Only 1 in 4 mothers breastfeed exclusively at 6 months. That’s despite the proven health benefits to their baby.
While there’s many reasons women stop or cut down breastfeeding, one possibility is the lack of support. It can be difficult to continue nursing when you feel like people are judging you every time you do it publicly.
Unfortunately, we can’t magically turn ignorant comments or stares into support—but we can make it a little better with a few hacks.
In this post, we’re sharing 14 tips to make breastfeeding in public easier.
14 Tips for Breastfeeding in Public
If you’re new to nursing when you’re outside your home, this advice should help.
#1 Know Your Rights
Nursing in public is legal and normal. In many countries, including the U.S. and Canada, you have the right to breastfeed your baby wherever and whenever she’s hungry. In the U.S., although there is no national breastfeeding law, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have laws that allow you to breastfeed in any location. You can see your specific state’s law here. If you wish, you can print out and keep a copy of those rights in your purse should anyone make a comment.
Besides being completely legal, you’re also doing the right thing. You can’t stay home all the time. And breastfeeding your baby is usually the healthiest choice for her, so you should be proud of your commitment to it—even when it’s uncomfortable.
#2 Find Your Comfort Level
You will probably learn that everyone is different with their comfort levels. Some women are okay bearing it all while others wish to cover up more. Whichever side you land on, your preference is okay. Whether it’s exposing your breast or belly or keeping it all concealed—it’s totally up to you.
#3 Affirm Your Baby is Priority
Even though nursing in public is becoming more accepted, you may still feel awkward and uncomfortable. If you’re struggling to find a hidden spot or hide your body, try to take a deep breath. Consider that even if people see everything, most won’t care because they understand you’re taking care of your baby. And those who do care aren’t your responsibility. It’s not your job to make strangers feel comfortable. It’s your job to feed your baby. And you’re doing amazing!
#4 Use a Sling or Wrap
This is also a good tip for breastfeeding at home if you want to walk around at the same time. You can nurse in many slings and wraps by pulling up your shirt. You can use the fabric of the wrap to cover your breast and nurse baby.
#5 Wear an Accessible Bra
Choosing a snap bra only complicates nursing in public. If you don’t have one designed for breastfeeding, consider a sports bra. These provide support and are easy to pull down.
#6 Reposition Yourself Before Latching
Covering up in the middle of a nursing session is usually pretty easy. However, it can be more difficult when the baby is first latching on. To show less skin when latching, slightly pivot your body away from the general public (turning on your chair or toward a wall). Once she’s latched on, turn back to your original position.
#7 Practice Makes Perfect
If you’ve never breastfed in public, it may feel a bit awkward at first. It may help to know that the feeling will fade with time. One way to speed up your comfort level is to practice breastfeeding in front of a mirror. It may sound weird, but it can desensitize you from worrying about what you look like. If you don’t want to show skin and are using a cover, you can get used to how it’s worn at home. Similarly, if you have a nursing bra that requires the cup to be lowered, you can practice using one hand. You can also try out different breastfeeding outfits in the mirror to see which work the best in public.
#8 Practice In a Group
Adding on to the above tip, it can also be helpful to practice in front of others. New mother groups are perfect for this because you’ll be supported in a comfortable environment. You can also share tips for getting the hang of it.
#9 Choose Comfortable + Convenient Clothing
If you’re already nervous about breastfeeding in public, the last thing you need is to feel uncomfortable in your clothing. Choose an outfit that won’t need constant readjusting and is easy to nurse in. Of course, there’s tops and dresses made specifically for breastfeeding. However, if that’s not an option, you can just be smart about the “regular” clothing you choose. Here are some ideas:
- Loose-fitting t-shirt— Allows you to lift up one side with enough extra fabric to cover exposed parts.
- Button-up shirts— Whether it’s a casual flannel or a fancy dress shirt, button-ups allow you to simply undo a few at the bottom when you’re ready to nurse. If your baby can’t stand fabric on her face, you can also unbutton from the top.
- Cardigan— This is a good option for summer when you want to wear a tank top or tighter fitting t-shirt. Simply put a cardigan over when you’re ready to breastfeed and use the extra fabric to cover up the parts you don’t want exposed.
#10 DIY Nursing Top
If you want a nursing top but are trying to save money to care for your baby, you can make a DIY version. Here’s how:
- Choose a cheap, tighter-fitting tank top. This could be an old one or one found on sale or at a thrift store.
- Using scissors, cut a hole around each breast, big enough to breastfeed.
- Wear the tank top under any shirt you choose. When you’re ready, simply lift up your shirt to expose your DIY nursing tank top.
#11 Use a Belly Band
Some women are uncomfortable if their belly is showing while they nurse in public. If you can relate, here’s a quick way to cover it up: use a belly band. Many women already have one from pregnancy, so simply pull it out again when you leave home. When you’re ready to breastfeed, stretch it out over the exposed area.
#12 Choose an Ideal Location
When possible, scout the location before you need to breastfeed or even before you go. Think about which place would be the most comfortable for you. Here’s a few possibilities:
- Check for breastfeeding rooms
- When being sat in a restaurant, choose a booth seat or a seat facing a wall
- If a restaurant isn’t full, use an empty booth
- In malls, use a change room
- In a park, you can use trees for cover
#13 Try to Predict Their Hunger
The same as you do at home, try to notice your baby’s hunger cues. That way, you can nurse before she becomes fussy. This gives you more time to find a location and get comfortable. Being in a rush with a crying baby could overwhelm you, making you more nervous to nurse in public.
#14 Have a Few Responses Ready for Criticism
If you’re out in public and somebody makes a comment, you don’t have to respond. However, it may help to have a few responses ready. Even if your blood is boiling and you want to tell someone off, remember that it’s unlikely to help the situation. You can assert your right without escalating the confrontation. Here’s a few examples:
- “I understand it makes you uncomfortable, but I’m really just doing my best to care for my baby.”
- “There is nothing wrong or illegal about breastfeeding in public.”
- “My doctor said that breastfeeding lowers the chances of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). To get that benefit, I have to breastfeed even when I’m not home.” (Alternatively, you can quote any related authority, such as recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics).
- “It’s not hygienic for my baby to eat in a bathroom” (If someone suggests you breastfeed in the washroom).
If someone’s comment makes you uncomfortable or you’re being bullied, sometimes the best choice is to leave. If the comment was made by an employee, you can discuss it with management by phone, email or by detailing your treatment in an online review.
If one of your friends or family members has a problem with you breastfeeding in public, try to learn their specific concern. Educate them on the health benefits for your baby and correct any false beliefs. Tell them that nursing in public is more accepted now because people realize it’s a natural, necessary and selfless act for the baby. Sometimes people may not realize how hurtful their comments are. In this case, try to calmly tell them how they make you feel. When you can’t change their opinion, try to take yourself out of the equation; you’re doing the best for your baby. No one should fault you for that.
Summary of Breastfeeding in Public
Breastfeeding in public is completely natural and legal. Some women don’t care about what strangers think while others want to cover up more. Both are okay. If you feel uncomfortable, use the tips in this post to make nursing more discreet. If you have anxiety or face ignorant comments, keep reminding yourself that you’re making an amazing health choice for your baby. For many women, the more they practice breastfeeding in public, the easier it gets.
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