5 Tips for Nursing in Public

public breastfeeding text

It’s disgusting. It’s indecent. Can you believe she would just whip it out like that? I don’t want my child/husband/dog to see that!

Ah yes, reaction to the ever-so-controversial idea of nursing in public. Why the controversy? Apparently it is a difficult step to get past breasts as sexual objects and see them for their primary intended purpose – providing sustenance and nutrition to the young. The reasons and implications of that could take up plenty of time and space, but today that isn’t my goal.  Right now, I’m here to offer you tips for nursing in public.

  1. Decide whether nursing in public is something you want to do. For some women, the idea is so out there that they can’t ever imagine doing such a thing. If that’s you – and you’re alright with that – then don’t sweat it. For many women, myself included, the idea of having to stay home for the first year because someone else needed my boobs every few hours was a little stifling, to say the least. So early on I decided that I was going to figure out how to make it work. Once you are committed,
  2. Take it one step at a time. Nursing itself can be a complicated process. Throw in the anxiety and unfamiliar challenges of nursing on the go and you can start feeling overwhelmed. Start with baby steps. First visit a playdate or park meet-up with a few other moms and give it a go. If even that seems to be too much, when you are accustomed to nursing only in your glider with the pillow and the supplies and nobody to watch, try nursing in your car. Hop in the backseat with baby and see how things go. Once you’re feeling more comfortable, many stores have nursing rooms, lounges, or large dressing rooms that you can use until you start to feel ready for more public venues. Just don’t listen to the fools who suggest you nurse in the restroom. Ick.
  3. Dress the part. For myself, showing my boobies wasn’t the big issue. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not featured in any Girls Gone Wild videos or anything. But what was really uncomfortable for me was my post-partum stomach. I figured out that I could wear a great, supportive nursing tank (I personally loved Glamourmom tanks) and top it off with my usual t-shirts or button downs. Then, when feeding time arrived I could unlatch the tank, pull up my t-shirt and latch baby without showing any breast – or any tummy. Covers are great – if they work for you and your baby – but they can sometimes call more attention to what you’re doing under the blanket. Honestly, unless I told people I was nursing, they just thought I was holding a sleeping baby. That brings me to my next tip,
  4. Be prepared to deal with people invading your space. People love babies. They want to see them and touch their hands (ugh – hand sanitizer, anyone?), and ooh and ah over their innate adorableness. And that’s cool. But you may find that people want to come check out baby while you are feeding, so think about how to deal with that. Usually a simple, “He’ll be done eating in just a minute” will get you some personal space. This can give you a chance to show people that nursing in public isn’t this disgusting display of nudity and exhibitionism, but simply a mother attending to her child. But,
  5. Also be prepared to deal with people who suck. I nursed three kids, all for over a year, and pretty much anywhere I happened to go. I was very lucky in that the majority of my interactions with people were positive. Surprisingly, older people tended to be the most complimentary – stopping to tell me how they remembered their own babies and congratulating me on nursing mine. I fed babies in restaurants, parks, cars, offices, schools, homes, malls, amusement parks – you name it, I nursed there. I only had one truly negative encounter. Amusingly enough, I was on a bench in the mall, directly outside Victoria’s Secret. Another mother, with a toddler, gave me a look that would kill and jerked her toddler away to cover his eyes. Of course, she dragged him directly towards the larger-than-life billboard of perky breasts barely contained by a lace bra in the store window, but you know – wouldn’t want him to see breastfeeding – that’s disgusting. She didn’t have the nerve to speak to me, but if she did I was happy to tell her that the opinion that mattered wasn’t hers – but my own. I decided that nursing my baby was important to me, and some stranger in the mall wasn’t going to change that anytime soon.

By the same token, don’t feel like you have to change opinions. There are some people who aren’t going to like nursing in public. They don’t have to. But the law (in 45 states) supports a woman’s right to feed her child in any place that she is legally allowed to be. So don’t worry about what anyone else says – just what feels right for you, and your baby.

Do you have any tips that helped you feel comfortable nursing in public? Please share in the comments. 

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5 Tips for Nursing in Public

Sara McTigue is a secret agent, cupcake chef, award winning author, photographer, and PTA mom. At least, that is how things look in her mind. When she isn’t testing the bounds of her imagination, she is a mom to three amazing and hilariously funny children, wife to a charming and handsome man, and thoroughly addicted to reading. With a BS in English Education and an MA in English Literature, words – and their ability to shape our lives and thoughts – are an everyday fascination. Af ... More

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31 comments

  1. Profile photo of Alanna Alanna says:

    I’m planning on nursing my baby for about a year. I will be discrete as possible, but there is no way that I’m letting gawkers hold me back.

  2. Profile photo of Theresa Theresa says:

    At first i was nervous about nursing in public, but after i realized my baby needs to eat when she needed to, i quickly got over it and was able to discreetly feed my baby without using a fancy cover. i just used a receiving blanket and or a big blanket and went for it. Now, my baby is old enough where, when I take her places, i don’t really need to breastfeed her, when the time comes, i go for it.

  3. Profile photo of JeniHolland JeniHolland says:

    I understand where your sister in law is coming from. My first daughter had a hard time latching so I always nursed her under a cover when we were in public.

    My second daughter always managed to pull her cover off at a young age, so I eventually gave up on it.

    I’ve gotten more bold with baby #3… I haven’t even bothered with a cover and she latches well, so I’m not worried about being exposed.

    Each one of my children have brought a very different breastfeeding experience.

  4. Profile photo of JeniHolland JeniHolland says:

    Some women, like myself, are unable to pump enough milk to provide for their babies. A pump just isn’t as efficient as a baby. Also, a pump can (and did for me) mess up the milk supply. Also, some babies (mine included) will not take a bottle, especially if their mother is there. Sometimes, a bottle is just not a good option. If others are uncomfortable they can feel free to look away. I don’t see why breastfeeding makes people uncomfortable anyway.

  5. Profile photo of JeniHolland JeniHolland says:

    48 states have laws that protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public. The only two that don’t at the moment are West Virginia and Idaho. Idaho has no laws whatsoever regarding breastfeeding, while West Virginia’s law states that it’s not considered indecent to breastfeed, it doesn’t state that a mother has a right to do so in public.

  6. Profile photo of monette3 monette3 says:

    I like the compromises she suggests in this article. Easy ways to make others more comfortable (and the mother) without sacrificing your baby’s needs. I also liked her tips for getting some privacy.

  7. Profile photo of Marina Marina says:

    Can use nursing cover. If that doesn’t work them them to mind their own business.

  8. Profile photo of Pixie Pixie says:

    Durn the summer a blanket got to hot so I ditched the blanket. I didn’t care my child being feed was more important than anyone dirty looks or negative responses. Fortunately I was lucky and didn’t have any problems except for one time. The great part was I didn’t have to say anything a couple of moms stood up for me and told the childless woman to mind her own business. My child’s needs come before a strangers comfort.

  9. Profile photo of Sara McTigue, CLCEditor Sara McTigue, CLC says:

    It sounds like you’re off to a great start with your second – with a sister-in-law with experience and a desire to nurse, you’ve got part of a successful equation for success!

  10. Profile photo of youngmommy26 youngmommy26 says:

    my and my spouse are TTC at the moment, I didn’t breastfeed with my first child, and I feel like I missed a lot of bonding time with him, I am going to breastfeed my second child, I don’t care what people say, if people don’t want to see my child number 2 eat, then they don’t have to look, simple as that.

  11. Honestly the best way is to pretend like your doing nothing but holding your baby under a blanket, so many people have no clue what you are doing and just assume you are putting baby to sleep! I nurse while walking all the time and no one has ever looked at me weird, people have actually walked up and asked to see the baby! Lol, just politely tell them the baby is eating/feeding… They usually get the point and most responses are "awh how sweet!"

  12. I am so glad to hear someone else speaking out! So many times I have been told "wow, your a pro-nurser!" Because I am willing to stop and nurse my child where ever I am if needed (sometime I won’t even stop, walking and nursing is a skill many admire!). I had my first child at 22 and learned quickly how to nurse with her baby blanket, A- it was always with me and B- everyone just looked at me like I was holding her sleeping. I nursed my second the same way and now at 30 am working to make it a full year nursing him to give him the same benefits my daughters got!
    I had a conversation with a friend, where I was asked where all I had nursed…. My list (to long to actually list) — pretty much everywhere!!!! 🙂

  13. Profile photo of Danielle Danielle says:

    Great ideas. I didn’t have success with my first child, but I’m always jealous of women that are, including my sister-in-law. I hope I will be able to use these suggestions with my second…whenever I decide to venture there.

  14. Profile photo of orgnlrubyl orgnlrubyl says:

    This article was very helpful. I am planning of breastfeeding when my first little one is born (just a few weeks away!) I’ve been talking to my mom about this (cause she breastfed all 4 of us) and this gave a point of topic to discuss and made me feel more at ease! Especially after watching my sister, who would just whip her breast out in the store and made me so uncomfortable, but now I have tips to make it easier for me. Thank you so much!

  15. Profile photo of Sara McTigue, CLCEditor Sara McTigue, CLC says:

    Good for you for finding a compromise that works for you and your son!

  16. Profile photo of Sara McTigue, CLCEditor Sara McTigue, CLC says:

    Petra – There are plenty of things that make others uncomfortable. "Bad" language, revealing clothing, public displays of affection… the list goes on. My primary concern as a mother is not a stranger’s comfort level (something I can’t control) but my child’s needs (something I can attend to easily).
    As to pumping, many women find it to be lots of work for not much reward, in addition to being one more task in a long line of things to do and necessitating equipment that can be costly. I didn’t see any reason to spend hours pumping and worrying about bringing along bottles and keeping them at the correct temperature when I already had everything I needed in my own person.
    I always have done my best when nursing in public to respect others and be discreet, but just as I try not to judge other mothers for their parenting choices, I hope to be respected in my own choices. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  17. If it makes others uncomfortable, why are they watching in the first place? Some EBF babies, like mine, refuse to take a bottle…

  18. Profile photo of Morgan Hart Morgan Hart says:

    My SIL is on her fourth, and has never nursed in public-even when at home she goes into her bedroom to nurse her baby. She says it’s difficult for her to get her babies latched and settled and she just feels more comfortable in her own space. I respect her choice. With my own boys, I’ve nursed both in public, but have found that it is easy to be discreet and appropriate to do so. I’ve always used a nursing cover-if you use it occasionally at home, your little one probably won’t think much of it. My second little guy like to pull at the cover (and he’s only 4 months old) so I usually keep his hand outside the cover and give him my finger to hold. I don’t hide when nursing my little one, but do try to be considerate of others-using a cover, finding an out of the way seat, etc. For example, I was at my in-laws for a large gathering of extended family we didn’t know well. That time I went to a bedroom to feed my baby, whereas I’ll usually sit out with everyone else. But in response to Petra…I choose to nurse instead of give a bottle primarily because it is a better fit for my baby. But also, there will always be someone who is uncomfortable with how I choose to parent my children, and I choose to be respectful of others while also not allowing them to make choices for me.

  19. Profile photo of Colleen Colleen says:

    I don’t feel comfortable nursing in public but I will nurse my son in the back seat of my car if he flat refuses to take a bottle which isn’t too frequent but does happen. I just feel too exposed even nursing at home if there’s anyone else except for my husband around.

  20. Profile photo of Petra Petra says:

    If you know you will not be at home for a feeding, why not just pump some milk and put in a bottle for the infant? No reason to make others uncomfortable.

  21. I love that she says to make the decision before having to act, and that’s true about most everything we will end up doing in life. There will always be someone that is against your choice of parenting, but it’s about doing what you feel and know is right for that child, for yourself, and for your family.

  22. Profile photo of PAR11712 PAR11712 says:

    Don’t be nervous your baby needs the nutrients of mothers milk. It’s weird at first but then it comes as second nature. Most ppl don’t notice when you do it.. Or they just pretend not to notice..lol

  23. Profile photo of PAR11712 PAR11712 says:

    It will be easy after the first time you try it… Remember ppl always judge but your baby needs the breast milk and that is what is best. I breast fed the first time while walking around a store and no one seemed to notice or pretended not to notice..lol

  24. Profile photo of PAR11712 PAR11712 says:

    I am a first time mom at 30…. And breast is best! No matter your age ppl will always judge.. Just be comfortable with you and with your choices. It is unfortunate that we care so much about what ppl think but I feel that my child needs to eat and giving her breast milk is the best and pumping isn’t as good as her latching. Feeding in public isn’t bad at all it was weird the first time I did it but after the first time it was just natural.

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