Breastfeeding Wherever You Go
There’s no need to stay at home just because you’re breastfeeding. Mothers nurse their babies anywhere and everywhere, and you can learn to do this, too.
A mom should feel free to feed her baby whenever and wherever without restrictions, so I don’t mean the following suggestions to be misconstrued as placing any sort of limits on nursing. Rather, these are some tips that may help some of the more shy moms out there to become more comfortable with breastfeeding in public situations and find what works best for your family.
Breastfeeding at home in the first weeks postpartum includes lots of skin-to-skin contact with baby and lots of “letting it all hang out.” When nursing at the mall, the museum, or your father-in-law’s house, some mothers may be more comfortable with a different approach. There’s nothing at all wrong with exposing a breast so that a baby can nurse, but some new mothers worry about “offending other people” and look for ways to not draw attention in public situations. Obviously your first consideration will be your baby. When he’s hungry or in need of comfort, he wants the breast! Thankfully our society is becoming more accustomed to this normal, natural practice, but new moms sometimes feel a little nervous nursing in public situations: “What do I wear? What do I do if somebody approaches me?” and so on. If you need a little encouragement venturing out of the house with your little one, read on for some helpful, practical tips.
Tried-and-true Tips for Breastfeeding in Public
Some simple strategizing can make breastfeeding in public an easy and natural thing to do. Here are some tips on what to wear, how to get baby started, teaching baby good nursing “manners”, where to nurse, what to do if someone hassles you and how to help yourself feel more comfortable. It helps to practice discreet nursing at home first.
What to Wear
Simple, accessible clothing is the key to breastfeeding in public. Wear clothes that make it easier to nurse discreetly.
- Two-piece outfits with loose tops are the best. You can lift the shirt from the bottom so the baby can get at the breast. If you’re wearing a shirt or blouse that buttons, unbutton it from the bottom up, rather than the top down. Think “tucking Baby in” rather than taking your breast out.
- Drape a nursing shawl over your shoulder and over baby as you nurse.
- A baby sling is a real boon to public nursing especially if you need to be mobile. You can stroll through shops or play with a toddler in the park once you get the hang of sling nursing.
- Nursing bras that can be unfastened with one hand makes it easy to get your baby started at the breast, but refastening bra cups often requires two hands. You can to wait to do this when you have a private moment–a reason to avoid clingy or sheer tops when you’re out with Baby.
- Prints and loose styles camouflage leaking–and spit-up stains.
- One of the best ways to avoid drawing a lot of attention when breastfeeding in public is to be alert to your baby’s hunger cues and feed him before he is howling. He’ll latch on more easily, and you won’t have lots of people scowling at you.
- Anticipate that you will feed your baby while you’re out and about. Don’t nurse as a last resort when all your attempts to hold Baby off have failed.
- The breast may be exposed during the moment it takes for your little one to latch on. This is more likely with young babies than for experienced nursers. You can simply turn your back to the rest of the room while you get him started if you feel clumsy or uncertain. Practice at home using a nursing shawl – the moves will get smoother as you both learn.
- If you’re still using a pillow to nurse at home, when you are out you can use your diaper bag, a folded sweater, or something else in your lap to bring Baby up to breast level while you nurse. Attention to your own position and latch-on away from home will keep you comfortable and will help avoid sore nipples with a baby who is still learning to latch.
- Keep an eye on your baby while she’s nursing if she’s the kind who likes to pop off and smile up at you from time to time, if you don’t have a shawl in place for privacy. It’s simple to just flip your shirt down during these tender moments.
- If you have a baby who loves to push your sweater all the way up to your collarbone, try holding that free baby hand in yours while breastfeeding in public places.
- As your baby/toddler gets older, teach her good nursing manners when you’re nursing at home. Climbing around on your lap while nursing may seem okay on your living room sofa, but you probably won’t appreciate this behavior in the middle of a restaurant.
Where to go when breastfeeding in public.
Here are some strategies for different locations:
- If you are a beginner, choose an out-of-the-way place to nurse your baby, if possible, and if this really matters to you. Many malls these days offer nursing lounges specifically designed for breastfeeding moms.
- In a restaurant, ask to be seated in a booth at the side of the room, rather than in the middle of everything. Sitting with your back to the room gives you more privacy.
- At the mall, look for a seating area with nooks and crannies or plants if you don’t want to nurse in front of everyone who may be passing by. Or choose a comfortable place to sit down where you can people-watch while you nurse.
- Stop for a snack yourself and nurse in a corner of the restaurant.
- A store’s fitting room offers plenty of privacy if needed.
- Nursing in church can be a real hurdle for some women. But in many church buildings, you’ll often have more privacy and fewer comments from passersby if you nurse in a pew during the worship service rather than a hallway or even the nursery. If you breastfeed the baby before he starts to cry, most people won’t even know what you’re doing.
- Many public places are now providing areas for mothers to nurse their babies. Look for these, use them, and if you get a chance, write a note of appreciation. But don’t feel that you must hide in a special nursing mothers’ facility when you visit that major theme park. It’s often much more convenient just to breastfeed wherever.
What to do if someone hassles you for breastfeeding in public:
- Most if not all states have passed special laws affirming a woman’s right to breastfeed her baby in public places without fear of someone citing local ordinances about “indecent exposure” or other such nonsense. There’s also a federal law to this effect, about breastfeeding on federal property. While occasionally, mothers breastfeeding in restaurants, stores or at the public pool have sparked local controversies, no one has ever gotten into trouble with the law for breastfeeding in a public place. Breastfeeding in public never has been against the law.
- Fortunately, public opinion on breastfeeding is becoming more enlightened as the benefits of breastfeeding become more widely recognized. While stories about women being asked not to nurse in restaurants occasionally make headlines, in the brouhaha that follows most commentators come down squarely on the side of the nursing mother. It’s good public relations for businesses and public facilities to accommodate the needs of breastfeeding families.
- Thousands and thousands of mothers in the U.S. nurse their babies every day at the mall, the park, or the pool and other people either don’t notice, don’t care, or smile approvingly. Millions more mothers around the world think nothing of nursing wherever they may be. Chances are, no one will ever hassle you about nursing in public. If someone does express disapproval, be polite, be firm–but there’s no need to run and hide or even apologize. This is the 21st century after all, and you’re giving your baby the most advanced nutrition available!
How to help yourself and others feel more comfortable:
- For some mothers, the biggest obstacle to breastfeeding in public is their own mindset: “Nursing in public may be fine for someone else, but it’s just not me.” You may not feel instantly comfortable nursing your baby anywhere and everywhere, but start small and give it a try. Once you’ve experienced the freedom of being able to just grab a few diapers and go, you may decide that when it comes to convenience, breastfeeding is the original fast food, a meal “to-go” on a moment’s notice.
- Sometimes people who are not accustomed to being around nursing babies simply don’t know where to look while baby has his dinner. You can help them out by maintaining eye contact during conversation with this other person. That will help observers focus on your face and avoid looking at your nursing (possibly noisy) baby. A brief positive comment about your breastfed baby will also help people who are new to the world of babies feel more at ease.
- Many mothers actually find it easier to nurse around strangers than around embarrassed friends or members of their extended family. What do you do if your father-in-law enters the living room while you nurse? Or if your husband is uneasy about you nursing your baby in front of his softball buddies? A lot depends on the relationships, but in many cases, it just takes time for people who are unfamiliar with breastfeeding to feel comfortable about it. A brief comment such as “Well I guess it’s time for Baby to eat!” said with a chuckle can go a long way to dispel any tension or awkward silence in the room. This sets the tone quickly to “hey guys this is no big deal!” and can be a polite way to help those unfamiliar with nursing feel at ease to continue on with conversation. Eventually, people who care about you and your baby will take their cue from you. If you’re comfortable nursing in front of the television during the World Series, surrounded by friends old and new, these friends will soon learn to be comfortable too.
- When you first venture out into public with your baby, bring along a friend. A more experienced nursing mother can supply the confidence you need. So can a supportive husband. And smile proudly. You’re doing the best for your baby.
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”