Does the thought of breastfeeding in public spike your blood pressure?
If so, don’t be ashamed!
As women, we are taught modesty from a very young age, but now, here you are, with a hungry baby, smack dab in the middle of the outside world. Should you sneak into a dirty bathroom? Dash to your car? Face a wall? No way!
Look: breastfeeding is not only completely natural, but it is also the healthiest way for your baby to get nutrition, promotes mother-child bonding, and can decrease the chances of several health issues. So let’s not talk about if moms should or should not breastfeed in public; let’s talk about how to make breastfeeding in public more comfortable.
Nobody puts Baby (or Momma) in a corner!
Know Your Rights
Breastfeeding laws vary between countries, provinces, states, and territories, so be sure to brush up on your local legislation.
While some countries, like India, don’t have laws that prohibit or protect breastfeeding, others explicitly detail a nursing mother’s rights.
The United Kingdom
Under the Equality Act of 2010:
A business is responsible for their employees and may not allow them to discriminate against nursing mothers (Source);
Should you need to breastfeed in a business establishment, said establishment cannot ask you to leave, refuse service, or otherwise make you feel unwelcome, regardless of your nursing child’s age (Source);
Businesses are responsible for ensuring a breastfeeding mother’s fair treatment; this includes intervening in cases where they are made aware that another patron is causing upset to a nursing mother (Source)
United States of America
49 states, along with the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, have enacted laws that protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public (Source);
Idaho is the only state lacking a law that explicitly protects a woman’s right to breastfeed in public. Legally, a mother who is nursing her child can be refused service and/or asked to leave a business (Source)
In accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, women have the right to breastfeed in public everywhere in Canada (Source);
Ontario and British Columbia specifically outline a nursing mother’s rights in their Human Rights Codes (Source)
Australian Federal Law designates breastfeeding as a right, and it is illegal to discriminate, harass, or refuse service to a mother who is breastfeeding (Source)
Put Your Wardrobe to Work
When you are out and about, breastfeeding like the boss mom you are, you probably want to be able to give your baby access to your breast without too much fanfare. Luckily, clothing designed for nursing mothers has come a long way in both the fashion and convenience department.
Nursing Tanks, Tops, and Dresses
Keeping a few of these tops in your closet is a must. They come in all colors, materials, with shelf bras, without shelf bras…we could go on and on. Seriously, there are some great nursing tank tops out there that are comfy to wear during your busy day and allow for easy access to your breast.
If you are looking for something a bit warmer, or just prefer tops with sleeves, you can always look into adding some nursing shirts to your wardrobe. You can easily and discreetly access your breast by pulling the fabric up, down, or to the side, depending on its design.
The top part of a nursing dress serves the same purpose as that of a nursing shirt by providing easy and ready access to your breast. The best advantage of a nursing dress? Not having to worry about buttoning a pair of pants.
If you’re worried about where bras fit into this whole public breastfeeding equation, fear not. For mothers who need a bit of extra chest support, there are plenty of nursing bras on the market. The most common design allows for a cup to be unclipped so your baby can latch onto your nipple without any stray fabric getting in the way.
If you feel like drawing from your non-breast feeding wardrobe, you absolutely can do that, but certain clothing styles will give you an easy-access advantage so try and stick to
- Button up shirts;
- Stretchy, scoop neck shirts;
- Wrap dresses;
- Dresses that require undoing back buttons or zippers
If you plan on breastfeeding while you are out and about but would prefer to keep the milk-taps hidden from public view, then, by all means, invest in a nursing cover.
They come in many designs, with the most popular being:
Apron Style: Loop the fabric hoop over your neck, and you’re good to go. Many apron-style covers will have a protruding neckline that allows you to peek down at your baby and keep air circulating underneath the material.
Infinity Scarf: The accessory that turns into a modesty aid, you can loop this scarf around yourself in several different ways depending on what is most comfortable for you and your baby.
Poncho Style: For moms seeking maximum coverage, a lightweight poncho cover is the way to go. It conceals all and, better still is almost impossible for tiny hands to pull off, so you will not have to worry about being unexpectedly exposed.
Wear Your Baby
Slings and baby carriers come in all shapes and sizes for all shapes and sizes. Aside from being super versatile and comfortable for both mom and baby, they can be a public breastfeeding game changer. Wearing your baby in a sling can:
- Allow you to nurse your baby inconspicuously;
- Allow you to keep an eye on your surroundings;
- Allow you to watch your other kiddos while nursing;
- Keep your baby comfortable, soothed, and close
Know Your Baby’s Schedule
Nothing will make your public breastfeeding experience more stressful than a fussy, hangry child. To avoid this as best you can:
- Keep your baby’s typical feeding schedule in mind, taking care to glance at your watch now and then;
- Be aware of how your baby acts when she is getting hungry. When you start noticing her tells, it’s time to begin thinking about where to make a snack landing;
- If you know your baby usually gets hungry at certain points of the day, do not start an activity around that time that you cannot stop mid-way through.
Nurse Your Confidence
Body language is the first thing people will notice about you when you are out and about. If you are concerned about facing prying eyes or public criticism while you are breastfeeding, you could inadvertently draw more attention to yourself by trying to shrink away as you hide behind a tree. Afterall, if someone is skulking around looking like their doing something they should not, it is human nature to wonder what that something is.
The first step to exuding confident body language is knowing that you can seamlessly perform a task, so be sure to take some time to prep yourself at home. Practice things like removing your breast from your preferred nursing clothes and putting on your nursing cover if you are opting to use one. Take some time to breastfeed in front of a mirror to see what outfits cover what body parts the best.
Once you have your technique down, there is no reason why you should feel apprehensive about taking the show on the road; you know what you’re doing, so:
- Don’t shrink down in your seat;
- Don’t nervously avoid eye contact;
- Don’t rush yourself or your child;
- Don’t apologize for nursing;
Instead, you want to:
- Make eye contact as you normally would (when you’re not looking into your baby’s eyes, that is);
- Use your preferred breastfeeding positions;
- Engage in conversation as you normally would;
- Put on a happy smile
You’re out in the world with your baby, nurturing and nourishing her; why wouldn’t you want to convey your confidence to passers-by?
Dealing With Criticism While Breastfeeding
Okay, so the worst has happened. Somebody has called you out for publically breastfeeding, or you have been asked to leave a business establishment. You might be feeling defensive, angry, or even embarrassed about having this attention drawn to you. Nevertheless:
- DO NOT allow the exchange to turn into a heated argument. It is your job to keep your baby, and yourself, safe, not to cure the world of ignorance.
- DO NOT stay in an area where you suddenly feel unsafe just to prove a point.
- DO NOT engage the crazy. Yes, the internet is filled with epic stories of mothers shutting down breastfeeding naysayers with a snarky comment. However, if a person confronts you and is angry, or even unhinged, that sarcastic comeback could cause more trouble than it is worth.
This doesn’t mean that you have to stand there and take criticism Instead you can:
- Calmly inform the person of your breastfeeding rights;
- Move to a more public area; the person comfortable with a one-on-one confrontation might not be so keen on engaging in an argument in front of a crowd;
- Call the police if you feel like you are in danger;
- If you have been discriminated against in a business establishment, file a formal complaint with its managers, owners, or an appropriate government agency;
Breastfeeding Support Groups
We all know it takes a village, right? If you are feeling overwhelmed, nervous, or if you are on the opposite end of the spectrum and want to offer tips to mothers who are struggling with public breastfeeding, by all means, seek out a support group.
La Leche League is a great starting place. This international organization prides itself on bringing mothers together so they can share their feelings, fears, tips, and successes.
In the United States of America, you can get in touch with Breastfeeding USA to be connected to a counselor or a support chapter.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association is always ready to provide counselors and fellow-mother support.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service is a great resource to find area support, lactation consultants, and more.
There are, of course, support groups in virtually every country. A phone call to your pediatrician is sure to yield at least a few local options, while a quick google search will generate an abundance of online options.
Since support groups are hardly a one size fits all option, by all means, try a few on for size. If for some reason, you do not find anything that is to your liking or your local town is sorely lacking in the organized support area, there is no reason why you can’t start a group yourself!
There are few ways better or healthier to bond with your child than breastfeeding, and luckily, societies of all creeds and cultures are beginning to embrace this fact. Just remember; know your rights, dress for success, go forth as the confident momma you are, and, if you are ever feeling alone or overwhelmed, reach out for help. We promise, your village is out there.