In many ways, the first days and weeks with your new baby are just the two of you—mama and baby, learning each other and figuring out your new normal. Sure, there are usually others around. Your partner, grandparents, maybe baby’s siblings. But it’s hardly “breastfeeding in public.”
There’s something of a bubble around mama and baby. No matter what’s going on around you, there’s always going to be a different sort of bond between the two of you. The rest of the world fades away. For awhile, as you’re resting and recovering from birth, it really can be just the two of you. But eventually, you’ll need to venture into the outside world, and that’s when the question of breastfeeding in public arises.
Where Can I Breastfeed in Public?
Many mamas want to know where it’s okay to feed their baby. In the last several years, we’ve seen more and more parents standing up for their right to breastfeed wherever they are, and in some cases it’s made some waves. Don’t let that worry you, though. You have every right to feed your baby wherever you need to.
In fact, every single state (except Idaho) has specific laws protecting the right to breastfeed in public. Some states have more descriptive protection than others, but in all cases, you are within your rights to sit down (or keep walking!) and nurse whenever your baby is hungry. (For specific laws, including some other rights you may have at work and other places, visit this link.)
For every time a mama has run into disapproving reactions to breastfeeding in public, it’s likely that dozens of other breastfeeding pairs more went completely unnoticed. The alternative is usually an unhappy, crying baby, and no one wants to cause a little one to be sad (or to deal with the noisy consequences!). So don’t stress too much about whether someone is going to care about you breastfeeding in public—they probably won't even notice. If they do say something, remind them that state laws protect you and your baby exactly where you are.
How Can I Start Breastfeeding in Public?
The short answer? However you want to. But of course, it can be difficult to find your comfort zone at first. Some mamas prefer to cover, while others are more comfortable without one. Some babies can nurse anywhere, while others need a quiet place without distraction. The only right answer is what works for you and baby.
It can be a good idea to practice in front of a mirror if you’re feeling uneasy. You might find some tricks for latching more smoothly, or you might find that you aren’t so exposed as you’d been imagining. Sometimes our worries build things up in our heads to be more than they are. Seeing what others might see can help give you a more realistic idea of what’s happening.
Many mamas say that it’s not even the breast that they are uncomfortable exposing, but their bellies! Hang onto the belly bands you had in pregnancy, or pick up some nursing camisoles to wear under your shirt. You might feel less exposed, and you’ll certainly feel less drafty!
If you use a nursing cover, make sure it’s one that’s made of light material to keep baby cool. You’ll also want it to have some structure at the neck so that it doesn’t cling to baby’s face or block him from view. Again, practice at home—in your mama-baby bubble—to see what you’re comfortable with. You might find that you can relax more (which is better for your milk supply and your baby), or you might find that it makes things more challenging (which can make it stressful).
Low neck shirts can make it easier to pull the top down and nurse from the neck of the shirt, too. A big scarf can cover your neck line if you’re uncomfortable, but either way most folks won’t notice anything more than a normal neckline.
Once baby can sit up and control her latch a bit better than in the newborn days, she can breastfeed in carriers of all kinds. The extra closeness might also help keep her from being distracted with the bustle of people around her.
Try a few options to decide the easiest way for you to access and get baby latched, because feeling comfortable and confident will make breastfeeding in public little more than just breastfeeding in general.
What about Friends and Family?
It’s a shame how difficult it can be for people to let their preconceived judgments go. All too often, someone with negative things to say about breastfeeding in public is speaking from a lack of understanding and a lot of assumption.
Knowing that doesn’t make things any easier on you. You’re doing good work taking care of that baby, and it’s definitely work! To have the pressure of disapproving eyes on you can be frustrating and defeating.
If you have a partner, mutual friend, or another family member who supports you, let them stand in for you and run blocker when needed. It’s much easier for a negative person to nitpick someone who is distracted and seems to be vulnerable than someone who can give them full attention. Let your friend stand up for you and redirect the conversation away.
If you can’t avoid the situation alone, revisit that mama-baby bubble in your mind. Ultimately, in this moment, you two are the only ones who matter. You can choose to educate the naysayers with laws, benefits of breastfeeding, and simple etiquette reminders—or you can simply ignore them and just focus on your baby.
Remember this is about your baby, you, and the breastfeeding relationship that you’ve made all your own. Baby might need a distraction free place to breastfeed in private. You might both like to use a cover. Or you might feel and function best without any sort of cover or discretion at all—and it could change from day to day! However you breastfeed in public, rest assured that you’re well within your rights to do so, and that your attentiveness to baby’s needs is a beautiful thing.