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Did you know that it is your right as an American to breastfeed in public in all 50 states?
But despite this, we’ve all heard stories of breastfeeding moms being asked to leave a store or restaurant (which is ridiculous) or stories about how someone was made to feel uncomfortable nursing in public (also ridiculous). And it really should be a non-issue for anyone that a mother needs to nourish her child.
But, even though know it’s your right, breastfeeding in public isn’t always easy or comfortable. You might be a little uneasy about that, especially if you’re a new mom who’s breastfeeding for the first time. I definitely did.
The idea of breastfeeding in public can feel intimidating and let me tell you, I get it! I’ve been there myself.
Personally, I remember worrying so much about what it would be like to breastfeed in public. Nursing at home was and comfortable, but the idea of nursing my baby in public was a little daunting.
But, I didn’t want my worries to dictate my life as a new mom. So, I went out with my baby and I nursed him when and where I felt most comfortable — sometimes it was the bench at a park with a nursing cover and other times it was in a dressing room at the mall.
I truly take no judgment in this situation and just hope that you can feel confident and empowered to feed your baby when and where you need to. If that means breastfeeding in the back seat of your car or at the window seat of a Starbucks, every mother should feel good about feeding their baby — wherever she has to or wants to.
Breastfeeding in public is one of those things you may need to get used to, but it’s easily something you can do and master. So, I want to help you set yourself up for success by planning ahead and following these breastfeeding tips.
A large part of nursing in public is about your comfort and overall confidence with it. Both of these things will happen with practice, time, and the right adjustments to your outfit.
Here are some of the best tips I have for breastfeeding in public.
Tip #1: Wear Breastfeeding-Friendly Tops or Dresses
My first recommendation is to dress for breastfeeding success when possible. This means wearing clothes that make breastfeeding easy and accessible.
Some breastfeeding clothes are so subtle and convenient that you’ll barely even feel exposed at all. And truly, some people around you might not even notice that you’re breastfeeding when you’re wearing breastfeeding clothes.
What exactly are breastfeeding clothes?
Breastfeeding tops, dresses, and sweaters include extra slits so you can discreetly breastfeed your baby without removing a clothing item. If you love to wear hooded sweatshirts or high necklines, there are nursing-versions of these items that might work perfectly for you. Without the nursing features built into these pieces, it can be awkward and difficult to try to latch your baby. (Been there, done that.)
And even better is that there are so many breastfeeding clothing brands out there now that you also don’t have to compromise your personal style to wear a nursing-friendly dress or shirt.
While nursing clothing tends to be more expensive than your typical, non-nursing wear, some moms find that these specialized pieces offer a good bit of confidence. Knowing that you won’t expose yourself when trying to latch your baby can be all it takes to nurse in public comfortably.
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If you don’t want to buy a wardrobe that is exclusively filled with nursing clothing, then start with a few key nursing staples. For example, nursing bras, nursing tanks, and even a couple of basic nursing tops can go a long way.
Here are some brands to shop from:
- Boob Design
- Hatch Collection
- Pink Blush
- Love and Fit (athletic wear)
- Kindred Bravely
- Ingrid & Isabel
- Latched Mama
- A Pea in the Pod
Or, you can just choose nursing-friendly clothes from your closet
If you’re not into nursing clothing or simply don’t want to spend the extra money on a new wardrobe committed to breastfeeding, it’s possible to find nursing-friendly options in your closet. (Just be prepared for these items to stretch a little; I had to toss all my shirts after using them for breastfeeding.)
Lots of moms embrace button-down shirts for breastfeeding in public. It might be a good idea to wear a nursing cami under a button-down. These can stretch downward so your baby can latch. You can also look for shirts that are looser around the midsection so your baby can latch from underneath.
You can also try the two shirt method. Think of it as a DIY nursing shirt. Simply layer a thin cami under any top. When you are ready to nurse, you can pull the outer shirt up and pull the tank top down. This does not expose your stomach or your breast, yet it is breathable for your baby. This makes it a lot easier to nurse on the go and you probably don’t need to buy anything new; you likely already have these items in your closet.
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Tip #2: Use a Good Nursing Cover
Nursing covers are always a good item to have on hand especially when nursing in public. Unless you feel confident enough to not need one, I highly recommend having a cover in your diaper bag and ready to go.
They are perfect for covering up and also giving your baby some undistracted time to nurse. Of course, there are so many types and styles out there. I’ve dedicated an entire post on The Best Nursing Covers and suggest reading through the post to help you find the best one for you and your baby.
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Tip #3: Nurse Without a Pillow
Before you breastfeed in public for the first time, you might want to get a little practice. And by practice, I mean pretend you’re in public even if you’re in your private living room.
For example, I encourage you to try breastfeeding without a pillow or other support structure other than your arms. Many moms find breastfeeding pillows to be helpful in the early days, but these pillows aren’t exactly portable enough to bring with you on errands.
So, practice how to latch and support your baby without using these pillows before you try to nurse in public. It might take a few tries to figure out the most comfortable position for you and your baby. The more traditional cradle hold is often the easiest and the most comfortable.
Tip #4: Find a Comfortable Place to Breastfeed
Once you begin nursing your baby on the go, where you nurse will be a question that comes up often. The answer will always depend on where you are, the weather on that particular day, and your comfort level. I generally tell moms that there are two main things to consider: your location and your physical comfort.
Choose a spot you’re comfortable with
Think about what locations you are comfortable nursing in. Is it a corner in a quiet coffee shop? Are you seeking out a completely private space inside a retail dressing room? (I loved this and think it’s one of my favorite mom hacks!)
Or are you willing to sit on a park bench and tend to your baby without a second thought? Everyone’s preferred nursing location is different and that’s completely ok! I just encourage you to think about this ahead of time and plan your outings accordingly.
For example, are you going to the mall? Do they have a family restroom that has a nursing center? Or do they have a Nordstrom? Their restrooms often have a mother’s room. Same with Buy Buy Baby stores, and these mother’s rooms are so helpful!
Or if you’re going to your favorite restaurant, maybe you can request a table that will offer a little added privacy.
You definitely don’t need to base your plans around where you can nurse; just be open to being creative! For example, if you don’t like the thought of nursing out in the open, but you really want to go to the playground with your kiddos, just make sure you park close to the playground so you can nurse in your car (just be sure you are away from street traffic or this is a safety hazard). Or, you can simply look for a park bench that is tucked away from the crowd. Or a tree that offers shade and privacy.
There are breastfeeding-friendly locations pretty much anywhere, as long as you are open to using them. If you would rather be more discreet, you might scope out a few options ahead of time.
The other thing to think about is that when you’re new to breastfeeding, you will probably want as supportive of a chair as you can find. An armchair with padded arms, for example, can be found in nursing rooms, malls, children’s museums, and public libraries.
Once nursing is established and your baby gets bigger and stronger, you’ll probably find that you don’t need as much support in a nursing chair.
Tip #5: How to Latch Your Baby in Public
Some might tell you to put on the cover on first and then latch the baby, but that’s not always practical.
I always get my cover ready first. This might mean putting the cover on but moving it over to one shoulder so that it’s out of the way. Then, I unhook the nursing bra, lift my shirt, and latch my baby. Once he’s happy, I swing the cover back over me and my baby. I usually didn’t mind the extra moment or two of being uncovered. (And by the time my second baby came around, I cared even less about using a cover as long as I wasn’t terribly exposed.)
Tip #6: Don’t Wait for Your Baby to Freak Out
You know that scream? The one that babies scream when they’re hungry and want milk NOW? I feel like we all can still hear that urgent newborn scream in the back of our minds, even if that was years ago.
That hunger cry makes our mama instincts kick into high gear: he’s hungry and needs me right now, and there is no time to spare!
Whether your baby cries as soon as his tummy rumbles, or if your baby gives you a little hunger cue before wailing out in complete desperation, once he’s crying— I don’t care how chill of a mama you are— the experience of your baby wailing in public is completely anxiety-inducing!
Try to avoid this by catching your baby before he gets to that hungry “give me milk now” state.
I will always remember when I went out to dinner with my husband, and we had settled in at our table, and our baby slept next to me while I ate my favorite beet and quinoa salad. Of course, just as dinner was served, he woke up and was ready to eat but I had hoped to get a few more bites of my dinner first.
Oh what a silly idea that was.
I had my second bite and the wailing started. I frantically tried to unfold my nursing cover as I picked him up. I could feel the people in the restaurant wondering what was going on as I stumbled my way through getting the nursing cover and getting him to latch. My stress level was through the roof.
He eventually did calm down once I got him to latch, but I definitely learned to nurse him right when he wakes (or to even nurse a little before I think he’d be hungry). A happy baby is certainly a much easier latch. So, the lesson here is don’t wait! Set up to nurse your baby before he is ready.
One sweet thing my husband would always do is to cut my food for me and help feed me if I couldn’t manage to eat much at restaurants while nursing or changing a diaper on the go. That was sweet and majorly appreciated.
Tip #7: Try a Nursing Necklace
Older babies often need distractions when nursing, and a nursing necklace can keep your baby’s fingers busy while eating. Nursing at home can be as leisurely as your baby likes, but when you’re nursing in public, you want your baby to concentrate on nursing without too much squirming.
Nursing necklaces definitely help to keep distractions to a minimum. Keep in mind, this necklace is for you to wear, and for the baby to play with while you wear it.
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Tip #8: Learn to Nurse in a Baby Carrier
Hands down, one of the best things I did was learn how to nurse in a baby carrier. As soon as I did this, I felt like I had unleashed all the freedom in the world: I could nurse my baby at the stores, museums, playgrounds— you name it! The best part of nursing in a baby carrier is that no one notices. You’ll be walking around, hands-free, and your baby will be content as can be.
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Doing It! Breastfeeding in Public
When you’re ready to breastfeed in public for the first time, I recommend going out one day with the sole purpose to breastfeed. It will give you time to plan your location, time of day, and what you’re wearing. This way, you won’t feel pressured to cater to your baby’s needs in a place that makes you feel uncomfortable. And, most importantly, it will set you up for success in the future by building your confidence that you can breastfeed wherever you need to.
If you’re not sure where to go, I always suggest a place where other moms/young children will be. That way, you’ll be among other breastfeeding moms who don’t bat an eye when they see someone setting up to nurse their baby. This could be the children’s section of the public library, a playground, or a baby retail store/boutique.
What breastfeeding tips do you have to share?
More questions about breastfeeding in public? Read on!
What if someone makes a rude comment to me while I’m breastfeeding in public?
This is a hot topic: what happens if someone makes a rude comment? Will people really give me disapproving looks if I nurse at the restaurant table? The truth is the anxiety of wondering what might happen can often be worse than something actually happening.
Much of the noise on this subject is just that: noise. The majority of mothers nurse in public every day without any negative remarks from strangers. More often than not, people won’t say anything, and if they do, they are smiling at your sweet baby. Sometimes you’ll have a veteran mom stop and offer you encouragement. And I admit, those little “you’re doing great, mom” comments I’ve received over the years are so appreciated. (More of this, mamas!)
For some reason, if someone does make a comment, and you feel the need to respond, I suggest having a response or two ready. Keep it short and polite even if someone was rude to you.
Depending on your personality, you can say that you’re feeding your baby and if they are uncomfortable, ask them to carry on. Another good option is “thanks for your input”. It can help end an unwanted conversation. (Make a major mental note of that, mama, because you’ll likely receive a lot of unsolicited advice over the years.)
Keep in mind that women have been breastfeeding for a long time and the vast majority don’t think twice about it. So, breastfeed when and where is comfortable for you, and enjoy the opportunity to nourish your baby with your amazing body!
Do I have to cover up while breastfeeding in public?
By law, you do not need to cover up when you breastfeed in public. But you can and should do so if it makes you or your baby more comfortable.
All public establishments in the United States are open for breastfeeding with or without a cover. It is discriminatory to refuse service to a woman who is breastfeeding. So, a server cannot refuse to wait on your table, for example. Rude comments and harassment are also seen as discriminatory.
(As a Catholic mom, I also find it really welcoming that the pope and the church encourage nursing moms to nurse during Mass. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.)
How do I hold my baby to breastfeed in public?
The cradle hold is typically the easiest way to hold your baby while you breastfeed. It allows you to use both your arms and your lap as a support for your baby. Of course, do whatever hold works best for you and your baby. But generally, the cradle hold gives keeps your baby close to you, his back to any distractions, and gives you the most control over feeding and keeping yourself covered as you need.
Can I nurse in a public bathroom?
Technically, yes, you can nurse in a public bathroom. But it’s really not a great idea in terms of health and hygiene. Public restrooms have bacteria on practically every surface, meaning that it could be an unsafe place for you to breastfeed your baby—certainly not the cleanest. I recommend finding a different place to breastfeed whether it’s your own car, a dressing room, or your standard park bench.
But have I done it myself? I sure have. And typically, the best bathrooms to nurse in are at Nordstrom. They’re more of a lounge, anyway!
Is breastfeeding in public legal?
Yes, in fact, breastfeeding in public has been legal in many states for over twenty years. And it’s been legal in all 50 states since 2018. You can legally breastfeed whenever and wherever you need to. This includes both public and private locations.
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