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5 Tips for Breastfeeding in Public

Learn to Nurse Anytime, Anyplace
  -- By Hillary Copsey, BabyFit Contributor

I have never been a flash-my-boobs sort of gal.

But I am the sort of girl who doesn't want to miss anything. I also am the sort of woman who knows her rights and doesn't want to be bullied or shamed.

So, I have learned to breastfeed my son discreetly anywhere, anytime, in any group.

Breastfeeding still is not the norm in American culture, and that can make for some uncomfortable looks--and even conversations--for women who nurse in public, as La Leche League will tell you. Many women feel awkward breastfeeding in front of people. But public breastfeeding can be subtle and personal. Most mothers, I think--including myself--breastfeed our babies in public because they're hungry, because despite our best laid-plans they need to eat now, because we can't stay home all the time, because we wouldn't want to stay home all the time even if we could.

If you're a mother who's trying to learn to feel comfortable nursing away from home, this public breastfeeding guide is for you.

  1. Be confident. You're allowed to do it. Only three states--West Virginia, Nebraska and Idaho--have no law protecting breastfeeding in public, though some existing laws are less than lactation activists would desire. Tennessee only protects breastfeeding if the baby is younger than 1 year, for example, while state property is the only land where mothers have a right to breastfeed under Virginia law. Still, in most places, you are not breaking the law by breaking out the boob.

  2. Dress for the occasion. Nursing bras and tank tops are the obvious choices here, but also think about V-necks and layers. One of my favorite outfits to wear when I'll have to nurse my son is a white tank top under a loose white blouse. I pull the blouse up and the tank down, exposing just what the kiddo needs to latch.

  3. Go undercover. Some babies--and some mothers--hate nursing covers. Would you want to eat with your head covered? the argument goes. My son prefers a lightweight cover held away from his head. But a cover can be quite useful, both to keep from flashing the room your nipple as the baby latches and to keep an older, easily distracted baby focused on the task at hand. You can buy special nursing covers or use receiving blankets in a pinch, however, my favorite covers are large, pretty scarves. They're functional and they make me feel chic.

  4. Pick your spot. Quiet, out-of-the way spots--corner booths at a restaurant, a bench at the far end of the park--sometimes are the best places to nurse. But I've also found the noisiest spot in the middle of the crowd can be a good because everyone is too busy to notice you. Wherever you are, find a spot where you and the baby feel comfortable and relaxed.

  5. Practice that latch. Getting the baby to latch without flashing anyone is the hardest part about nursing in public. Once babies are eating, there really isn't much to see.

    Now, maybe you don't care about showing the world a nipple. Good for you. You're feeding your kid; it's not like you're doing a striptease. But some of us still would rather keep our areolas to ourselves. As discussed, a cover helps, however, said cover also means the baby is latching in the dark. When you're not in public, make sure your baby is latching correctly. Pay attention to how a good latch feels--hint: it shouldn't feel like you're being gnawed on-- and how your fingers should be placed to help the baby achieve that latch. (Learn more about latches here.)

And remember, if you catch someone watching, smile. You're nourishing the next generation. You are an earth mother goddess. I joke, but truly, people are less likely to be uncomfortable or nasty to you when you're pleasant and confident. If nothing else, your smile might shame the ones who consider fussing about public breastfeeding into keeping their views to themselves.

BabyFit has a comprehensive breastfeeding resource center. Check it out!


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