5 tips for breastfeeding in public
Openly breastfeeding in public can take a little getting used to – check out our top tips to help make it a stress-free experience for both you and your baby.
Mum-of-three Sioned has been supporting families with babies and young children for more than 30 years. As well working with breastfeeding and expressing mothers, both in hospitals and the community, she contributes to parenting magazines and conferences, and delivers workshops for healthcare professionals.
The great thing about breastfeeding is that everything you need to feed your baby is always with you, readily available and at the right temperature, wherever you are. But while breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed your baby, it’s not unusual to feel a bit nervous about nursing in public, particularly if you’ve never done it before. Whether you’re worried about other people’s reactions or really don’t care what they think, these tips will help you be prepared.
1: Practice makes perfect
If you’re feeling anxious about breastfeeding in public for the first time, try practising at home in front of a mirror so you can see what you look like while feeding. You’ll probably notice you’re not exposing as much of your breast as you might have imagined, as your baby’s head is covering it.
You may find breastfeeding in public easier if you do it in a supportive environment for the first few times. Visiting a mother and baby group or a cafe with a friend may be better than going to a crowded shopping mall or on a train by yourself.
2: Dress for the occasion
When it comes to what to wear when breastfeeding in public (and for breastfeeding in general), there are lots of options. If breastfeeding goes well and you intend to continue, it might be worth investing in a few items of nursing wear to make life easier.
“My nursing top was very convenient and easy to use. I could breastfeed discreetly outside, even in winter, as I didn’t have to remove my top. You just place your baby’s face in the opening and there you go. Anywhere, any time!” Caroline, mum of two, France.
However, it’s not necessary to buy specific breastfeeding clothing – you can simply layer up two of your normal tops. “What worked for me was wearing a stretchy camisole, which I could pull down on one side so it hooked under the breast I wanted to feed from, under a looser top that I pulled up. The looser top covered my chest and the camisole concealed my belly. As well as being subtle it meant I didn’t show my wobbly post-birth tummy or get chilly when feeding out and about.” Susannah, mum of two, UK.
Alternatively, for easy access, wear tops and dresses with buttons or a zip at the front, dungaree-style straps or side-openings. Or try wrap-around styles, or cowl or shawl necklines that you can pull down.
“I found wrap-front cardigans a lifesaver while breastfeeding in public,” shares Natalie, mum of one, UK. “I just untied one side then draped it over my baby feeding, so I could cover up easily and instantly when she was hungry or crying, without having to find something from the change bag.”
3: Do your research
Before venturing out with your newborn, make a list of good places to breastfeed in public near you, so you don’t have a last-minute scramble to find somewhere. Shopping malls, department stores and babywear shops often have baby-feeding rooms, which are quiet and private with a comfy chair and changing facilities. Many cafes and hotel lounges also welcome breastfeeding mothers.
“If you’re a bit nervous, look up feeding-friendly locations before you go out so you know where you can have a pit stop. Breastfeeding is not always easy at first, but you get better and better at it, until you’re so quick and subtle nobody realises you’re doing it anyway.” Rachel, mum of one, Maldives.
Other places to try include department store changing rooms, furniture stores, community centres, libraries, museums and parks. Ask other local mums for advice on the best places for public nursing nearby.
“I live in the UAE, where children have a right under law to be breastfed until age two. There is a lot to encourage breastfeeding here, with fancy nursing rooms in malls and respect for breastfeeding mothers in public places, such as restaurants.” Faye, mum of two, UAE.
4: Consider a breastfeeding cover
Some mums like to use a nursing cover up for privacy when feeding their babies in public, and there are lots of styles to try. From simple shawls and ponchos to specially designed wraps or aprons with a semicircle of wire in the top so you can still see your baby while she feeds, there should be something to suit you both. There’s also the option of feeding your baby while she’s in a sling or carrier, which will support her, as well as giving you privacy.
“My tip is to buy a baby carrier,” says Caroline, mum of two, US. “With a little practice you’ll be able to breastfeed while walking around and getting on with your day.”
Ultimately, however, you may find your little one makes the decision for you. Some babies hate being covered while feeding, while others get distracted if they aren’t. “Neither of my babies liked shawls draped over their heads while breastfeeding, so I just relied on their heads blocking the view,” says Esther, mum of two, UK.
5: Know your breastfeeding rights
In many countries you’re legally entitled to breastfeed in any place open to the public, and there are laws to protect breastfeeding mums. If you’re unsure about what the breastfeeding in public laws are where you live, try doing some online research – government or public health websites are a good place to start – or speak to your healthcare professional. Otherwise, you could ask local mums or nearby friends and relatives about what their experiences have been. Their responses may surprise you.
“Breastfeeding is widely accepted in Australia and it’s perfectly acceptable to wop one’s breast out while ordering a skinny latte from the friendly male cafe waiter!” Amy, mum of two, Australia.
If you’re breastfeeding your baby in public and someone complains, you could politely remind them of your legal rights. If you feel that a business, such as a shop or cafe, has discriminated against you by asking you not to breastfeed, you may be able to make an official complaint, again depending on how you feel and the laws where you live.
“I was feeding at the table in a diner after I’d finished eating (having established there was no feeding room), and a blushing junior manager was dispatched to ask me if I’d be more comfortable in the ladies’ room. Er no, I said, would you eat in there? ‘Would I consider moving to a side booth?’ No again. I didn’t go anywhere until we were done!” Maya, mum of two, Spain.
“My advice is try not to worry. I was apprehensive but regularly breastfed in public – everywhere from urban to very rural areas – and never had any negativity, comments or looks. Obviously not everyone will be so lucky, but I breastfed for a year so there were lots of opportunities for people to be horrible, but nobody was. Not in the slightest. So your fears might turn out to be totally unfounded.” Tiffany, mum of one, UK.