Making It Work
Breastfeeding in Public
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 5, September-October 2004, p. 194
"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I have a new baby and I'm in love! I am going a little stir-crazy, though. I feel so uncomfortable breastfeeding in public. How have other mothers handled it?
I remember the first time I tried breastfeeding in the mall when my daughter, Ainslee, was about two weeks old. I ended up in tears, convinced I was never going to be able to leave the house for more than an hour at a time. You didn't mention how old your baby is, but it does get easier with time.
You might want to go to a La Leche League meeting, if you haven't already. It is relaxing and affirming to sit in a room of nursing mothers. For a while, I attended three meetings a week. A larger town generally has several meetings within driving distance. By the time my daughter was around six months old, I noticed that I was breastfeeding anywhere and everywhere!
Until then, I utilized dressing rooms if I was in a shopping center. The car also worked well (I kept pillows to assist nursing in the car until she was about six months old). In some instances, a nice clean restroom fit the need. For me, using private areas was less about not wanting other people to see me breastfeeding, and more for my own peace of mind as I struggled with holding my baby, my breast, and trying to get the two to meet.
Remember that babies change quickly. It got easier to breastfeed for awhile, then we went through the wiggly, gymnastic, looking-around-at-everything-while-latched-on phase at age eight or nine months. After she was 15 months old or so, I would ask her to wait until we got in the car, if she asked to nurse while in the grocery store, for example. Many times, when we got to the car, I would ask if she wanted to breastfeed now or at home, and she would usually be okay with waiting until we got home. However, if she truly wanted to breastfeed in the store or the car, that is what we did.
My daughter will be two years old in three weeks, and she breastfeeds five or six times a day. She only seems to ask in public at playgroups when she feels overwhelmed by all the other children, or if she is extremely tired and needs to go to sleep.
Enjoy this time with your little one! By the time you read this, you will probably be nursing him or her all over the place, and wondering how it got to be so easy!
Knoxville TN USA
My 15-month-old daughter and I have outings nearly every day. I have found many places where I can comfortably breastfeed her. The best place for me has always been my own car. After we arrive at our destination, I sit in the back seat with her and breastfeed before we go in. This way, I know we will have a couple of hours before we need to start thinking about where to breastfeed again. If we need to, we can always go back to the car and breastfeed at any time.
Shopping malls usually have comfortable places to breastfeed, too. Some of the stores I shop at even have special rooms for nursing mothers complete with couches, curtains, sinks, and changing tables.
I have also found that, in time, I became much more comfortable with nursing in public. This might happen to you as well. When my daughter was four months old I took her on an airplane. I was cramped between two men, making it nearly impossible to be discreet. They didn't seemed bothered when I attached her to the breast for most of the ride. It was then that I gradually gave up trying to find the perfect place to breastfeed and made any situation work.
Grimes IA USA
It sounds as though you are off to a wonderful start with your new baby. But even as you bask in maternal bliss, eventually you will need to leave the house. Your first attempts at breastfeeding in public may be a little uncomfortable. There are several things you can do, though, to make the process easier.
First, remember that there is very little, if any, exposure involved in breastfeeding. Your baby's head and your shirt will cover most of your breast. Tops made for breastfeeding are nice, but any shirt lifted or unbuttoned from the bottom will work, too. A cardigan, vest, or jacket provides coverage from the side. If you need reassurance, practice at home in front of a mirror or with a partner. Some mothers like to cover their shoulder and the baby's head with a blanket, but I found that just made it difficult for me to position my baby.
Second, start off slow with outings to baby-friendly places. La Leche League meetings are ideal. You can breastfeed freely without feeling that anyone might be looking at you and you can also get suggestions from other mothers. Playgrounds and children's libraries are also good locations and often have benches or couches.
Third, recognize that breastfeeding in public does get easier. With an infant you may still need to help your baby with head support or positioning, which may seem more obvious to people. As baby and you become "old pros" at nursing, a quick lift of the shirt will be all it takes to get underway.
For right now, you may feel more comfortable finding out-of-the-way spots, such as dressing rooms, so you can relax and focus on breastfeeding instead of wondering if anyone will see anything. With my first child, I knew the location of every comfortable lounge or dressing room in town. With baby number two, I just picked the nearest bench at the mall, the pool, or the library. I have even nursed with my baby in one arm while pushing a grocery cart with the other.
Finally, trust in your instincts and know that you are doing the very best thing for your baby by breastfeeding. Do what feels right for you without worrying about the reaction of the general public. Love your baby, care for him the way you see fit, and the only thing the world will notice is a happy, healthy baby.
Hamden CT USA
For reasons of modesty, I don't often breastfeed in public unless I'm with only women. However, when my baby needs to nurse in a public place, we are discreet.
I generally wear loose-fitting shirts that fall over my breast after my son has latched on. I've also learned how to undo the flap of a nursing bra without lifting up my shirt. If I am in a restaurant, however, I usually check for a couch or chair in the bathroom so I can breastfeed in private. If there is not a seat already in there, I've sometimes taken a chair from one of the tables and put it in there (of course, if the restaurant permits this).
When I'm in someone else's home, I'll go into a private room and breastfeed. Also, department stores and malls often have areas where women can breastfeed their babies in private. Good luck!
Los Angeles CA USA
When my first child arrived, I decided I wanted to demonstrate the positive aspects of breastfeeding and ease of breastfeeding in public. So many women had positively influenced my choices up to that point, and I wanted to be a positive influence to others.
If a nursing mother has an air of confidence, others will feel more comfortable about it. Just looking people in the eye when they walk past keeps them looking you in the eye, and they may never even notice that your baby is nursing. If you are worried about what other people think or feel about your nursing, it may help to tell yourself that you are not responsible for other people's feelings.
Some mothers color-coordinate the colors of their outfits with the baby's outfit so that they are "camouflaged" when nursing.
Breastfed babies are very portable and easy to take on outings. Nursing in a sling is very discreet and you can keep on moving if you need to. I enjoyed lots of outings with my nursing babies this way.
There's a lot of fun waiting for you out there-go and be a positive example and inspiration to others. You never know whom you may influence to give breastfeeding a try!
Houston TX USA