Sunday, August 12, 2012

On Breastfeeding in Public

Before our first child was born, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind as to how she would be fed; I planned to breastfeed for as long as possible.  She would be fed wherever, whenever.  I wouldn’t have to worry about clean bottles or expensive formula, and she would benefit from the most perfect baby food in the world. 

I was prepared for a learning curve at the beginning, but it never even crossed my mind that there could be difficulties attached to breastfeeding away from home.  So the first time the baby got hungry and we were nowhere close to home, my suddenly rattled nerves were surprising. 

I couldn’t figure out how to guide her onto a latch without exposing myself, and the longer I waited, the more frustrated she became.  We ended up leaving the room to find some privacy, but I was worried: would we always have to distance ourselves just so the baby could eat? 

For us, bottle feeding wasn’t an option – the baby refused bottles altogether, screaming indignantly every time we offered her expressed milk.  Instead of giving up on the prospect of a portable baby, over time, I began to rely upon a few tricks to help me feel more comfortable with on-the-go nursing.  And now that I’ve nursed three different babies in every possible location and situation, I finally feel like the learning curve has passed. 

Here’s everything I know about breastfeeding away from the privacy of your own home.

Clothing Matters 

If there’s even a small chance the baby will need to nurse in public, the right clothing is essential.  A nursing tank or camisole will keep your abdomen covered, while a loose top will drape inconspicuously.  And wear your simplest nursing bra – not the one that requires special concentration and an engineering degree to unhook. 

Use Tools – Or Not

There are some really ingenious nursing covers available, but all the breastfeeding tents in the world are useless if they make you feel more visible when you’re trying to remain discreet.  You might be more comfortable angling yourself behind a friend or loved-one’s shoulder during latch-on, or pretending to snuggle the baby in a loose blanket.  If clothing is draped just right, random passersby are unlikely to notice anything other than a mother holding her child.


When babies are very young and breastfeeding is still new, it can be hard to nurse without flashing everyone in sight.  To get used to latching and nursing in public, practice at home.  Sit in a different spot than usual, or in view of a full-length mirror.  Practice unhooking clothing and angling the baby with a minimum of fuss.  Then, venture out slowly.  Try a friend or family member’s house before going to a public place.  The more you practice, the more discreet you’ll become.

Scout a Location

I’ll never advocate for feeding babies in public restrooms, but sometimes a hidden corner or back row seat can ease a mother’s anxiety.  Especially if your baby is very acrobatic or distractible, you might feel less on-display if you’re removed from the center of activity.

Forget the Drama

No matter how outspoken the media can seem on the subject of public breastfeeding, you’re not likely to meet with vehement opposition.  Trust your neighbors to either tactfully ignore your feeding session or not notice you at all.  Breastfeeding in public happens far more often than many of us realize, and with a little bit of planning and confidence, you can do it, too. 

How do you go about the business of feeding your baby on-the-go?  Do you cover up, or just do what needs to be done, no matter who might be watching?


  1. My first was so hard, so scary. I decided finding a place, even the bathroom, was often preferable in those early months. But now, I'll nurse almost anywhere. My babies remove blankets, so they're less discrete and in 100 summer weather, I find it too hot for me. My essentials are a little angle, loose and easy to drape shirts, and the calmness to just do it.

  2. There are laws in my state against harassing a publicly breastfeeding woman, so I know I'm protected, but I still feel a bit nervous when I have to do it. None of my babies have ever nursed well with a cover, so for me it's just try to be as discreet as possible-- usually wearing a nursing cami under a flowing top as you suggested. There is still inevitable exposure though, so I just try to chose a moment to latch when nobody's looking.

    Not quite sure what I'm afraid of... I guess I just assume people will misunderstand and think I'm trying to make a statement or prove a point, when I'm actually just trying to keep my hungry baby from screaming. I'm not sure I would have had that understanding myself before I had babies of my own. But after nursing three, I've learned that you just have to do what you have to do... and some people will understand and some won't. It's like so many parenting things, I guess... gotta do what is best for your baby and not worry about impressing people.

    I've actually started keeping a mental list of the cool places I have nursed... Faneuil Hall in Boston, the boardwalk at Ocean City, etc. I try to think of these as badges of honor! :)

  3. I have a nursing cover, which I got as a gift because I never would have spent the money on one for myself. It ended being my favorite piece of baby gear. It looks sort of like a kitchen apron with a neck strap to ensure that it won't slip down (or get yanked by curious baby fingers). I felt totally comfortable nursing my daughter everywhere we went - restaurant booths, church pews, mall food courts. Either no one knew what I was doing or I was confident enough to not notice the stares (or some combination of both). I highly recommend one to any nursing mom.

  4. I'm so glad you wrote about this; the more we talk about it, the more mothers realize that it's wonderful to nurse whenever nursing needs to happen.


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?