Tips for Breastfeeding in Public

International Breastfeeding Symbol

As a season of family gatherings approaches, especially if you are a new mother, you may be wondering how best to breastfeed your baby while balancing the dynamics of your particular family.

I tend to be of the whip-it-out militant breastfeeding crowd, but I understand that not everyone is comfortable baring their breasts to strangers—worse yet, baring their breasts to family. Actually, I’m not really comfortable bare breasted in public either, but I find it offensive when it is either implied or asked that I take feeding my baby into a restroom or a private place.

With family, you are carrying a whole different set of baggage. Grandpa doesn’t want to see your boobs. Actually, if he does, you probably don’t want him to. If it were me, I would just not want to go there.

It is just possible that you will be setting an example for other women who will want to be as comfortable with breastfeeding as you are. I remember the first time I saw a woman breastfeeding (at least the first time it wasn’t ME breastfeeding). I was a young teenager, and my cousin was incredibly casual about baring breasts and feeding her baby. Now she’s a grandmother several times over. I recently told her that she was my first breastfeeding model, and I thanked her. Maybe you will be an influence for a young teen girl in your family—or for a young teen boy who may need to grasp what breasts are for.

Overall, I find the best approach among family is to just go about your baby feeding business. If someone asks about it, be clear, direct, and unwavering. Help your family be supportive rather than aggravating them. You don’t need to compromise, but general diplomacy is a good idea when you need to spend time with family.

Get the Right Clothes

If you don’t have a shirt that is easy to open or lift, the whole process will feel more awkward. So, start out with the right clothes.

When I realized, after my first baby was born, that I wouldn’t be wearing my nice, long dresses for years, I was sad to see them go. I really hated the cut-in-half look of some nursing shirts, but there are so many styles available that there are a lot of options for a mother right now. Even a T-shirt that is easy to pull up will do in most situations (though it can leave the issue of showing off one’s post-baby love handles).

Find the Right Spot

When I say find the right spot to breastfeed, I do not mean retreat to the bathroom. You have every right to feed your baby. Just make sure you have a place where you are comfortable and your baby is at ease. Consider the comfort and support of the chair, whether you need or prefer armrests, whether there are lights that will shine in your baby’s eyes, and whether there are distractions that will encourage your baby to look around and try to pull your nipples with her. Find a spot with few distractions.

To Cover or Not?

Cover what you want to cover, but don’t hide.

I’ve seen nursing cover-ups on the market. I find that when a woman uses this kind of cover up, it calls far more attention to her. Fussing under the blanket is a definite curiosity magnet. There are more casual ways to go about breastfeeding. Also, I’ve heard store owners say they refuse to carry these products because they don’t want new mothers to think they should cover up.

Use a Sling Baby Carrier

Because a baby can easily wrap around your front in a sling baby carrier, you can go hands free and get on with things. I used a sling shopping, teaching, and in a lot of family situations. This was my most important out and about baby care tool.

Don’t let the fact that you are surrounded by family throw you off your routine. Your baby still needs you. You just need to find ways to improvise your routine within the new situations.

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