Breast-Feeding at Work: Australian Senator Breaks Barrier in Parliament Chamber

Australian Senator Becomes First Woman to Breastfeed on Parliament Floor
Mothers participate in a demonstration in a shopping mall in Montreal on January 19, 2011. On May 9, an Australian woman became the first to breast-feed her child on the Parliament floor. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

Larissa Waters isn’t the first woman to be elected a senator in Australia, but she is the first woman to breast-feed her baby in the Parliament chamber. The Greens senator made history Tuesday when she fed her 2-month-old daughter, Alia, while voting on the Parliament floor.

The Australian government in 2016 changed regulations that prevented mothers from breast-feeding their children on the floor. Before the change, children weren’t allowed in the Parliament chamber and mothers were given proxy votes while they were nursing.

“I am so proud that my daughter Alia is the first baby to be breast-fed in the federal Parliament!” Waters wrote on Facebook. “We need more women and parents in Parliament. And we need more family-friendly and flexible workplaces, and affordable childcare, for everyone.”

Waters was one of several women in Parliament who led the charge to change breast-feeding rules in the Senate last year, after Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O’Dwyer, who was an assistant at the time, was advised by a male Parliament member to list breast-feeding as an excuse for not fulfilling her parliamentary duties after giving birth in 2015.

Australia's House of Representatives changed rules to allow mothers and fathers to bring their babies to the Parliament floor not long after the Senate updated its regulations.

Senator Katy Gallagher, a former chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory, told Sky News that Waters’s milestone moment deserved recognition.

"Women have been doing it in parliaments around the world.… It is great to see it is able to occur now in the Senate," she said Tuesday. "Women are going to continue to have babies and if they want to do their job and be at work and look after their baby…the reality is we are going to have to accommodate that."

In the United States, 49 states and Washington, D.C., have laws authorizing women to breast-feed in public and in private locations. However, only 29 states and Washington have laws exempting nursing mothers from public indecency laws.