Tips for Breastfeeding In Public

Being comfortable nursing in public is not a skill instantly acquired by a new mom. Many woman struggle at first with mechanics, feeling balanced and confident … at home, let alone heading out into public.  Finding comfort and grace in breastfeeding in public will come!  But it can take time.

I recall when my 1st born was about 2 months old I was nursing her under a tree in Riverside park.  It was the beginning of summer and very warm out.  I sat on the grass, leaned against the tree trunk and latched my girl on.  I had what I considered good technique and had most of my boob and skin covered.  Although being summer and in a tank top, I’m sure I had some parts (side, armpit) showing a little no doubt.  Point is:  I was obviously breastfeeding my baby.  I recall a more experienced mom walking by, two kids skipping ahead of her.  She gave me that “solidarity smile.”  Her smile said, “I see you, I know what you’re doing, it’s so great, good for you, keep it up …”

Wouldn’t it be great if every glance came with that message … “you’re doing great, don’t stop, what a beautiful sight, warms my heart, keep up the good work, good job mama!”

But what if you don’t get those reactions?  Or worse, you’re faced with resistance, open intolerance and ignorance, anger and <gasp, the absolute worst> you’re requested to move or stop nursing?

A little planning ahead can make the sometimes daunting idea of nursing in public a whole lot easier.

1. Know what the law is in your state.  This link is a good place to start, but be in touch with a local La Leche League group or IBCLC, lactation consultant because she is likely to have experience in the breastfeeding laws of your area.  And don’t be freaked out by this suggestion.  Overwhelmingly women experience very little strife with breastfeeding in public.  People overwhelmingly are kind or at least keep their opinion to themselves.  But there is ignorance out there, so knowing your rights is wise.

2. Wear clothing that you are comfortable nursing in. Layers help. It’s easy to bring a part of a button down shirt over your breast or side to help cover any skin you may be self-conscious about exposing from raising your t-shirt. The nursing clothes market is huge – take advantage!  Bras too – there are many great nursing bras out there.  The trick is to feel like a stealth machine in hooking and un-hooking it, so you don’t ever have to  fear stumbling through the process in those first weeks.   I have always loved and had a really sexy hot leopard print one back in 1998 that rocked my world and made me feel great & pretty as a newly nursing mom.

3. Be loving toward yourself, no matter what your level of confidence is with breastfeeding in public .  Some moms seem very relaxed and able to just whip a baby on to the breast with barely a patch of skin showing.  Don’t play the comparison game!  You’ll get comfortable in your own groove, just trust in the process.  Confidence grows with experience.  Go easy on yourself.  Great tip:  sit down, get comfortable in front of a full length mirror and practice, practice, practice!

4.  Breastfeeding tents or covers? I have mixed feelings.  I try to be kind, but overwhelmingly I just don’t get them.  I know you’re nursing under there.  Especially if it’s a beautiful, vibrant color pattern – there certainly is no secret to what you’re doing.  That said, I do honor that each of us needs to find our comfort zone.  It does sadden me though that we as a culture are marketing something that perpetuates the notion that breastfeeding is best done … but not seen!  Why as sisters do we permit our other sisters to cover up?  My personal commitment to you is:   you are beautiful nursing that baby, with or without a cover up, and I would love to see you do more of it regardless!

5. You attract more bees with honey. It’s easy to get really mad if people hassle you. Or, retreat in defeat.  I’d recommend you do neither.  If you’ve had your legal rights violated, been given a hairy eyeball by a stranger or been repeatedly questioned by a family member – don’t go it alone!   Reach out to your local breastfeeding advocates — lactavists, IBCLC’s, La Leche League leaders, other moms.   They can help you navigate family and community relationships with diplomacy, legal understanding, good ethics and PR, and do so all with sensitivity to your personal and specific needs.

6. Know your safety zones. I highly recommend La Leche League or other breastfeeding support group, or “Breastfeeding Cafe” be your first outing.  Here you know you’ll be in a circle of women who are like minded with the same goals as you.  You’ll feel safe and welcomed! And, equally important, you’ll be able to ask them about your neighborhood. This is super key – knowing which coffee houses, toy stores, libraries, book stores and parks are “breastfeeding friendly” – meaning you’ll feel safe and welcome to sit comfortably to nurse your baby and (bonus!) you’re likely to meet other new moms there doing the same thing.  Get out and explore, but know where your safety zone is so you can pop in if necessary and feel at ease.

Peaceful breastfeeding to all ~

Deirdre McLary, IBCLC


  One thought on “Tips for Breastfeeding In Public

  1. Lauren Moore
    March 17, 2011 at 11:47 am

    My first time nursing in public was at Memorial Park in Nyack when my daughter was a week old. An experienced mom walking by said, “You’re doing a great job!” It was amazing.

    • March 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      It’s such a great feeling to know you’re in sisterhood with so many other women. I think smiles like that, nice comments, a knowing nod of the head … they go so far in helping a new moms confidence. We should all “pay if forward” and remember to share a supportive comment or smile when we see a mom breastfeeding in public. Thanks for commenting, Lauren!

  2. March 20, 2011 at 8:21 am

    I agree with you on the tent comment. I just don’t get them and they more say….”LOOK AT ME!” I have nursed my kids discretely, just using plain old clothes (not nursing tops) and when they got to the fidgety stage and started lifting my shirt, they were certainly capable of understanding when I would say “I don’t want to show my bb’s (that’s what we called them), to everyone else, so please keep my shirt down, thanks.”

  3. Chris
    April 6, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    Every woman should be able to breast-feed her child anywhere she pleases to. It is not a sexual thing whatsoever, it is natural. If anybody thinks different, you live in the stone age……there is nothing bad or dirty about nursing in public (all women should feel comfortable doing so). If you think different in any way, shame on you, and shame on you again, voting for the wrong side………..
    It is time for a bit af europe in the U.S.

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