You are not alone. For new mothers, one of the most intimidating things to get used to is breastfeeding in public. This is really an unnecessary fear.
Public breastfeeding does not have to be a cause of worry or embarrassment, because it can be done very discreetly in most public places.
Nursing in public does, however, take a little practice and confidence. One experienced mother told me this when I had my first child: “With the first one, you are careful to plan around breastfeeding and even hide to nurse. For the next baby you get braver and start breast feeding in public. By baby number three, you can breastfeed anywhere and most people don’t even realize you did it!”
This can ring so true. I have a friend who nursed her baby right next to me while watching a sporting event and I didn’t even see her do anything. Being a nursing mom myself, I thought for sure I would have had a clue!
How to Breastfeed in Public
You’re enjoying a day out of the house with your baby in tow, and you start to notice signs that your little one is getting hungry. Perhaps he’s squirming in his seat or whimpering in her sleep. This is when many new mothers start to squirm themselves because breastfeeding in public is so controversial in many communities. If you’ve heard the horror stories of breastfeeding mothers being escorted away by police officers or verbally assaulted by passerby, you’re not the only one frightened and concerned.
This guide will help you understand your rights while giving you some tips on breastfeeding without drawing unnecessary attention. We’ll even discuss what you should do if someone does harass you while you’re breastfeeding.
The Legalities of Public Breastfeeding
There are no federal laws forbidding women from breastfeeding in public, but the state laws aren’t so clear cut. While there are no state laws that make breastfeeding a criminal offense, the wording of laws that protect women at the state level do vary. Some states fully support the right of women to breastfeed anywhere that they are legally allowed to be while others simply state that breastfeeding isn’t considered indecent exposure.
In some states, the public breastfeeding laws have no guidelines for enforcement. This means that breastfeeding mothers have a difficult time trying to press charges or otherwise have their attackers punished when the right to feed their baby in public is violated. This is likely why so many mothers have taken to social media to draw attention to the injustice after being humiliated in public.
What you need to know is that the law is on your side regardless of where you live. There are still police officers who side with the attackers or seem unaware of a woman’s right to breastfeed, but there are no known cases of a woman being criminally charged for breastfeeding in public. The worst case scenario is being asked to leave the premise of a business or being ordered to stop what you’re doing despite your rights.
Why the Breastfeeding in Public Controversy?
What is so baffling about the breastfeeding controversies presenting themselves today is the fact that breasts are seen as offensive in some cases and arousing in others. A woman wearing a revealing top with excessive cleavage or a skimpy bikini top that barely covers her nipples will more than likely be greeted with smiles and stares of approval while a breastfeeding mother with far more coverage from a scarf may be approached with ridicule or shaming stares.
This seems backwards, since breastfeeding is a natural act that is necessary for babies to thrive and grow into healthy members of society. It’s possible that the world has become so overly sexualized that the exposure of breasts from a revealing top or bathing suit is expected and overlooked. Breastfeeding isn’t something that has received public exposure as frequently, so it makes some people uncomfortable.
Some people believe that publicly revealing the breasts in any manner is improper, while others simply object to the exposure of breasts in the act of feeding a baby. People in the latter group make a distinction between breasts displayed for sexual attraction and breasts used for feeding, and they believe that the act of feeding should only be performed in complete privacy.
Regardless of the reasons for objections to breastfeeding in public, it’s up to each mother to decide how comfortable she is with public feedings. It also falls on each of us mothers to ensure that we’re properly covered so that claims of indecent exposure have no merit.
Public Breastfeeding Tips for Mommies
To help you have the confidence to nurse like a pro, here are some tips for discreetly breastfeeding in public:
1. Wear clothing that gives you easy access. Many nursing fashions make this a breeze. (Layering a nursing camisole under other clothing can also help.) Nursing tops are essential to discreet nursing in public. With the right breast feeding clothes, you can easily nurse without anyone even knowing that you did! Click here for some great nursing tops options.
2. Carry a blankie or cover up. Any lightweight blanket that can easily be draped over your shoulder to cover both you and your baby will work. I bought several in fabrics that I really liked (and they were also used to swaddle my babies when they were really young!) If you want to see your baby’s sweet face, they also now have fabulous looking cover ups to do the job with style! For our readers’ favorites, click here.
3. Utilize a good baby sling. (We love baby slings!) Slings and baby wraps have a dual-purpose: They carry infants close and they can be used as a breastfeeding cover up when breastfeeding in public.
4. If possible, watch another mother breastfeed in public. Ask a friend who is breastfeeding to give you some pointers. Most nursing mothers are more than happy to help you. One other easy way to do this is to attend a La Leche League meeting while you are still pregnant. They will be very encouraging and helpful. 5. If this is your first baby, give yourself a little time to get used to breastfeeding before you try public breast feeding. Once you and your infant get the hang of it, you will be able to nurse anywhere!
Discretion Is NOT a Must!
You have right to feed you baby in public no matter where you are or where you live regardless of if you are prepared to be discrete or not! It is beautiful and natural. If you are a mom who feels intimated by the thought of breastfeeding in public…watch this video and be encouraged to nurse where you are!
Tips for Breastfeeding if You Don’t Want to Attract Any Attention at All
If you’re like most breastfeeding moms, even if it ok to openly breastfeed…you don’t want all eyes on you while feeding. You just want to nourish your baby in peace. These tips will help you do that regardless of where you are and who is around.
- Find the most discreet location. If you can move to an uncrowded corner or an area that is less likely to receive foot traffic, you’re less likely to encounter the disapproving stares of passerby. Your baby will most likely appreciate the quieter environment as well.
- Keep breastfeeding scarves and other accessories on hand at all times. Stash them in your car, in your diaper bag, and in your desk drawer. If your baby is with you, the need to breastfeed may arise even if it’s not your little one’s routine feeding time.
- If your baby has difficulty latching or struggles with breastfeeding in other ways, assess whether you’re able to breastfeed in public with ease and confidence. If you need to switch positions or actively help your baby latch, you may need to feed in private so that you have the freedom to expose your breasts and give your baby the attention that he or she deserves.
- Consider breastfeeding while your baby is in a sling that provides maximum coverage. Most people won’t know what your baby is doing in the sling.
- The S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends practicing your coverup techniques while in private. Ideally, you will be able to smoothly cover and latch your baby in seconds. Once your baby is quietly feeding and you are properly covered, you’re less likely to attract attention.
- A screaming baby is guaranteed to draw attention to what you’re doing, so try to feed before your little one gets worked up into a tantrum.
- Look at yourself in the mirror while breastfeeding with different covers at home. Some mothers feel that it looks less obvious if they wear an oversized shirt rather than using a breastfeeding cover. This may lead to more exposure of your breast while latching, so it’s a matter of what makes you feel the most comfortable.
What to Do If You are Harassed while Breastfeeding in Public
Some women keep a copy of their state’s breastfeeding law with them at all times. You might even want to print it on cards that you can hand to people who give you awkward looks or who are bold enough to say something negative about your feeding behaviors. This is a good way to stand by your right to breastfeed without getting into a heated conversation with a stranger. It may also help if the police are called and the officers seem unaware of the law’s exact wording.
You can also try moving away from someone who seems extremely irritated by what you’re doing. Don’t consider this backing down. It’s simply a way to prevent a negative encounter that may put you and your baby in danger. The last thing that you want to expose your baby to is an angry stranger with strong viewpoints and a loud voice.
It may also help to look for supports in the crowd. When one person speaks up on behalf of a breastfeeding mother, an “offended” or angry attacker typically backs down. If there are no supporters nearby or you feel isolated or in any type of danger, move away quickly or pick up your phone and call for help. The call is likely to scare away someone harassing you.
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