It’s a sad, but common reality when a mother is shamed or made to feel uncomfortable for trying to feed her child in public…whether by someone’s rude remarks or by her own internal fears. As if feeding your baby is something out of the ordinary and offensive.
But so goes the stigma that is often attached to breastfeeding in public.
A bad first experience
And there I was at a new mom’s group. Everyone facing each other in a circle sharing their different birthing experiences, time management struggles and advice for soothing a crying baby. A place where first-time moms should feel comfortable breastfeeding openly.
But I didn’t.
Instead I resorted to feeding my baby in a bathroom one afternoon.
I had forgotten my nursing cover…the one I was so excited to have learned about during our first session.
My eyes scanned the room. No boobs exposed. Moms were either devotedly bottle-feeding their little ones, nursing baby under a fashionable nursing cover or rocking baby to sleep.
My little one was hungry and began to fuss. I rummaged through my diaper bag to see if I had ANYTHING I could use. A blanket. A towel. Anything.
But nothing. And I felt the eyes around me…glaring.
Wasn’t this a judgement-free zone?? At least that’s what it’s supposed to be!
I was ill prepared…and embarrassed. You see I was using a nipple shield — something I felt ashamed to use in front of the other new moms. A nurse had recommended I try a nipple shield to help baby latch on easier at the hospital and because at the time, I didn’t know any better, I gave in and used one, instead of struggling to get a proper latch.
But my baby had to eat. My engorged breasts were crying for relief too. I didn’t want him to starve so I made my way out the door towards the lady’s room.
The Second, and last time
I was out shopping and baby was growing fussy. Lips rooted. Head tossing and turning. Hunger striking once again.
I reached for my cover and fidgeted to get it in place properly. It was the middle of winter, but felt about 85 degrees indoors with the heat blasting from ahead and I struggled to be sure baby was getting adequate air while nursing. When I finally managed to make it work, baby wasn’t liking it one bit. Flailing his arms, bobbing his head and arching his body incessantly, as if to tell me: NO, MAMA! I don’t like this, I don’t want this, I don’t need this!
I was perplexed. I just wanted to feed my little man comfortably, but he wasn’t into this thing over his head.
I just didn’t get why exposing part of a breast to feed a baby wasn’t appropriate in the eyes of society, but the exposed breasts, cleavage spilling out all around me was. It didn’t seem right.
Why the Stigma?
If we’re looking at breasts from a biological standpoint, breasts have one sole purpose: to nourish baby. In fact, after you’ve given birth or delivered via c-section your body begins producing milk (and even before that for many)!
It’s our society that creates this stigmatism about breastfeeding in public…because it can make some people feel awkward and uncomfortable seeing a boob exposed.
I get it…breasts have been overly sexualized. Everywhere we turn, there are boobs: displayed in ads in the stores, on magazine covers, on tv…and sometimes in public. People associate them with things other than feeding a baby. And that’s how the problem starts.
Because those who may be offended forget what breasts are really there for.
You might have seen the hashtag (#normalizebreastfeeding), which is a positive trend to expose the true purpose of breasts and make sure everyone knows it. Because when a mother reaches for her breast to nurse, it’s not to “expose herself” to others, but just to FEED HER HUNGRY BABY. Simple truth. We therefore, shouldn’t feeling like it is an oddity or strange thing to do.
Read More:Breastfeeding Baby at Night
Tips to Feel Comfortable Nursing in Public
With that being said, I still want to help other nursing moms feel comfortable feeding baby wherever they may be. So whether it’s to help allay some of their own fears or to squash the anxiety of onlookers, below I’ve included a list of some easy ways to help a mom get to that comfort level.
Wear a nursing bra.
The first and easiest option to make a mom feel more at ease about breastfeeding in public is to simply make accessing the breast easier by wearing a nursing bra. A nursing bra that opens at the side or with a snap is ideal and makes it so you don’t have to struggle with or adjust straps uncomfortably under your top.
Wear a nursing shirt.
Coupled with a nursing bra, a top that is stretchy and made to nurse like this one makes feeding baby a breeze. You literally just pull down your top at an angle and go at it. Even if you don’t have something that is specifically designed as a nursing bra you can opt for the two-shirt DIY nursing cover that lets you pull one shirt above the breast and the other below the breast, making breastfeeding more discreet.
Use a nursing cover.
Of course the most popular option a mom has for keeping worries at bay when nursing in public is to use a nursing cover. Depending on the one used, a nursing cover covers the entire breast and most of baby, helping mom to feel at ease from any stranger comments. Even though a nursing mom is protected by law (in most states) when nursing in public, she can still feel awkward and uncomfortable from the glares of those who feel that nursing in public is somehow inappropriate.
However, there also comes a downside to using a nursing cover. It makes it hard for BABY to feel comfortable when feeding. And we’ve all been there.
Try an infinity scarf.
An infinity scarf acts just like a nursing cover but is more discreet…so people may not even know your breastfeeding. This would be more of an ideal option for the Fall, Winter or Spring — you simply add the scarf as an accessory, wearing it throughout the day and it’s super accessible when baby shows hunger cues. Most infinity scarves are light and airy like this one and help keep baby super comfortable. And we all know a breathable blanket goes a long way!
Know your rights.
They say that knowledge is power and that certainly rings true when it comes to feeling empowered and entitled to nursing in public. That’s why it’s important to be familiar with the exact breastfeeding laws from state to state. For example, being armed with the knowledge that it is in fact lawfully okay to nurse anywhere you need to can help make a nursing mom stay strong and confidently feed her baby (covered or not). Even if a particular restaurant or store prohibits a mother to breastfeed, she can point to the law to know she is in the right. However, if a mom chooses to indeed stay at such a place after being treated one way is another story. It is up to her to decide where she feels safest. But knowing the law should help her feel prepared and more comfortable if anyone does try to deny her that right.
To help nursing moms feel empowered and comfortable breastfeeding in public, I put together this simple printable which shows the exact list of states where breastfeeding is permitted. Be sure to know your rights! Just print out the page below (prints 6 cards to a page so you can pass one on to a friend!) and keep it handy in your diaper bag or purse next time you step out of the house. If anyone dares question your rights, you can simply refer them to the laws. Nothing like a little vindication to get you through :).
Knowing what I know now I can’t believe how I didn’t just follow my gut and just feed my baby, nursing cover or not. But feeling ill-prepared and not knowing your rights can deter many well-meaning mamas who don’t want to be in an uncomfortable situation.
I’ve come a long way since that first time. Now 16 months into feeding my youngest, I am confident breastfeeding wherever I need to as long as BABY and I are happy.