Here's a piece of good news, via a Kaiser Network update: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour signed a bill this week stipulating that "the act of breast-feeding in public may not be considered indecent exposure or disorderly conduct," according to the Associated Press. Woo-hoo! The new law, which takes effect immediately, also requires childcare facilities to provide an area for mothers to breast-feed or pump milk (and, thank heavens, says that a bathroom stall doesn't count) as well as refrigeration space and staff training for previously pumped milk, and offers nursing mothers a one-year exemption from jury duty. And, the AP notes, the law says "employers may not ban a woman from using her lunch break or other normal break times to pump milk that she can give to her baby later."
It may seem a little startling that some of these clarifications are necessary -- why on earth would an employer prevent a mother from pumping on her lunch break? -- but of course intolerance toward breast-feeding still crops up all over the country. Many states, though not all of them, provide at least some legal protection for nursing mothers; as the National Conference of State Legislatures Web site helpfully notes, 31 other states allow moms to breast-feed in public and private locations, and 15 states have laws noting that breast-feeding is not indecent exposure. Alabama, which currently has no such protections, is reportedly considering a bill like Mississippi's.
In addition to broadly permitting breast-feeding, Mississippi hopes to encourage the practice. The text of the newly passed law states: "It is the intent of the Legislature to proclaim that breast milk is life sustaining and the perfect food to ensure optimal growth, development and survival of Mississippi children." This is pretty progressive and cool. I do worry that strong language like "perfect food" and "ensure survival" may make moms whose work schedules, income levels or plain old physical difficulty make it difficult for them to breast-feed feel guilty. Still, it's great to see Mississippi aligning its ideals with its policies by providing legal support for nursing mothers.