The Art of Discrete Breastfeeding in Public
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.
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.” Nursing at the mall, the museum, or your mother-in- law’s house is going to require a different approach. There’s really nothing wrong with exposing a breast so that a baby can nurse, but in most social situations, most people are more comfortable when mothers discreetly breastfeed in public situations. Good manners suggest that you should take the feelings of others into account, but of course, your first consideration will be your baby. When he’s hungry or in need of comfort, he wants the breast!
Tried-and-true Tips for Breastfeeding in Public
Some careful strategizing can make breastfeeding in public seem like a simple 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 and others feel more comfortable. Don’t forget 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. The rest of the fabric will drape around the baby’s head to cover any exposed skin.
- If you’re wearing a shirt or blouse that buttons, unbutton it from the bottom up, rather than the top down.
- Think of nursing in terms of snuggling your baby under your clothes rather than getting your breast out.
- A loose jacket or cardigan sweater can provide extra coverage for your middle.
- Drape a lightweight blanket or shawl over your shoulder and over baby as you nurse.
- An old t-shirt worn under a sweater or another shirt can provide extra coverage and protect your middle from cold drafts. Cut slits in the t-shirt at breast level. When you lift the outer shirt, the t-shirt stays in place.
- A baby sling is a real boon to discreet nursing. You can stroll through department stores or play with a toddler in the park while keeping baby latched on behind the fabric of the sling.
- Wear a large t-shirt over your swimsuit for discreet nursing at the beach. Or look for swimsuits made especially for breastfeeding women.
- If you yearn to wear dresses, look for special styles for nursing mothers, with hidden openings at the breast. These are available from catalogs and can sometimes be found in maternity shops.
- Nursing bras with cups that are easy to unfasten with one hand can make it easy to get your baby started at the breast, but refastening bra cups often requires two hands. You might have to wait to do this until 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.
How to get baby started:
- One of the best ways to avoid drawing a lot of attention to yourself and your baby 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 while you try to stop the noise.
- Expect that you will feed your baby while you’re out at the mall or visiting friends. Don’t nurse as a last resort, when all your attempts to distract your baby have failed.
- The breast may be exposed during the brief moment it takes for your little one to latch on. This is more of a problem with young babies than for experienced nursers. You can turn your back to the rest of the room while you get him started, or briefly go into another room and return once baby is latched on and blankets and clothing are discreetly arranged. Or drape a blanket over your breast, arm, and baby during latch-on.
- Probably the easiest solution to this problem is to use a baby sling to carry your baby when you are out in public. When baby wants to nurse, pull up the fabric to cover your breast while baby is getting started.
- If you’re sitting on a bench or a chair without arms, use your diaper bag, a folded sweater or coat, or something else in your lap to bring the baby up to breast level while you nurse. You’ll enjoy your outing more if you don’t go home with sore nipples or a cramp in your arm or back caused by poor positioning at the breast.
- Remember, baby’s head provides the crucial cover-up while she’s at the breast. 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. Be prepared to flip your shirt down during these tender moments.
- If you have a baby who loves to push your sweater up to your collarbone, try holding that free baby hand in yours while breastfeeding in public places.
- As your baby 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 at the family reunion.
Where to go when breastfeeding in public.
Here are some strategies for different locations:
- Choose an out-of-the-way place to nurse your baby, if possible, and if this really matters to you.
- 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 and nurse in a corner of the restaurant.
- If a store is not too busy, go ahead and use a fitting room.
- Nursing in church is a real hurdle for some women. But in many church buildings, you’ll have more privacy and fewer comments from passersby if you nurse in a pew during the worship service rather than in the women’s restroom or even the nursery. If you breastfeed the baby before he starts to cry, most people won’t know what you’re doing.
- Many public places are providing areas especially 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 have to 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:
- Many 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 https://maloney.house.gov/issues/womens-issues/breastfeeding-0) 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 (at least no strangers– friends and family are another issue). 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 technologically 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 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 with this other person while your baby is latching on. That will help observers focus on your face and avoid looking at your breast, which will probably help them feel more comfortable. 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 find it easier to nurse around strangers than around certain friends or members of their extended family. What do you do if your father-in-law leaves the living room while you nurse? Or if your husband doesn’t want 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. 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.