A Senate committee voted today to remove the current age limit for breastfeeding in public, but not without some senators fretting that they were going too far.
“Is 35 a child?” asked Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson. “I know that sounds crazy, but I’m thinking of a situation in a bar where maybe things got a little crazy.”
“I know I’m going way out on a fringe thinking a 14-year-old, but weird things happen in our society,” said Watson.
Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, said she had “read somewhere” of a mother breastfeeding a 5-year-old in a restaurant and that would make people uncomfortable.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, declaring that “at some point there should be some sort of line,” proposed an amendment to allow public breastfeeding up to age 3.
“There are a lot of strange people in this world,” said Campfield.
But Campfield’s 3-year-old amendment was voted down after the bill sponsor, Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Kingsport, said it was wrong for government to be setting an “arbitrary” limit on a matter that should be between a mother and her child.
“In the first place, why would a mother be charged with indecent exposure for breastfeeding a child and why would that be the business of the state?” said Faulk. “And, third, who’s going to (check the) ID (of) the child (for age)?”
The one-year age limit for children being breastfed in public was set by a 2006 law. Dr. Julie Ware, a Memphis pediatrician and author of a book on breastfeeding, told the committee that Tennessee is the only state in the nation with an age limit on breastfeeding.
Ware said studies show about 65 percent of mothers begin breastfeeding after a birth, but only 17 percent are still breastfeeding when the infant reaches 12 months old. Breastfeeding offers multiple physical benefits for both children, who have been shown to have fewer illnesses as a result, and for mothers, who have a lower rate of breast cancer.
Repealing the age limit, Ware said, would hopefully help encourage breastfeeding by more mothers. The Academy of Pediatrics, she said, recommends breastfeeding for at least a year and suggests there are benefits up to age two.
She conceded that the instance of a 5-year-old being breastfed, as cited by Ford, would be “out of the ordinary” and perhaps cause a stir, but is not really relevant.
“The intent of this bill is to focus on what is natural and normal and not what is out of the realm,” she said.
The bill (SB83) was eventually approved 7-1 with Campfield abstaining. It now goes to the Senate floor for a vote.
UPDATE: The House companion bill was approved unanimously and with little debate by the House Health and Human Resources Committee later in the day.