HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Right to Express Milk

Mathilde Cohen (University of Connecticut), The Right to Express Milk, 33 Yale J.L. & Feminism (2021):

Breastfeeding in public has become more accepted, but milk expression—defined as removing milk from the breasts manually or using a breast pump—continues to be seen as a distasteful bodily function analogous to urination or sex, which should be confined to the private sphere. Few states explicitly exempt milk expression from their indecent exposure and obscenity laws. Yet, far from being a marginal activity, milk expression is often a necessary component of successful lactation. It allows parents with disabilities that challenge feeding at the breast to produce milk. It is instrumental in feeding babies who are unable to suckle at the breast or those who are temporarily separated from their parents, whether because the parents are ill, must report to work, have shared custody, or need to participate in political, social, and other aspects of life. In other words, milk expression is vital for human milk feeding in numerous circumstances and necessary for lactating parents to enjoy equal citizenship on par with non-lactating people.

Legal scholarship is growing in the field of lactation law, but work that specifically focuses on milk expression and its legal implications beyond the workplace—from the regulation of breast pumps as medical devices to the question of whether public milk expression should be protected—is missing. This Article contributes to the literature by arguing that milk expression should be recognized as part of a reproductive justice-based right to breastfeed through a combination of civil rights, FDA law, insurance law, health law, tax law, and work law. Parents need paid parental leave, paid lactation breaks, and access to affordable, high-quality, and culturally competent healthcare and lactation counseling and technology. In addition, they should have the right to express milk in every space where they have the right to be present.

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