Breastfeeding in Public | The Right Way

Most people agree that breastfeeding gives Baby the very best start in life. Still, some nursing moms find themselves the subject of steely glares and nasty comments. Is it any wonder then that many breastfeeding mothers try to avoid nursing in public as much as possible?

“When I started nursing my first breastfed baby [in public] I was very nervous,” says Kim Ryder of Baldwin, Mo. “I guess I was afraid of criticism, having someone come up to me and tell me that what I was doing was inappropriate.” But over time, Ryder, like most breastfeeding mothers, learned a few tips and gained enough confidence to quiet her nerves.

The Right to Nurse

The first step in quieting those public nursing nerves is to realize that breastfeeding in public is not illegal. To further stress this fact, most states now have laws in place. Although the law will help a nursing mother avoid being removed from a public place, it can’t ensure a warm reception toward breastfeeding in every situation. Rather than worry about it, there are specific actions every breastfeeding mother can take to make nursing in public easier.

The Right Information

“The key is confidence,” says Heather Franco of Lake City, Penn. “The only way you can have that is to educate yourself. Whether it’s by reading books, magazines, Internet articles or simply by surrounding yourself with friends, family and other nursing mothers who are supportive, you’re sure to gain the self assurance necessary to nurse your child in public.”

The proverbial source for breastfeeding support and information is La Leche League. Many women find that simply attending monthly meetings helps them build the confidence they need. “When I first started going to meetings, I didn’t know anyone, so I was even nervous to nurse there,” says Heidi Mills of Lexington, Ky. It wasn’t too long before all that changed. “Before the baby was a year old, I could lift up my shirt and latch her on without looking down once, even in the middle of a conversation,” she says.

The Right Moves

Once a nursing mom is armed with book knowledge, her next step is to learn by doing. “A good trick is to have mom breastfeed in front of a mirror,” says Gretchen Andrews, a certified lactation consultant in Redlands, Calif. “That way she gets a realistic idea of what other folks actually see – nowhere near as much as she probably thought!”

Renee Cashmore of Tanilba Bay, Australia also practiced in front of a mirror. Then, she took things a step further and used breastfeeding in front of house guests for a more realistic practice session.

The Right Products

Even with loads of education and hours of practice, some women feel more at ease with a barrier between them and wandering eyes. “Purchase a breastfeeding sling, and use it when you go out,” says Sharon Summers, a registered nurse and certified lactation consultant in California. “When the baby needs to nurse, you simply fan out some of the material of the sling, and you will be able to breastfeed and maintain your modesty.”

While slings are a great way to conveniently nurse in public, some mothers have found that they already own a suitable substitute. “I always carried a lightweight blanket in the diaper bag to throw over my shoulder and the baby,” says Starlite Miller of Lombard, Ill. “[It] worked like a charm.”

Andrews explains the most powerful reason to relax and enjoy breastfeeding in public is this. “Remember, you’re doing something natural, incredible, miraculous and necessary,” she says. “Even if you can’t get the discreet part down, anyone who looks at a nursing baby and thinks, ‘That’s obscene,’ needs to adjust their own thinking.”

The Right Advice

Jody Wright, certified breastfeeding counselor and president of Motherwear, a catalog of breastfeeding clothes, has these helpful tips for breastfeeding mothers:

  • Crying babies attract far more attention than nursing babies. Listen to your little one; anticipate his or her needs. Find a place to sit and nurse at the first sign of baby’s discomfort.
  • Take frequent breaks and breastfeed before you go 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 he or she is hungry.
  • 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.
  • 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 while nursing, or create your own privacy zone by reading a book or engaging in conversation with a friend.

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