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Breastfeeding in Public

I remember with clarity the first time I attempted to breastfeed my newborn son in a public setting (in actuality, though amidst a group of people, we were still in the privacy and comfort of a good friend’s home.) I was doing my best to make breastfeeding work since I had learned during pregnancy all the benefits of breastfeeding for both myself and my baby. I knew that exclusively breastfeeding would provide my son with antibodies which would help him fight infections and even lower his chances of developing allergies.

Already it had proven very effective in helping me to shed the weight I’d gained during pregnancy and certainly seemed to be intensifying the mother-baby bond we shared. However, the reality of round-the-clock nursing as I strove to feed my son ‘on demand’ as instructed by his pediatrician was also taking its toll on me physically and emotionally; for that first month of my sons’ life, the thought of nursing him in any public setting made me want to burst into tears.

Anxiety filled me every time I thought about publicly breastfeeding. What if someone harassed me for doing so? What if I was stared at or lectured or asked to leave a public place simply because of how I chose to feed my child despite my confidence that it was the best choice for us both?

Whether a woman chooses to breastfeed or bottle feed her baby, she should be able to feed and care for her child at any time, in any place, without fear of judgement from others.

In honor of August being National Breastfeeding Month, here are some tips for how to most comfortably and confidently breastfeed in public:

Know Your Rights!

Though it may come as a surprise to the general public, 49 out of 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have laws specifically designated to allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. Additionally, twenty-nine states exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. Missouri specifically is included in both of those groupings.

If someone decides to go out of their way to make a snide comment, the first step is to stay calm for both your sake and your baby’s, and remember that while you can’t control their actions, you can control how you respond.

Education (a quick overview of the benefits of breastfeeding to mom and baby) or humor (a light-hearted comment about ‘not making others eat in the bathroom or under a blanket’) are both good responses, depending on the situation.

Ultimately, the most impactful response will be one made with kindness and consideration for the other, as you never know what another person may be going through or may have undergone in the past (perhaps their own struggle with nursing.) If you need to, don’t be afraid to reach out to a nearby authority figure, like a store manager or officer, to politely voice your concerns.

Find A Support System!

Whether it’s a lactation consultant, your local La Leche League or your significant other, don’t be afraid to reach out for support and reassurance from those equipped and ready to help, especially if you find breastfeeding difficult in general.

Talk with your support system about your worries and see what tips they have. If it’s your significant other, perhaps discuss a plan of action for how to handle being called out for breastfeeding in public. Most of all, no matter your struggles, remember that you are not alone!

Know Your Options!

Any time you are breastfeeding in public, you want to make sure both you and your baby are as comfortable as possible. Depending on what state you live in, you have options as to whether you choose to use a nursing cover or not.

Nursing covers come in several different styles; I personally recommend finding one made of light, breathable fabric to ensure neither you or your baby get overheated while breastfeeding, especially during the summer months. If you decide it’s easier to breastfeed sans cover, there are still ways to be discreet, including wearing tank tops under shirts with normal necklines; this allows you to nurse your baby without exposing more skin than what you are personally comfortable with. During the fall or winter, scarves can also help provide additional coverage.

Depending on where you are, you can also sit towards the edge or back of the room or area so that it doesn’t feel as if all eyes are on you. Some public spaces even provide lactation rooms in which women can nurse or pump in privacy.

Dress For Comfort!

There’s nothing worse than trying to breastfeed while uncomfortable, so remember to dress in a way that you find comfortable and convenient. In addition to wearing layers, wear an appropriate bra like a nursing bra, sports bra, or bra without an underwire. These are most easy to maneuver out of the way while breastfeeding and are also the most comfortable options.

Take It All In Stride!

As La Leche League member, Kristin Wilmes so aptly puts it, “As a mother you have to be bold enough to do what is right for you and your baby. Do not be swayed by the opinions of others. There will be people who look down on you no matter what you do, therefore, do what is right for you and your own baby.”

While the reality is that you may face scrutiny for your decision to breastfeed in public, be confident in your decision to care for your baby in the way that you know best.

For me personally, it took several weeks of experimenting with different nursing positions and covers, learning how to pump so that I could take a bottle with us to places inconvenient for nursing publicly (the zoo, for example), and just becoming more comfortable and relaxed with breastfeeding in general. Eventually, I finally felt as if I’d gotten the hang of feeding my baby both in the privacy of peoples’ homes and in various public settings. It was both freeing and calming to know I was capable of feeding my child wherever we were.

All mothers deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing she can feed her child with confidence, whatever the situation.

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