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Nursing in public

Provided by Motherwear, the complete catalog and website for the nursing mother.

    Nursing a child in the tranquility of home can be among the most memorable moments in life. Why, then, when we take this same bond of closeness and caring out in public, don't we always feel euphoric about what we're doing?

    Even the most liberal among us can be caught off guard at the sight of a woman's breast. The fact that a mother may be doing the most natural thing in the world feeding her baby registers second. A woman who wouldn't dream of wearing a low-cut blouse to the office will instinctively lift her shirt to calm her crying infant. Breastfeeding mothers know these two behaviors are different, but people who have never breastfed, or viewed a breastfeeding mother and child, may not see it this way.

    We offer this information to help smooth the rough edges where nursing mothers meet a public unaccustomed to the practice. You don't want to leave your baby at home whenever you go out, and there's no need to. With a little planning and practice, you'll be able to breastfeed easily and comfortably wherever you find yourselves. Ultimately, the most important thing is that you do what works best for you and your baby.

    Every nursing pair has different needs when it comes to noise level, nursing position, and privacy. You and your child have a right to have these needs met, no matter where you are. If you feel at ease, the people around you will, too. If you are relaxed and confident, your baby will get started nursing more easily. Find a place where you're comfortable, whether it's a bench by a fountain, a chair in a dressing room, or a quiet corner of your favorite bookstore.

    Be alert for your baby's signals of hunger. Find a place to sit and nurse at the first sign of her discomfort. Better still, take frequent breaks and breastfeed before you steer into the supermarket or head for the bank. Though not all babies are predictable, learning your baby's rhythms will help you plan your outings so you are in a convenient place when she's hungry.

    If you're new to breastfeeding, you might benefit from the following guidelines. Women who thought they could never be comfortable nursing in public have found that these tips preserve their privacy and give them confidence.

    Three steps to discreet nursing
    1. Bring your baby close. Discreetly unfasten your nursing opening and your bra.

    2. Help your baby latch on, then arrange your clothing to cover your breast.

    3. Look up from your baby and resume your conversation, read a magazine, or watch the passers by. Most people will be unaware that you are breastfeeding. Accept that some people will be curious, and proceed with pride!

    There's no need to attract attention when you don't want it. Fumbling with your clothes or looking around nervously will make people curious. Wear loose-fitting tops or clothes with nursing openings to minimize the amount of attention you give your clothing. Meet people's eyes and smile, or create your own privacy zone by reading a book or engaging in conversation with a friend.

    Remove yourself without leaving the scene. Create a private space with the positioning of your body. Turning away from the crowd sends out a signal that you are not available for interaction. If you choose to, carry a scarf or baby blanket to drape over your shoulders as you nurse. A blazer or sweater can create privacy, too.

    Going Shopping?
    You'll buy some extra time with a happy baby if you nurse in the car before you go into a mall or store. Once you're inside, locate the lounges in your favorite shopping areas (fitting rooms are handy, too). Encourage stores to set up places for nursing; for instance, if there's space for a chair, leave a note for the manager, or call with a suggestion.

    Try nursing a younger baby in a baby carrier. Slings make it especially easy to position a baby to nurse while shopping. They're very discreet, and the closeness is a bonus for both of you.

    A table for two or more
    There's no reason you can't enjoy a restaurant meal and feed your baby, too. Look for restaurants with private booths or tables. Choose a seat removed from the traffic flow and position yourself with your back to others.

    When you want to nurse, turn away to position your baby, then turn back to face the table. Remember the importance of body language and attitude. A smile will convert many people from surprise or disapproval to sympathetic understanding if your baby is fussing or nursing. If someone complains, explain that you are doing the best thing for your baby. If you're still uncomfortable, ask for a more private table.

    Traveling by bus, train, or plane
    Even with the benefit of anonymity in a bus station or an airport, the sheer number of passing strangers can fluster you and your baby. These are scenes far removed from the peaceful privacy of your home.

    Larger airports often have lounges for breastfeeding and diaper changing, but train and bus stations might not. If you feel more comfortable with privacy in these places, seek the remote seats in the waiting areas. A traveling companion with a newspaper can offer cover when you're latching on or switching breasts. A small blanket or a shawl will provide some privacy for you and keep your baby warm. The less modest among us can use this as an opportunity to educate.

    Once you're on-board, both your seat choice and your positioning can affect your comfort. Sitting beside a window keeps you away from the passing crowd and makes it less likely that your baby will be disturbed when nursing or sleeping.

    At the beach or pool
    In hot weather, nothing beats swimsuit with nursing openings. It makes discreet nursing simple. Alternatively, you can drape a beach towel, a light blanket, or a shirt over your shoulders for privacy. Take along a chair or a back rest to make long nursing sessions more comfortable.

    Family and friends
    Not all of your friends and family members will be comfortable when you breastfeed in their company. Unfortunately, it's often this pressure from others that makes women nurse in hiding or wean prematurely. Remind your friends that you're doing the best thing for your child, and remind yourself that their discomfort is their problem, not yours. You can be sensitive to those who seem uncomfortable, but don't let them dissuade you from breastfeeding. With a little gentle persuasion, friends and family may soon be helping to create private space for you to nurse. Most passersby won't give you a second glance.

    Is your partner embarrassed when you breastfeed in public? Call your La Leche League leader for ideas and a schedule of meetings for couples. Watch how other mothers nurse at meetings. Give your partner articles about the benefits of breastfeeding, and talk about ways to increase your privacy, minimize discomfort, and support your decision to breastfeed. A partner who is a strong ally helps make the experience a positive one for all of you.

    Encourage your partner to hold your baby as much as possible. Skin-to-skin contact is believed to stimulate production of the hormones that motivate protective, supportive behaviors in men as well as women.

    The toddler challenge
    Many mothers find that the higher activity level of their nursing toddlers brings about changes in breastfeeding. Although long nursing sessions probably aren't at the top of most toddlers to do lists, toddlers do like to know the option is available, so they check in now and then for reassurance. If your toddler proceeds to unbutton your shirt, pull off the blanket that covers you, or reach through your shirt for your other breast when you are away from your home, you might feel uncomfortable. Discouraging these habits at home will translate to more discreet nursing in public.

    If you aren't in a position to nurse immediately, many toddlers are amenable to a certain amount of negotiation. Say, let's look for a more private place, or you can nurse as soon as we get to the car to hold off your child for the 30 seconds it takes him to get interested in something else. Just be sure to follow through on your promise.

    Tandem nursing: two at a time
    Tandem nursing in itself is challenging, never mind doing it in public. Success depends on anticipating your children's needs and finding a good place to feed them before they are unhappily hungry. Nursing the first baby who wakes from a nap or the one who isn't occupied with a toy can simplify the task. If you do find yourself in the position of having to nurse two babies simultaneously, nursing tops with two openings will make your life much easier. If you are nursing a newborn and a toddler, feed the newborn (who is more needy of your breastmilk) first.

    Getting the support you deserve
    Breastfeeding confronts the rules of our culture that breasts should be covered in public. Those who disapprove of breastfeeding in public probably aren't focusing on its purpose: nourishment of children. When we sense disapproval from those around us, we tend to retreat to more private places or find ways to stop nursing in front of others, which can be a disservice to our children.

    Need someone to call for support and information? Call a La Leche League International leader for a warm, friendly, and caring perspective. Go to La Leche League meetings and get to know other nursing mothers. Practice nursing with the support of others nursing right beside you. Start a mothers group with women in your childbirth class, or find a family center or another place in your community that offers support to infants and toddlers. Check out such websites as,,,, and

    Build your confidence, and soon you'll feel at ease. Many of us go through a time when we're unsure in the midst of so many changes, and we're swayed by others advice, even bad advice.

© 2002 Motherwear, Inc. The complete catalog and website, for the nursing mother. Supporting, inspiring, and serving nursing women since 1982. Visit us online at, or call us toll-free at 800-950-2500.

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