Breastfeeding is quite the hot topic, especially when it comes to doing so in public. Some say it is perfectly natural and should be encouraged. They note how convenient it is and often remark that it is the best thing for baby. Others argue that public nursing disregards the feelings of those who are uncomfortable being in the presence of an exposed woman, no matter how well she is covered. They feel weird simply knowing what’s going on underneath. Some may even feel breastfeeding women are “showing off” or inappropriately advertising the intimate relationship they have with their baby.
Regardless of your view on breastfeeding in public, the fact remains: unless you never leave the house, nursing babies will have to eat when they’re out-and-about at some point in their lives. And that means you will have to learn how to nurse them in public.
Public breastfeeding can be a scary proposition. My baby is about to turn one year old and I still remember our disastrous first experience with public breastfeeding. He was three weeks old and I bravely attended a high school football scrimmage with my husband in order to support one of our friends. I hoped and prayed the baby would sleep through the entire thing but, sure enough, he woke up halfway through and clearly communicated that he was hungry. I briefly considered whipping out the nursing cover and going for it while sitting in the bleachers among friends and strangers (something I had never done before), but I chickened out and carried my screaming babe around the high school campus as I desperately searched for a semi-private spot. Rowdy high school students seemed to populate every space I sought so, long story short, I ended up nursing my three-week-old while sitting in a stall of the high school girls’ bathroom…for 45 minutes. It was terrible. My back hurt, my arms hurt and, for goodness’ sake, I was breastfeeding my baby in a PUBLIC BATHROOM!!! Yuck!
I decided then and there that I would never again be ashamed to nurse my baby in public and, might I say, I feel I have become quite the pro since then.
I’m sure there are many other new moms out there who are as terrified by the thought of breastfeeding in public as I was. Trust me, I know it’s not easy. It’s a new skill and, like any new skill, it requires practice and problem-solving.
Here are 10 tips for learning to breastfeed in public:
1. Practice in different places around your house, not just your usual spot. Some nursing books will tell you to always breastfeed newborns in the same spot in your house so they come to associate it with feeding. This can be a good strategy for establishing the nursing relationship, but switch it up once you and baby become comfortable with the process and positioning of breastfeeding. Trust me, you will be forced to nurse baby in some really weird places when you take her out on the town, so it’s good to ease yourself into some variety within the confines of your own home. Try breastfeeding while sitting on the floor, the couch, or in chairs with and without armrests.
2. Practice at home without a nursing pillow. Breastfeeding can take a toll on your arms and back, so ergonomic support is important for when you are feeding baby at home. However, that Boppy won’t be coming with you when you go to coffee or walk to the park. Try nursing without it before you hit the road so you can discover just how different it really is and make appropriate adjustments.
3. Experiment with different nursing positions you’d use in public. That football hold probably won’t work out so well when you’re sitting in a booth at your favorite restaurant. Find what works for you before you head out of the house with that hungry newborn (most likely the cradle hold) so you can easily position baby and go for it when mealtime hits.
4. Practice using a nursing cover while at home. Being surrounded by strangers while wrestling a hungry, flailing baby is not the best time to learn how to use your nursing cover. It can take quite a bit of practice to really become proficient with those covers. While practicing at home, try latching baby on first, then put on your cover. This will give you the experience of nursing baby while he is under the cover. Once you’re comfortable with that, try putting the cover on first, then unhooking your nursing bra/tank, then placing baby underneath the cover and latching him on. This will probably be the order of events when you take your show on the road. You don’t have to be perfect at this before nursing in public, but it helps to know what you’re doing!
5. Practice nursing while baby is in a sling or other baby carrier. This includes carriers such as over-the-shoulder baby slings, Moby Wrap, Baby Bjorne, K’tan Carrier, and ERGO baby carrier. I won’t lie: breastfeeding while baby is in a carrier can be really, really difficult. I wouldn’t recommend it for novice public breastfeeders. But if you’re comfortable with your carrier and baby doesn’t mind latching on while nestled inside (mine didn’t like it), then I say go for it. Just be sure to practice a lot at home first, and don’t forget that some carriers require you to re-position baby or re-wrap in order to switch sides.
6. Practice in front of a mirror. This one is super weird, but it helps to get an idea of what other people are seeing when you nurse with or without a cover. Practice the entire process in front of a mirror, and check to see what it looks like from various angles. You’d be surprised at how helpful this can be, especially if you’re self-conscious about “exposing” yourself in public.
7. Plan where you will go. This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how this whole public breastfeeding thing can sneak up on you at the most inopportune times. Depending on your baby’s temperament and tolerance for noise, some good first-time places include a busy restaurant with a booth for seating, a noisy sports game where no one will care what you are doing, or a park with semi-private benches or trees for you to lean against.
8. Dress for success. Try something that can easily be pulled down or unbuttoned to create space for baby to latch. Nursing bras, tanks, and shirts are perfect for this kind of occasion. Practice unsnapping and snapping them with one hand while holding baby with the other hand, since this what you’ll have to do when you’re in public. My personal favorites include Bravado’s nursing bras and Motherhood Maternity’s nursing tops.
9. Bring a friend. I’m telling you, that first time nursing in public can feel like quite the scramble, especially if your baby is really screaming and flailing because you waited too long to feed. It helps to have an extra pair of hands and eyes in that moment, so plan to do your first public nursing session alongside someone you know and trust. This could be your partner, parent, friend or, better yet, a mom who has done it before. That person will be able to hold the baby while you get your nursing cover ready and position yourself for success, and they will also be able to help you position your cover after baby is in place so you are fully covered and comfortable.
10. Don’t worry about what other people are thinking. This may be the hardest one when you are first starting out. You may feel like everyone is looking at you but keep in mind that most people will probably avoid eye contact with you or avert their eyes altogether because either they feel awkward about it or they want to give you your privacy. If a stranger makes a comment, be gracious about it or reply with some sort of humorous remark to lighten things up. You do have a legal right to breastfeed in public, and you can be polite in your response to any comments you encounter. I personally have never encountered a stranger who has commented about my nursing in public but it could happen, so be prepared with a response and don’t spend too much time stressing about what other people are thinking.
Best of luck with your public breastfeeding endeavors!
What was your first public breastfeeding experience like, and what other tips do you have for new moms who are learning to nurse in public?
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