Amongst all the other things new mothers need to think about, how to manage their baby’s breastfeeds when they’re out in public is another burning topic. Experience has shown that this is one of those processes which just tends to sort itself out, no matter how much pondering has gone on beforehand. Hungry babies need to be fed no matter where they are. Prioritising their needs as being the most important issue means that most mothers just get on with breastfeeding wherever they are. It is this attitude which is so valuable in normalising breastfeeding in our society.
Practice Makes Perfect
Staying at home with a young baby in the early days is a great opportunity to develop skills and confidence in breastfeeding. Many babies take their own sweet time in learning how to attach and suck effectively on the breast. Although some seem to have the exact opposite of this experience and would happily stay there sucking all day and night. Mothers too, can take weeks to feel as if they know what they are doing with breastfeeding and until they do, prefer the relative privacy of their own home when building confidence.
However, the time soon comes when it becomes essential to venture out and resume normal activities. Babies are not known for their good timing and care little for the convenience of when and where they demand to be fed. It’s not always possible to predict or even plan for breastfeeds. Even if a baby has fed well before leaving the house, they may want to be fed again shortly afterwards. This is simply the nature of breastfeeding. Which is why it can be better to assume your baby will want a breastfeed when you are out and then you can be prepared. Not that you will need to take much.
How to Breastfeed in Public
Some mothers prefer to cover their breasts when they are feeding and others don’t bother. The important issue is that you feel comfortable and at ease. If you don’t, your baby is likely to sense your discomfort and may not feed as well as they would otherwise. Some mothers can have a delay in “letting down” when they are tense which can lead to the baby becoming fussy whilst they feed.
- A muslin wrap or shawl draped over your shoulders and over the baby can be useful if you want to cover up.
- There are a range of shawls, covers, baby bonnets and throws which are designed to maximise coverage and privacy.
- There are even purpose designed straps available which have clips on either end. The strap is placed across the back of the mother’s neck and the clips grip onto a square of opaque fabric which then covers her breasts and the baby. These can be useful for babies who are distractible and constantly want to pull on and off the breast.
- Purpose designed breastfeeding tops have breast sized openings which expose just enough of the breast tissue and nipple for the baby to attach.
- Think about what clothing you are going to wear before you go out. Dresses and pinafores are not ideal. Button down shirts, zips and tops which are easily pulled up are better options.
- If the weather is cool then think about taking a cardigan or shawl to keep you warm. Exposed skin through the winter months can be very uncomfortable – don’t neglect yourself.
- Mother’s and parent’s rooms are a feature in most shopping centres and public places. They vary in their level of cleanliness and suitability but do provide an option for mothers who prefer some privacy when they breastfeed.
- The Australian Breastfeeding Association has developed a list of breastfeeding friendly venues within each state. Check http://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/advocacy/welcomelist.asp for more information.
- Look for a chair or bench in a quiet place away from noise and other people. Breastfeeding can be an opportunity for mothers to relax and unwind. You may choose to excuse yourself from others and find a quiet spot where you can simply concentrate on yourself, your baby and the breastfeed. Alternately, don’t feel as if you need to move away from others at all. It’s all about what makes you feel most comfortable.
- Breastfeeding small babies can absorb hours and hours of every day. Make sure you are comfortable and relaxed, even if you are out. You may want to take a small, supportive pillow with you, particularly if you find this more comfortable and you use one to help position the baby at home.
- Lots of women build up towards breastfeeding in public. You may find you start by feeding when there are only one or two other people around, then gradually build up to breastfeeding in environments where there are more people.
- You might prefer to build your confidence by breastfeeding in front of people who are familiar, before you expand into more public areas.
- Feeding around other women who are breastfeeding or who have had babies can lead to a supportive atmosphere of shared experience.
- Most breastfeeding women develop their own style of feeding in public and do this is a manner which is comfortable for them.
That’s What they’re For
Society’s attitude towards a woman’s breasts being (primarily) sexual objects has almost certainly impacted on breastfeeding practices. In our current time, we think nothing of seeing women in short dresses and skirts and perhaps wearing tops where their cleavage may be obvious. It is only fair that the same degree of acceptance is extended towards women who genuinely need to expose part of their breast so their baby can feed.
Though for some people this can be a very confronting image. The closeness and intimacy of breastfeeding can cause feelings of awkwardness, but this has nothing to do with the individual mother and her baby, more about the observer’s attitudes. You will find that if you are relaxed they will soon learn to be too.
Many people tend to see a baby being breastfed as something precious. Even though you may feel people are looking at you, don’t assume they are being critical. Older women particularly can view breastfeeding as a pleasant reminder of their own experiences. Similarly, small children who have never witnessed a mother breastfeeding her baby can be fascinated. Don’t be surprised if you feel you are being stared at. A smile and comment like “My baby’s having a drink of milk” will soon fill in the gaps.
You may find that some cultures are slower to embrace breastfeeding in public than others. Unless you are feeling particularly strong and wish to advocate for the rights of the breastfeeding mother, you may find it easier to avoid any confrontations.
What You Know You Teach
The days of breastfeeding being seen as something personal and certainly not suitable for public viewing are, fortunately, over. Breastfeeding mothers can do a lot to teach others about what it means to hold a baby securely, communicate appropriately and offer their baby nourishment in the most natural way possible.
It is important for breastfeeding mothers to not adopt a superior attitude towards mothers who bottle feed their babies. Breastfeeding does not make a mother more authentic or more emotionally attached to her baby. Every family is unique and every mother has her own reasons for the choices she makes. It is not essential for every woman to share her feeding history with others; nor should she feel she has to. When mothers support each other and recognize the hard work each is doing, it is an incredibly useful exercise.
Benefits of Breastfeeding in Public
- This normalises breastfeeding as the way young babies and children are fed. The more women who breastfeed their babies, the less noticeable it becomes.
- Parents who choose to bottle feed are not restricted to specific feeding areas and neither should breastfeeding mothers be. Equal rights generate fairness.
- Breastfeeding in public serves as a gentle reminder that a woman’s breasts are first and foremost intended for lactation.
- It teaches young women and girls the skills involved in breastfeeding. This, again, helps to normalize breastfeeding so they see it as a natural progression from pregnancy.
- Breastfeeding is convenient and does not require transportation of bottles, formula and feeding equipment.
- It is a grounding experience to see a mother breastfeeding. In our busy lives, witnessing such a natural and fundamental process helps to connect us with what is truly important.
- It helps to remind your baby that you are close and they are important. Withholding breastfeeds due to the anxiety of being seen does not relay a positive, loving message to babies.
If you feel you are being discriminated against because you are breastfeeding your baby, you do have recourse. It is an offence under Australian law to place any limitation on a mother or her breastfeeding baby. Anti-discrimination bodies in each state and territory are designed to protect the rights of every individual.
Check The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission www.australia.gov.au You may find it necessary to gently remind some people of this fact if you find you are not being made to feel welcome because you are breastfeeding.
Last Published* December, 2022
*Please note that the published date may not be the same as the date that the content was created and that information above may have changed since.