15 Road-Tested Tips for Nursing Your Child in Public

By Guest Blogger: Merril Bainbridge

Author Bio: At 16, Merril Bainbridge began her career in the Australian fashion industry. In her early 20s she left to launch a successful pop music career which saw her at the top of the U.S. Music Charts. Retiring to start a family, she found a new purpose helping breastfeeding women with her fashion label, Peachymama.

15 Road-Tested Tips for Nursing Your Child in Public

Most breastfeeding mothers will agree that despite it being a most natural and incredible experience in many respects, nursing your baby is also not without its trials and tribulations. If you have now successfully established breastfeeding with your newborn, you’ve already overcome many, many difficult obstacles on this steep learning curve and are doing an incredible job. Yet, even so, the prospect of nursing your baby in public for the first time is still a major hurdle to overcome for many women.

The key to successfully nursing your child in public, and enjoying the experience, is 100% down to confidence I believe. In an ideal world, we know that women should never feel uncomfortable about when and where they breastfeed their baby, yet the reality is that for many it is a nerve-wracking prospect. There aren’t many mothers who feel confident about breastfeeding their baby in public from week 1 with their first baby. It is a journey for which most women must take small steps to build confidence.

If you can break down your fears and worries, breastfeeding out and about can be a pleasant experience that allows you to fully enjoy life with your new baby. Whether you are worried about negativity from others, or revealing too much of your postpartum body, or a screaming baby drawing attention to yourself, there is plenty you can do to prepare yourself and feel as comfortable and confident as possible.

1. Do What Comes Naturally, One Step At A Time

A golden rule is to be kind to yourself and take this journey as slowly as necessary. You have just given birth and are adjusting to a whole new world. It is essential that you nurture yourself as well as baby, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get out there immediately.

If you are one of the lucky women who feels confident about feeding their baby out and about any time from day 1, then brilliant: do it. Otherwise take baby steps. Start with feeding your baby in front of friends and family at home, then take short trips to familiar places where you’ll feel most comfortable, preferably with a supportive companion. It won’t take too many feeding sessions to build enough confidence to feel like you can go anywhere, but take it at your own pace.

2. Know Your Rights

To feel confident about feeding in public, you need to be absolutely certain of your rights to be nursing in that place. For this reason it pays to do some research when it comes to your entitlement to when and where you can breastfeed. Some women like to carry a copy of local laws with them for if they were to ever be challenged, as being able to repeat the wording of the laws at a stressful time could be difficult! Note though that relatively few mothers are ever challenged; it’s just good to be prepared.

Almost universally speaking, the laws in most English-speaking countries are very much on the side of breastfeeding mothers. The exact level of protection will depend on where you are reading this: in the US women in 47 states are fully protected by laws allowing them to breastfeed in public, and in two more there is protection from prosecution under indecency laws. There seems to be no known cases of a woman being prosecuted for breastfeeding in public in recent history. UK and Australian citizens are protected by similar laws, and you can find out current legislation through helpful services like the Australian Breastfeeding Association or the La Leche League in the UK.

3. Be Proud and Be Prepared

There are many mind-blowing reasons to choose to breastfeed your baby, for health and otherwise, and you will have already made your choice based on these. Be confident in your choice, and know that nurturing your infant in this way is an incredible thing.

Unfortunately not everybody is as well educated when it comes to breastfeeding. From time to time, breastfeeding mothers are the victims of derogatory comments from members of the public. These incidents are often widely reported on social media, sometimes even through the press. Unsurprisingly, the prospect of an unpleasant experience like this worries many mothers. The risk of it happening generally depends on the cultural norms and the proportion of breastfeeding mothers in the area where you live. Thankfully in most places where lots of women breastfeed it is incredibly rare to encounter any negativity. Yet, it is still a concern for everyone.

You could have a few witty retorts or pointed jokes ready at the back of your mind, but seeing as the only people who are likely to make comments are those who are misinformed, a little education will go a long way. There is very little to argue against when you point out that all respected medical bodies, including the World Health Organisation, recommend long-term breastfeeding.

4. Dress for Success

The last thing you want be doing while trying to soothe a hungry baby in a busy place is to be fumbling around with awkward clothing. Aside from specially designed nursing bras, choose loose fitting tops that are easy to pull up or across, perhaps with a second layer underneath that you can pull down under the breast if you are feeling self-conscious about your tummy. Some moms like to tuck a muslin or cloth into their bra strap while nursing to drape down and over the breast; just be sure baby is not getting too hot. For the most discreet feeding, there are thankfully now plenty of beautifully designed, flattering breastfeeding clothes available with clever access for baby built-in, including dresses. You needn’t feel that breastfeeding requires you to lose your sense of style.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

The key to self-confidence when breastfeeding is to be sure exactly what you are and are not revealing and be happy with it. After all, we all have different tolerance levels to how much skin we are prepared to reveal while we nurse baby. If necessary, practice at home in front of a mirror, unclipping your bra, latching baby on and clipping your bra back together when baby is finished until you feel comfortable and ready to conquer the outside world.

6. Consider a Cover…

Not everyone feels the need for a specially designed breastfeeding cover, but if you are feeling self-conscious like many new moms, this is one way to be sure you won’t be revealing any skin at all. These clever inventions usually attach around your neck and entirely cover baby and your top-half. You can choose from a wide range of funky fabrics too.

7. …Or a Sling

For the ultimate in convenience, you could get yourself a breastfeeding friendly sling. With some styles you may need to stop, sit down and reposition baby in order to feed, but there are others available where you can breastfeed while standing, depending on the size of your child.

8. Use a Buffer

If you are still feeling nervous and are out with your partner or a companion, you could position them as a screen or buffer to the outside world for a bit of extra confidence.

9. Twist Away

A useful tip if you are concerned about people very close by seeing too more than you want them too, is to turn away and latch your baby onto your breast with your back to people since this is the time you are most likely to inadvertently reveal a nipple. It won’t seem rude since it is just for a moment until baby is happily feeding and shielding your breast with its head.

10. Entertain Older Babies

The older your baby gets, generally the more fidgety it gets. If your baby is getting to this stage consider a few tactile things it can play with while feeding, such a silky scarf around your neck or a necklace. Whatever you choose make sure it is super safe for baby and keep a super close eye on them while they are playing to make sure nothing is blocking their airway.

11. Do Your Research

You need comfy places to nurse baby and this is something you can research before baby even arrives. Make a list of places where you envisage spending time once baby is here, even places like the supermarket. Suss them out for a spot you’ll be happy to nurse in for each place; just remember that you may be there a while so it needs to be comfy and pleasant. You will also need room for your bags and pram and support for your back. Some of the more family-friendly places provided designated rooms for more privacy if you feel you need it. Just remember the car is a better last resort than the bathroom; no one needs to eat lunch in there and definitely not a baby!

12. Don’t Leave it Too Late

If you are keen to avoid attracting attention to yourself, and for a happy baby too, avoid baby getting too hungry and grumpy before you find a spot to settle and nurse. Gradually you’ll get more eagle-eyed to baby’s hunger cues so you can move quickly to a better space while they are still relatively calm. However, if your baby has suddenly woken up ravenous (think growth spurt!) then it’s best just to stop and feed baby as soon as you possibly can, even if it isn’t an ideal location; after all no one can rightfully criticize you for satisfying a hungry child.

13. If All Else Fails, Look Down!

This might seem like surprising advice and at all other times I’d be saying hold your head up high, but if you do find yourself having an attack of nerves a magic remedy is to look down at baby. A happily feeding baby is one of the calmest images you can bring to mind, especially that of your own baby. Remember too that baby is oblivious to whatever fuss is bothering you, all they care about is being well-nourished which is exactly what you are doing for them. Look at baby and remember how amazing they think you are right now!

14. Keep On Going

The more you nurse when out and about, the more natural it is going to feel, trust me. Hang in there!

15. Remember How Amazing You Are

Finally, for a last confidence boost, remember the more women that breastfeed in public the easier it will get for future mothers. Research tells us that a factor in low breastfeeding rates is how breastfeeding mothers feel they are perceived while feeding out and about. Every feed you do out of the house helps normalize breastfeeding and can only boost future breastfeeding figures. You are a hero!