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Breastfeeding in public

Your baby has a right to be breastfed and you have the right to breastfeed wherever you are.

breastfeeding in public

Breastfeeding your baby is a normal and everyday thing to do. Your baby has a right to be breastfed and you have the right to breastfeed wherever you are legally allowed to be.  

  • Breastfeeding when out and about is convenient, it allows you to be flexible and you don't need to organise anything beforehand.   

  • You will work out where and how to comfortably feed your baby when out and become more confident with time and practice.  

  • If you are afraid that someone might comment about you breastfeeding in public, think ahead and plan a reply. This may include a breastfeeding fact or to state your legal right.  

  • Most people understand that breastfeeding is important for mothers and babies. However, some may make critical remarks or confront you with unnecessary and illegal 'rules'. If this happens, it's okay to just say something like “We’re happy feeding here, thank you”.  

In Australian Federal Law breastfeeding is a right, not a privilege. 

Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984, it is illegal in Australia to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding.  

The Law protects your right to breastfeed 

As the former federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward (2001-2006) stated: 'A mother's right to breastfeed is protected by the federal Sex Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, pregnancy and potential pregnancy. The Act also makes clear that discrimination because a woman is breastfeeding (or expressing) is regarded as sex discrimination because it is clearly a characteristic of women.' 

Frequently asked questions about breastfeeding in public

Can I breastfeed wherever I am if my baby is hungry?

Yes. You have the right to breastfeed your baby wherever you happen to be. This right is legally supported through the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. The requirements of a baby are different to those of an adult.

All mothers have the right to meet their baby's needs. A hungry baby shouldn't be expected to wait, and no mother can be forced to ignore the needs of her baby.

When I'm out and about can someone tell me to stop breastfeeding?

Yes and No. In Australia, for example, if a person is telling you to stop breastfeeding resulting in them denying you a service because you are breastfeeding then this is classed as discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. The Act makes it illegal to discriminate in the provision of goods and services, accommodation, financial services, employment, sport or education.

Outside the provisions of the Act, it is dependent on the 'harassment' or 'prohibited conduct' law in your state or territory which may make this illegal in certain circumstances. Outside these circumstances there is no law against a member of the public telling you to stop breastfeeding. Regardless, there is no law to say that a mother cannot breastfeed. So even though they may be able to tell you not to breastfeed, you have the right to continue breastfeeding.

Can I breastfeed in a shop or restaurant?

Yes. You can breastfeed while you are a customer or using a service. This is a mother's right and is legally supported through the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

If there is a breastfeeding or baby care room nearby, do I have to breastfeed in the room?

No. Baby Care Rooms are provided as a service only. Do not feel pressured to breastfeed in one if you do not wish to. Some mums are very glad of the privacy that a Baby Care Room offers them, but other mums prefer to breastfeed wherever they happen to be. By breastfeeding out and about these mums are also helping the next generation of Australians to learn that breastfeeding is normal.

What if there is a sign saying 'NO FOOD or DRINK ALLOWED'. Can I still breastfeed?

Yes. This sign is not relevant to a baby who is breastfeeding. Common sense will be helpful in this situation. Look at why this sign may apply. If it is just to keep the area clean, you can breastfeed. However, if it is because there are chemicals present or some type of hazard, then it may not be an appropriate area to breastfeed in.

I am expressing breastmilk for my baby. Do I have the same anti-discrimination rights to express as a woman who is breastfeeding?

Yes. Your rights to express are also protected under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

What can you do if you are verbally abused for breastfeeding your baby?  

Thankfully this doesn’t happen often. However, if it does, it can really reduce your confidence. If it has left you feeling upset, you may like to: 

If you are ever in a situation where you are verbally or physically abused, then this constitutes assault and is classed as a criminal act. In this situation, in addition to the above, you can also: 

  • not respond to the aggressive behaviour and find a safe person or space 

  • contact security or the police when possible and report the incident.  

Arguments over breastfeeding in public places may give the message that breastfeeding is unnatural, undesirable or even illegal. This is not true. Don't forget that conflict and bad news are popular in reporting and more likely to make the media. If things are going along smoothly, that doesn’t make news. That's why you don't hear much about the many mothers who happily breastfeed at work, in shopping centres, in parks, in restaurants, on trains or just about anywhere, every day of the week without anyone knowing. 

Breastfeeding at the pool

Sometimes mums are told that they can’t breastfeed at public swimming pools. Usually this is because someone doesn’t approve of them breastfeeding in public. Another reason can be due to council regulations regarding bodily fluids entering the pool. However, to ask a mother not to breastfeed her baby for either reason is discrimination.


In 2011 a mother took such a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. As a result the management of the public pool had to apologise to the mother, change their policy and practices and have their staff trained.

Breastfeeding in swimming pool

Here is some helpful information for you about breastfeeding in and around a public pool. 


Breastmilk does not pose any health risk to other swimmers. Breastfeeding mums aren’t banned from using the pool even though their breasts may leak milk. Breastmilk is antibacterial and antimicrobial and because other bodily fluids get into the water, the pool is treated with chlorine to kill any bacteria.


Many babies vomit or bring up milk but they aren’t any more likely to do this while breastfeeding or just after feeding than at other times. Breastfed babies are no more likely to vomit after being fed than formula-fed babies. Mums whose babies vomit a lot are very aware of this and take measures to avoid this happening wherever they are.

No eating rule

Most swimming pools have a rule against eating or drinking in the pool. Breastmilk isn’t like these because it won’t contaminate the pool in the same way. Breastmilk is also a means of comforting a baby, not just for food. Your baby can’t plan when they want to eat.

A mum's story

Frieda and daughter Erika 

My little girl was around 6 months and was sent home from day care with a cold. She was at a centre 5 minutes from work so I fetched her. However, I had a very important 2-hour meeting that afternoon, so I gave my colleagues the choice: me and baby, or no one! She fed/slept constantly on the breast for the whole meeting, which went very well.

No one particularly commented, other than to say, 'Wow, she was no bother'. The situation was initially outside my comfort zone but proved to be the best solution for everyone! I do love thinking back on the situation, as it was so unusual! 

A hungry baby shouldn't be expected to wait. No mother can be forced to ignore the needs of her baby. Breastfeed your baby whenever they need it. 

© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2022

This information is as accurate as possible but is not intended to be relied on as legal advice.