how to breastfeed in public

How to Breastfeed in Public: 10 Expert Tips from a Breastfeeding Counselor

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Breastfeeding in public can be a daunting prospect if you’re new to nursing, but please remember that you have the right to feed your baby wherever and whenever they’re hungry. I remember only too well how nervous I was when I first breastfed in public!

In a society where 83.9% of mothers in the United States choose to initiate breastfeeding, it’s noteworthy that a significant majority, 68%, of Americans are comfortable with women nursing in public. This reflects a growing acceptance and understanding of the importance of breastfeeding.

Despite this positive trend, breastfeeding mothers still face challenges and discomfort when nursing outside the home. This article aims to empower you with practical breastfeeding tips and advice to help you feel confident and supported while you learn how to breastfeed in public.

What we will cover:

  • You can breastfeed comfortably in any public setting with the right mindset.
  • Discreet nursing is achievable with suitable clothing and positioning techniques.
  • Building confidence in public breastfeeding comes from practice and support.

10 top tips: How to breastfeed in public

When you’re out and about with your little one, breastfeeding in public can be managed comfortably and confidently with the right preparation. Choosing clothes that provide easy breast access and finding a cozy spot to nurse, paired with knowing your legal rights, will help make public breastfeeding a smoother experience for you and your baby.

1. Understand your legal rights

legal right tiles

You should know that you have the legal right to breastfeed in public places. In many places, laws are in place to protect breastfeeding moms, ensuring that you can feed your baby wherever and whenever hunger strikes. If someone challenges you for breastfeeding in public, remember that the law is on your side. You’re not just feeding your baby; you’re also standing up for the rights of all nursing parents.

Feel empowered by the support that legislation provides to create a more breastfeeding-friendly society.

2. Choose the right attire

mother breastfeeding her baby in public wearing loose clothing looking happy

Your choice of clothing can make a significant difference. Look for tops and dresses with discreet nursing panels or opt for loose, stretchy fabrics that can be pulled and lifted easily. Some breastfeeding moms, including myself, swear by the two-shirt method, where you layer a tank top under another shirt to keep your breasts and midsection covered, allowing you to breastfeed discreetly.

3. Select a comfortable spot

mother breastfeeding in public outside on a bench

Scout out a comfy chair or a bench where you can relax while your baby feeds. Public places like libraries or cafés often have seating that’s suitable for nursing moms. A supportive environment, where you’re not in the path of heavy foot traffic, can make public breastfeeding more relaxing.

4. Use a nursing cover effectively

mother breastfeeding using a nursing cover

When you’re out with your little one, it’s all about finding that sweet spot between comfort for your baby and privacy for you.

Like many moms, I liked to use a nursing cover as a stylish and practical solution for breastfeeding my babies on the go. Here’s how to make the most of it:

  • Choose a cover with a semi-rigid neckline so you can maintain eye contact with your baby and ensure they have enough air circulation.
  • Practice beforehand at home to get the hang of placing your baby and latching on without too much fussing.

5. Learn to breastfeed with a baby carrier or sling

mother breastfeeding in public using a sling

Baby carriers and slings are not just for strolling; they’re great for nursing too! My sling was never too far from me! Grab a sling or carrier that supports your baby in a natural, tummy-to-tummy position, allowing enough room for easy access to the breast. Remember:

  • Wear clothes that complement the sling, like tops with easy-open access or button-down shirts.
  • Tighten or loosen the straps for the best position to nurse, creating a snug but comfortable fit for both of you.
  • Choose carriers and slings that are ‘hip-healthy‘.

6. Practice, practice, practice!

woman standing in front of a mirror about to practice breastfeeding

Yes, it’s cliché, but it’s true – practicing at home can make public breastfeeding a breeze. Here are my tips:

  • Sit in front of a mirror to learn which angles offer the most cover.
  • Use a travel nursing pillow to support your baby in different environments comfortably.
  • Get your baby used to a noisy environment when feeding.

Consistent practice helps you become adept at recognizing which clothes to wear and how to position your breasts and baby quickly and smoothly.

7. Deal with unwanted attention

confident woman standing outside breastfeeding

If you find yourself receiving unwanted attention while nursing, remember that your comfort, your baby’s needs, and breastfeeding rights come first.

Here are some pointers:

  • Stay confident: A confident demeanor can often dissuade onlookers. Remember, you’re doing what’s best for your baby. Just ignore them!
  • Use a cover: If you prefer privacy, a nursing cover can be helpful.
  • Know your rights: Every state has laws protecting your right to breastfeed in public, so you can nurse confidently knowing the law is on your side.

8. Plan your trip

mother breastfeeding in a cafe restaurant

When you’re out, especially in places like department stores or shopping malls, being prepared to feed your hungry baby makes the chore less stressful.

  • Pack smart: Fill your diaper bag with essentials – spare diapers, wipes, and an extra top for you, just in case of spills or messes. My second baby was a messy feeder due to his medical condition!
  • Scout locations: Look for family lounges or nursing rooms in malls, which offer more privacy and comfort for both you and your baby. They usually have changing facilities too.
  • Coordinate with other moms: Meet up with other moms whom you feel comfortable breastfeeding in front of. This can be a great show of solidarity and distract you from worrying about other members of the public.

9. Prepare the team

mother breastfeeding her baby with older sibling nearby

Being out and about with just one baby is one thing, but managing older siblings too is quite another! My eldest was a toddler when my second baby came along so I know only too well how important preparation is. 

Here are some tips for managing other children:

  1. Preparation is key: Before leaving home, discuss with your older children what will happen when it’s time to breastfeed. Explain the importance of being calm and patient during this time.
  2. Engaging activities: Carry small toys, books, or snacks to keep them occupied while you’re nursing. This can help minimize distractions and ensure they remain engaged and content.
  3. Set expectations: Establish clear behavior expectations emphasizing the importance of staying close to you and behaving appropriately in public.
  4. Involve older siblings: Encourage your older children to be helpers. They can assist with small tasks like fetching a diaper or a blanket, making them feel involved and important.

10. Connect with other nursing mothers

mother breastfeeding in public with other moms

Before you venture out into the world to breastfeed in public, build up your confidence with a strong network behind you. My support system empowered me enormously and provided me with practical tips making my experience smoother. We were so busy chatting that I forgot to be nervous about breastfeeding in public!

  • Find other moms: Seek out local mother’s groups or parenting meetups where you can connect with women who are also breastfeeding. Sharing experiences with other nursing mothers can be very beneficial.
    • Emotional support from peers
    • Sharing of helpful breastfeeding tips and locations that offer room for nursing
    • Access to shared resources such as babywear shops
  • Attend events: Look into attending a national conference on breastfeeding such as that held by the USBC. These events often have sessions about breastfeeding in public and hold forums to discuss issues and solutions.
  • Create a support group: If you can’t find a group that suits you, consider starting one. Whether it’s a casual coffee meet-up or an organized group with scheduled meetings, creating a supportive space for women to share their journey and practice breastfeeding in public can be incredibly empowering.

Remember, each mom and child is unique, so what works for one mother may not work for all, but in a network, you’re bound to find something that fits your needs.

Step out with confidence! 

Breastfeeding in public is a normal and necessary aspect of motherhood. As a breastfeeding counselor and mom, I have helped many mothers find what works for them. My top advice for public nursing is to carry a well-ventilated nursing cover or a comfortable bra in your diaper bag and ooze confidence. 

Remember, breastfeeding in public is about ensuring your baby’s needs are met without worry. With practice, pregnant and nursing mothers can master public breastfeeding, making it a natural part of their daily routine.

Breastfeeding in public FAQs

Yes, in all 50 states, breastfeeding in public is legally protected, allowing breastfeeding mothers to feed their babies anywhere they are allowed to be.

No, mothers are not legally required to cover up while breastfeeding. It’s a personal choice, and many nursing moms opt for a nursing cover for privacy.

No, breastfeeding in public is considered normal and appropriate. It’s a natural way of feeding a baby and is widely accepted.

By 2018, all 50 states had laws in place to protect the right to breastfeed in public.

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