Let’s tackle the breastfeeding in public debate. Many states have laws that protect a mother’s right to breastfeed in any public space they are lawfully present.
For something that been a natural part of parenting since the beginning of human existence, it is shocking that the topic of breastfeeding can still be so polarizing.
But the question still remains... just because it’s permitted, should you still breastfeed in a public area?
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Jo says, “Breastfeed away, ladies!”
It’s a simple concept – If my child is hungry, I’m going to feed them.
If that child happens to be my toddler at snack time, I’ll give him a bowl of cheerios and blueberries.
If that child happens to be my breastfed infant, I will nurse them regardless of my location.
With Newborns, It’s all About Timing
There’s no negotiating with newborns. You can’t calmly explain to them, “we’re in public right now, I’ll nurse you in 30 minutes when we get home”.
You know what that will only cause? A huge meltdown.
To avoid this, I find it easiest to feed them as soon as they start rooting around.
Yes, that may mean while I’m eating in a restaurant, shopping at the mall, or checking out books at the library.
No one should be offended by my breastfeeding in public because it doesn’t affect them. In fact I think it would offend them a lot more if their ears had to suffer hearing my baby screaming from hunger!
In order in make sure I have quick access to baby’s food supply, I have a few tricks.
First, always be prepared and dressed appropriately. (Pssst… read about all the necessary things you need in our Breastfeeding Essentials Post.)
By appropriate I don’t mean modestly (although if that’s your thing, that’s cool too). By appropriate I mean you gotta have quick and easy access to the goods (i.e. your breasts). I find it easiest to layer – have a Undercover Mama nursing undershirt underneath a normal top.
All you have to do is simply pull down the undershirt, lift up the shirt, and you have instant boob access to feed your babe. This brand is very high quality and will last for a long time and still look and feel wonderful.
Also get comfortable with nursing in a carrier.
I LOVED my Moby Wrap baby carrier for this reason. My baby could be sleeping and wake up hungry. I just had to whip out my breast and they would instantly settle again.
Here’s me nursing in my moby while simultaneously videoing my toddler hunting Easter eggs – talk about multitasking!
Breastfeeding Isn’t a Sexual Act
Often those who like to assert that breastfeeding in public isn’t acceptable are usually somehow tying it into the sexualization of breasts.
Guess what, guys.
Boobs were breastfeeding waaaaay before Pamela Anderson was in Baywatch.
Breasts were made to feed babies. That’s literally their job.
Sure they might serve other purposes, including some sexual ones, but that doesn’t take away from their original design.
I find it hilarious that some equate breastfeeding in public with sexuality even when very little of the breast is even exposed during nursing.
Another one of my favorite items was the Multi-Use Baby Breastfeeding Infinity Nursing Scarf. All that fabric is very forgiving and hides the occasional nip slip.
Breastfeeding in Public is Convenient
But above all, the main reason I like breastfeeding in public is because it’s super duper easy.
Look, I have a million things to think about every time I leave the house. Is the diaper bag packed? Is nap time approaching? Does everyone have shoes on??
The last thing I need is yet another thing to worry about. I am literally a walking-talking milk machine, so if my infant is hungry I can feed her without much effort.
People have asked why I don’t pump and bring a bottle… and I have a couple of reasons for that.
First, pumping sucks. Seriously, finding the time to pump while I’m getting myself and kids ready to go is impossible.
Second, if I pump I have to worry about storing the milk at a safe temperature and not spilling it.
Lastly, straight breastfeeding is better for your supply as it maintains the supply-demand balance.
So no, I’m not going to inconvenience myself and pump when nature has equipped me to feel my baby.
Rach says “It makes me uncomfortable”
Before I sound like a total hater, let me state up front that I have no issue with any one else breastfeeding in public.
Whenever I see a nursing mom out and about I always try to give them a smile (hopefully in an encouraging and not creepy way). Rock on mama, feed your baby!
My issue is that I just don’t like breastfeeding in public.
So if I’m truly cool with the idea then what’s my problem?
I can’t be the only mom out there with insecurities.
It’s not like I was ever truly happy in my own skin before kids, but pregnancy has magnified my body issues.
The last thing I want to do is lift my shirt to nurse and risk showing off my mommy tummy.
I also felt incredibly insecure about breastfeeding for a very long time. With my first, we struggled a lot.
Is there really any discreet way to put on a nipple shield?
Well, I never felt like I could and I used one for the first few months. It seemed like I needed more hands trying to get my baby to latch right. This was even harder without my Boppy nursing pillow to help position us.
My first was also a really slow nurser, so this wasn’t going to be a quick thing. And like many babies, he was also easily distracted.
The idea of spending 45 minutes to an hour with him unlatching every time someone walked by just seemed way too nerve wracking.
Between our fumbling and awkwardness with breastfeeding, I never felt like I could be anything even resembling discreet.
I was terrified that I would end up completely exposed. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but again for me it’s body issues.
Finally, there was the fear of what others might say. I know that I shouldn’t let this bother me, but it does.
I hate confrontation and felt super worried about someone being rude to me. Overall, I just felt too anxious and uncomfortable, so I tried to avoid it when possible.
My baby can’t just wait while I work through my issues, they need to eat now.
So do I just become a hermit and not emerge from my house the entire first year?
Plan around baby’s schedule
My first would want to nurse every 2 hours like clockwork so I scheduled our outings around him.
For instance for quick trips, we’d nurse right before leaving and have usually about a hour to get out and back home. This is not a ton of time, but I could fit in short errands nearby.
If we had to go further away or take longer, I’d nurse in the car, right before going in and/or before driving home. I spent a fair amount of time nursing in my car.
The other benefit of this type of planning is that it meant my baby was fed and happy while we were actually out. I didn’t really want to risk him crying while trying to get the groceries and generally since he’d just eaten, he’d be an angel the whole time.
The thing is, babies eat really often (or at least mine do), so it is not always possible to only be out in between feedings. And while, my car was often an option it is not always a good one (too hot/too cold/too far away).
I knew all of the spots where I felt comfortable nursing. For instance, many stores will let you use a dressing room. The Motherhood Maternity would always offer theirs to me.
I had my preferred places like the back corner table at Panera and the hidden park bench.
If I was somewhere unfamiliar, I looked for places that were a bit secluded to limit distractions and onlookers.
Places I absolutely will NOT nurse: Bathrooms.
Whenever I have to breastfeed in public, I use a nursing cover. I personally like the Boppy brand. I love that the top is stiff so you can see your baby easily. It’s also lightweight (without being see through) so baby doesn’t get too hot.
The hardest part for me was always positioning without my Boppy nursing pillow.
Whenever possible find a seat with armrests. In a booth, placing the infant car seat next to you makes a good spot to rest your elbow and adds a little privacy.
Nursing tops also helped me feel a bit less uncomfortable out breastfeeding in public. I particularly like ones that open like this and this because I find they’re very easy to nurse without exposing much or shifting lots of extra material out of the way.
Maybe one day, I will have the confidence to breastfeed anywhere. In the meantime, I still have to feed my baby and I’ll do it how I feel most comfortable.
Want more breastfeeding debates? Check out our discussion on Drinking Alcohol While Breastfeeding