Breastfeeding in Public


You survived childbirth and learned to latch baby on successfully. But if you have decided to nurse your newborn, there’s a final frontier to conquer: the art of breastfeeding in public. In honor of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, here’s our guide to help you do just that.

Breastfeeding practice makes perfect

For many new moms, breastfeeding presents enough of a challenge alone at home, so the thought of nursing in public — where other people might get an eyeful — can be terrifying. To boost confidence, practice in front of a mirror so you can catch a glimpse of what others will (and will not) be able to see.

When you are ready to venture out of the house for the first time, attend a local breastfeeding support group (find them here), where everyone’s in the same boat, or grab coffee with a supportive friend. “I started small, going to the same coffee shop every day for practice,” says breastfeeding mom Rhianna Mathias. “It was a shop I’d patronized a lot before baby, so I was familiar with the staff and felt comfortable there.”

Find your breastfeeding comfort zone

Some mothers feel totally at ease lifting their shirts to nourish their newborns; others prefer a bit more privacy. No matter your personal preference, scope out the setting as soon as you arrive somewhere. Look for a comfortable and/or remote chair or bench where you can sit and nurse when baby gets hungry.

If you are dining out and prefer to breastfeed discreetly, ask for a corner booth or table so you can sit with your back to other patrons. Many shopping centers and museums also offer private nursing stations as a courtesy to breastfeeding mothers.

Dress for success

The right clothes and accessories can make all the difference when you’re out in public and baby decides it’s mealtime. Learn how to unhook and lower the cups of your nursing bra with one hand or wear a stretchy sports bra that can be pulled aside as needed.

Many breastfeeding mothers pair a cardigan or shawl with a specially designed nursing tank top that has lift-up flaps yet still covers the midriff. Other mothers prefer to simply unbutton a few top buttons of a regular shirt. A fussy baby draws attention, so wear clothes that enable her to latch on quickly.  

Key accessories can make nursing in public easier. Learn how to nurse while carrying baby in a sling or carrier. Wear a fashionable scarf or poncho that can double as a cover when baby is breastfeeding. Mom-of-two Melody Meiners is a fan of nursing covers, specifically the kind that has weights sewn into one side or that ties around your neck and tents up. “It makes switching sides so much easier if you prefer to stay covered,” she says.

Click here to see some breastfeeding clothes given the InStyle imprimatur.

Next page: Know your breastfeeding rights and how to fake it till you make it!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of baby’s life. 

Know your breastfeeding rights

When it comes to nursing in public, the law is on your side. Every state but Idaho has a law that specifically allows women to breastfeed in any public or private location. Twenty-nine states, 
including Pennsylvania, further exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. Knowing these facts will help you respond more confidently in the unlikely instance that you are asked to stop or cover up.    

Also be aware that, sensationalized viral stories aside, most people genuinely back your right to nurse in public — and mothers do it every day. “I never had any rude comments in 10 years of nursing, only supportive ones,” says breastfeeding vet and mom-of-four Jennifer Heffern.

Martine Samocha, who also breastfed four children, adds that “even though you think everyone is watching you, you are mostly being ignored.”

Fake it till you make it

If you are nervous about breastfeeding your baby in public, you are not alone. “The first few times can seem uncomfortable,” admits mom-of-two Tammie Egloff, “but it gets easier.” You will gain confidence gradually, so in the early days and weeks, smile politely at passers-by and rest assured that the more you nurse in public, the less self-conscious you will become.   

“Eventually,” says Robinson, “you will appreciate the freedom that comes with knowing that, no matter where you are, you always have the perfect food ready to feed your baby.”

Freelance journalist Alyssa Chirco nursed her babies in restaurants, on airplanes and even at the beach.


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