirt or top that lifts or can be unbuttoned from the waist will let you feed your baby without exposing your breast, because the baby will cover the nipple and lower breast.

Can males breastfeed? ›

Can men breastfeed? The short answer is no, in general men can't lactate or breastfeed. There are some exceptions, though. Some transgender men and nonbinary people nurse their babies (and use the term chestfeeding or bodyfeeding rather than breastfeeding).

Can you breastfeed in public in Dubai? ›

There is no law which prevents breastfeeding in public in Dubai, however, local culture promotes modesty. Which means mothers may want to find a private place to breastfeed their little ones. There have been reported cases of women being asked to leave restaurants, whilst breastfeeding.

Can you breastfeed in church UK? ›

What does the law say? It is entirely legal to breastfeed in public places anywhere in the UK. According to the Equality Act of 2010, treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding a child of any age is considered sex discrimination.

Is public breastfeeding illegal in Scotland? ›

The right to breastfeed in Scotland. When you are in charge of a child of under 24 months you have the right to breastfeed your child in a public place or on licensed premises (for example on a bus, in a restaurant or in a cinema), as long as the child is lawfully permitted to be in that place.

What culture breastfeeds the longest? ›

In Mongolia, breastfeeding is celebrated and public breastfeeding encouraged with 65 percent of babies being exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Breastfeeding also tends to continue until after the second birthday.

Do Chinese people breastfeed? ›

Breastfeeding in China

Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information and the support of their family, the health care system and society at large.

Are breastfed babies more affectionate? ›

Breastfeeding creates a bonding experience between mother and child because it promotes skin-to-skin contact, more holding and stroking. Many experts say that affectionate bonding during the first years of life helps lessen social and behavioral problems in both children and adults.

Is it possible to breastfeed and work full time? ›

There is no need to stop breastfeeding when you return to work. Returning to paid work doesn't prevent you from breastfeeding your baby. Depending on the nature of your job and the age of your baby, you'll probably need to adjust your nursing relationship.

Does your job have to give you time to pump? ›

Under the law, employers are required to allow eligible employees reasonable break time to pump whenever needed. Employers are also required to provide eligible employees with a private place to pump—space that is shielded from view, free from intrusion, and NOT in a bathroom.

Do employers have to provide a refrigerator for breast milk? ›

Access to a sink with running water and a refrigerator suitable for storing milk, in close proximity to the employee's workspace must also be provided by the employer. If your employer has less than 50 employees it may be exempt from the lactations law's requirements if it meets certain conditions.

Why is public breastfeeding frowned upon? ›

Breastfeeding in public requires women to be discrete and covered-up, so as not to expose her breast. She is also required to feed in an appropriate place to avoid discomforting others, guard against judgement, and to protect herself from the unwanted male gaze.

What rights do breastfeeding mothers have? ›

Workplace regulations require employers to provide suitable facilities where pregnant and breastfeeding mothers can rest. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that it's good practice for employers to provide a private, healthy and safe environment for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk.

Is it a crime to breastfeed someone elses baby? ›

It's not illegal to breastfeed another person's child. It happens all the time. If the person happens to transmit a disease to the child, there may be a case to make against them.

What did a wet nurse do? ›

Use of a wet nurse, “a woman who breastfeeds another's child” (Davis, 1993, p. 2111), was a common practice before the introduction of the feeding bottle and formula. Wet nursing began as early as 2000 BC and extended until the 20th century.

What do Muslims do when a baby is born? ›

Birth customs
  • THE ADHAN. It is customary for the father, or a respected member of the local community, to whisper the Adhan into the baby's right ear. ...
  • TAHNEEK. ...
  • TAWEEZ. ...
  • AQIQAH. ...

Is breast milk Haram? ›

“Therefore, if one's wife has milk in the breasts and it is feared that by taking them in the mouth, milk will also enter, then it will be impermissible to suck on the breasts. Otherwise, it will be permissible.” All the other madhhabs allow it without any impermissibility attached to it.

How can I breastfeed without a pillow? ›

If no pillow is available, crossing your leg on the side you are nursing will bring your baby closer to your breast. A lap pillow is essential for women who deliver by C-section to keep the baby's weight from pressing against their incision.

Can you drink alcohol while breastfeeding? ›

Many breastfeeding mums choose to stop drinking alcohol, however, occasional light drinking while breastfeeding has not been shown to have any adverse effects on babies. Alcohol is best avoided until your baby is over three months old and then enjoyed as an occasional treat.

How can a wet nurse produce milk? ›

A woman can only act as a wet nurse if she is lactating (producing milk). It was once believed that a wet nurse must have recently undergone childbirth in order to lactate. This is not necessarily the case, as regular breast stimulation can elicit lactation via a neural reflex of prolactin production and secretion.

What does breastmilk taste like? ›

Breast milk tastes like milk, but probably a different kind than the store-bought one you're used to. The most popular description is “heavily sweetened almond milk.” The flavor is affected by what each mom eats and the time of day. Here's what some moms, who've tasted it, also say it tastes like: cucumbers.

What causes a man to lactate? ›

What makes a man lactate? Most cases of male galactorrhea are caused by high levels of a hormone called prolactin. Prolactin is the human hormone that stimulates milk production. Everyone has a small amount of prolactin in their blood, but it is not usually enough to lead to milk production.

Can you breastfeed in Abu Dhabi? ›

The United Arab Emirates has passed a law requiring mothers to breastfeed their children until they are two years old.

Should babies talk while breastfeeding? ›

Babies need to hear language before they can start talking. You are supporting and loving your baby by talking to them, even if they can't talk back yet.

How do you breastfeed in public with muslin? ›

Take a scarf or muslin with you

Some mums say they feel more comfortable when they are 'covered' with a scarf or muslin. Draping one of these over your shoulder and chest while you feed can give you and your baby privacy, but just make sure your baby can breathe easily.

Is breastfeeding in public legal in Canada? ›

All mothers have the right to breastfeed their babies in public anywhere, anytime. policy, no one should stop a mother from breastfeeding her child, ask her to cover up or move her to another place.

When should I stop breastfeeding UK? ›

There's no reason why you should not continue breastfeeding your child into their 2nd year and beyond. You and your toddler can continue to enjoy the benefits of breastfeeding for as long as you want to. Your toddler may also find breastfeeding comforting when they're ill or upset.

Can you breastfeed in Catholic Church? ›

Pope Francis baptized 34 babies Sunday in an annual ceremony in the Sistine Chapel. He repeated advice from previous years: mothers should feel free to breastfeed during the service. There are many spaces where women are discouraged from breastfeeding in public.

Is breastfeeding illegal in Idaho? ›

Can I Breastfeed in Public? Yes! In 2018, House Bill 448 was introduced and later passed to amend sections of Idaho Code that specifically call out breastfeeding as EXEMPT from indecent exposure laws.

Can I breastfeed my baby on the bus? ›

If you're planning to breastfeed, wear whatever feels comfortable for you to feed in. And don't forget, it's absolutely your right to breastfeed in public places including public transport, such as buses and trains (Maternity Action, 2018).

What are the breastfeeding laws in Nevada? ›

Nevada Law on Breastfeeding in Public

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast feed her child in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother's breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.

What percentage of British mothers breastfeed? ›

This decreased to 72% in 2019/20 and remained the same in provisional data for 2021/22 (covering April to October 2021). Between 2009/10 and 2018/19, the percentage of infants totally or partially breastfed at six to eight weeks fluctuated at around 45%, before increasing to 48% in 2019/20 and 2020/21.

What country has the lowest breastfeeding rate? ›

LONDON — Only 1 in 200 women in the U.K., or 0.5 percent, breastfeed their children until they are 1 year old — the lowest rate in the world.

What country breastfeeds the most? ›

Croatia has the highest rate of breastfeeding in the entire world. More than 98 percent of all babies are breastfed starting at birth. Some of the other countries that also have very high rates of breastfeeding include Rwanda, Chile, and Burundi. All of these countries have breastfeeding rates greater than 80 percent.

Is breastfeeding common in Japan? ›

According to surveys conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in Japan, more than 90% of pregnant women hope to breastfeed their children. Nevertheless, only 50% of mothers are able to continue EBF with their children up to even 3 months postpartum4.

Why breastfeeding rates are so low in China? ›

Low rate of breastfeeding in China attributed to heavy marketing of infant formula. Only 29.2% of infants aged six months and below are exclusively breastfed in China, with the heavy marketing of infant formula found to be a key factor, a study conducted by the China Development Research Foundation has found.

What Asians feed their babies? ›

Baby Food Around the World: What Baby's First Foods are Around the World
Country/ RegionMost Common First Food for Babies
ChinaXifan, a rice porridge, paired with mashed fruits, soft vegetables, tofu, seaweed, eggs or fish
JapanRice cereal and radish; miso soup; rice porridge served with veggies and dried fish
9 more rows

Why do breastfed babies cry more? ›

New mums should be advised that it is normal for their baby to cry more if they are breastfed, say experts. The Medical Research Council team says this irritability is natural, and although formula-fed babies may appear more content and be easier to pacify, breast is still best.

Can baby smell mothers room? ›

Babies recognize their mother's scent even before they are born. Your baby is biologically and genetically programmed to connect to you through your unique smell.

At what age is breastfeeding no longer beneficial? ›

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization also recommend exclusive breastfeeding for about the first 6 months, with continued breastfeeding along with introducing appropriate complementary foods for up to 2 years of age or longer.

Is pumping in public protected? ›

Under the law, employers are required to allow eligible employees reasonable break time to pump whenever needed. Employers are also required to provide eligible employees with a private place to pump—space that is shielded from view, free from intrusion, and NOT in a bathroom.

What is Chestfeeding? ›

Chestfeeding is feeding your baby with milk from your chest. If you're able to chestfeed, it's your decision whether you do and you can change your mind at any time. You will be fully supported in any decisions you make.

Can I pump at work past a year? ›

What must an employer provide to workers who need to express breast milk in the workplace? Employers are required to provide a reasonable amount of break time and a space to express milk as frequently as needed by the nursing mother, for up to one year following the birth of the employee's child.

Which hormone is important for milk secretion? ›

Prolactin. Prolactin is necessary for the secretion of milk by the cells of the alveoli.

What does Islam say about breastfeeding? ›

Most Muslims see breastfeeding as the God (Allah) given right of the child according to the rules of Shariah (Islamic Law). The religious laws regarding breastfeeding are all from the Quran and give parents a degree of flexibility and choice.

What is the world average age for breastfeeding? ›

Globally, La Leche League International notes, the average age of weaning hovers near 4 or 5 years. However, research by an anthropologist at Texas A&M University argues that the natural weaning age for humans is somewhere between 2.5 and 6 years old.

How many breaks do you get to pump? ›

How often do nursing moms need breaks to pump? Women typically pump every 2 to 3 hours, or around two to three times per 8-hour work period. Women who work 12-hour shifts may need to pump three to four times to maintain their milk production.

Did men ever breastfeed? ›

The answer is yes! Although rare, there are historical records of men breastfeeding their infants, usually when the mother was unable to because of illness or death.

Can a guy lactate? ›

The short answer is no, in general men can't lactate or breastfeed. There are some exceptions, though. Some transgender men and nonbinary people nurse their babies (and use the term chestfeeding or bodyfeeding rather than breastfeeding).

Whats the difference between breastfeeding and Chestfeeding? ›

Chestfeeding is a word that may be new to you if you've just given birth and are new to the world of lactation yourself. Pickles & Ice Cream Georgia® is here to explain this term, when to use it, and why it's relevant to you! Physically, chestfeeding is exactly the same as breastfeeding.

How do you discreetly pump at work? ›

A layered look of a sweater or a V-neck top over a nursing tank can also allow you to pump discreetly while still looking put together. Try to relax. It can be hard to get your breast milk flowing if you're stressed, so take some time to transition from work to your pumping space.

Do employers have to provide a refrigerator for breast milk? ›

Employees who have a right to pump milk at work also have a right to store their milk safely. Your employer must provide ​a refrigerator suitable for storing milk nearby your work area. ​If a refrigerator cannot be provided, your employer must provide another device to keep your milk cool.

How long of a break do you get to pump at work? ›

The law does not specify the amount of break time. Some mothers need 15 minutes, but other mothers may need 30 minutes or more. Some mothers might only pump twice a day, other mothers might pump four times. “Reasonable” break time makes accommodation for variations in biology.

Can a woman produce milk forever? ›

There is no maximum age, up to which a mother can produce breast milk. Whenever the pregnancy happens, the lactogen process starts immediately.

Why some mothers Cannot produce milk? ›

Various factors can cause a low milk supply during breast-feeding, such as waiting too long to start breast-feeding, not breast-feeding often enough, supplementing breastfeeding, an ineffective latch and use of certain medications. Sometimes previous breast surgery affects milk production.

How many extra calories do breastfeeding mothers burn each day? ›

Calories burned during breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can also help you manage or lose your postpartum weight. Moms burn about 500 extra calories a day while producing breast milk, which could lead to faster weight loss after birth.


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