One of the best benefits of breastfeeding is that it’s convenient—your milk is always at the right temperature and always available when your baby is hungry! That convenience should, in theory, make living your day-to-day life a bit easier, as you and your little one run errands, stop by a coffee shop to meet a friend, have a family meal at a restaurant, go to a medical appointment or take your older kids to the park.
Studies show that women who feel comfortable nursing in public are more likely to start and continue breastfeeding, breastfeed longer, and encounter less social isolation. “Being uncomfortable with nursing in public is one of the ‘booby traps’ that can sometimes stop mothers from being able to reach their breastfeeding goals. If you felt unable to feed your baby in public, you’d probably also be feeling isolated and lonely, right? That’s the exact opposite of how a new mom should feel!” points out Megan Howarth, a certified doula in Montreal, Canada, who blogs at her company site, Megan the Doula.
Still, breastfeeding in public still can be a challenging situation, as some women unfortunately encounter disapproval and hostility. The good news is that while there are plenty of well-publicized negative encounters, it’s important to remember there are also countless women who breastfeed in public with positive or neutral reactions. “I've had some good experiences, some bad, and mostly no one cares,” says Jenny Studenroth of Jersey City, New Jersey, a writer who blogs about lifestyle trends at her site, Born to Be a Bride. “As new mommies, it can be very overwhelming and stressful when you feel like you can’t leave the house. I tried in the early days to push through my anxiety about public breastfeeding by telling myself that I had a right to be out in the world. Rejoining society and breastfeeding your child don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
When celebrity moms like Angelina Jolie, Gisele, Alyssa Milano, Pink and Beyonce are seen breastfeeding, you can officially post your “brelfies” (breastfeeding selfies) on Facebook and Instagram, and hashtags like #normalizebreastfeeding pop up in social media, it’s clear that for many moms, nursing outside the home is just the way it’s going to be. Here are seven ways to feel more comfortable breastfeeding in public.
If you’re wondering what exactly this whole breastfeeding deal looks like to an observer, have your partner or a friend take a picture of you while you’re nursing at home. Or, sit in front of a mirror during a home breastfeeding session. That way you can feel more reassured about how much—and more likely, how little—skin is showing.
For moms new to breastfeeding, it can be a big help to be around other mothers, says Laura Coulter, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in Chicago and founder of Chicago Lactation Consultants. “Find a friend who is breastfeeding and go out with her, or head to social setting like a La Leche meeting where other women will be breastfeeding,” says Coulter.
Figure out what breastfeeding position works best for you in a public setting—chances are that cradle hold, where your baby is held lengthwise against you, will work well. “I always found it easiest to nurse in a position where I could have my arms and back properly supported, so I could focus on latching baby on as quickly as possible, and getting my clothes arranged so that I felt covered and comfortable,” says Howarth. When it comes to location, don’t be afraid to get creative, says Studenroth, whose daughter is 12 months old. “I've nursed Willow in dressing rooms, my car, even a waxing room at a nail salon,” she says. “If you can't find an obvious safe and comfortable place to feed baby, speak up. You might be surprised how willing shop owners and clerks are to help.” Some women like to breastfeed their baby while he’s tucked into a baby wrap or sling against her chest. It leaves your hands free and you can also walk around—talk about multitasking!
Choose a nursing bra that can easily be fastened and unfastened one-handed. Lots of women like nursing tanks too, because they keep your tummy covered. Opt for breastfeeding-friendly shirts that unbutton, have slits or panels, or can easily be adjusted. Coulter advises her clients to simply lift their shirt from the bottom if they don’t want to expose the top of their breast. “That gives your baby important skin contact to the bottom part of the breast. Most times people don’t even notice; they think you’re cuddling your baby,” she says. Test-drive a new outfit before you head out too, advises Studenroth. “I once bought a dress that I thought would be easy access, but it wasn't! That was pretty stressful.”
There are plenty of nursing covers on the market—not to mention regular light scarves or muslin blankets—so if that makes you more at ease, go for it. Or a nursing cover-up is not for you, that’s fine too. “My son is not a fan of the nursing cover, and to be honest I’m not either,” says Alyson Biggs of Ashland, Kentucky, mom of six-week-old Camden. “I can't see him at all while he’s eating and it makes the whole burping process more difficult. I usually take his burp cloth to cover up my breast until he is latched. Once he latches, 90% of my breast is covered.”
No law in the United States or Canada prohibits women from breastfeeding outside the home. Breastfeeding in public is protected by law in virtually every state in the United States (see a complete breakdown here ). In Canada, public breastfeeding is protected in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia, as well as in retail settings in Alberta. In the rest of the country, it’s covered more generally by the federal Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In almost every case, if a woman is allowed to be in a public place, she can breastfeed there. “Being armed with the word of the law can help if you find yourself in a situation where someone tells you can’t or shouldn’t breastfeed,” says Studenroth.
Feeling anxious? Take a couple of breaths. “My son doesn’t latch well if I’m tense so the biggest thing to remember is to just relax,” says Biggs. “This can be hard to do in public, but I just remind myself that I am providing for my son’s needs. My body was made to feed him, so I should not be ashamed of it.” Horwarth echoes this advice. “You have every right to be where you are and to nurse your hungry baby. Look people in the eye and give your most self-assured smile,” she says. “Remember that another new mom might walk by and see you and just maybe you will be the one to give her the confidence to head out for the day with her new baby. You can normalize breastfeeding just by doing it, and then maybe our children won’t even have to worry about ‘nursing in public’ even being a thing.”