We are all aware of the huge debate about breastfeeding in public. On one end of the spectrum you have those completely opposed to women breastfeeding in public (with or without a cover), and on the other end of the spectrum there are those arguing a woman should be able to go topless while breastfeeding if that is her desire. Personally, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle and find the whole debate kind of silly really. Of course women should be able to feed their babies in public, and of course some people (teenage boys, for instance) are going to feel awkward if they see a naked breast in public – baby attached or not. Most women, I suspect, feel like I do. No one wants a stranger to stare at their breasts while they are feeding their baby, and most are happy to use some cover if they can.
As if new mothers don’t feel isolated enough, the fear of being condemned for breastfeeding in public leads some to stay at home or give up breastfeeding. But you shouldn’t have to feel more isolated than you already do or like it is too inconvenient to continue breastfeeding. So, here are a few things I found helpful when I first started venturing out of the house:
- Get out of the house. The best advice I was given was to just get out and do it. The only way people will become accustomed to seeing mothers feeding their babies in public, is if more mothers feed their babies in public. And the only way you will get over your discomfort is to realize it is easier than you think.
- Use a lightweight cover if you can. Despite it being a popular argument, not everyone is accustomed to seeing women in bikinis or lingerie. We live in a very diverse culture. I personally prefer to use a cover for my own comfort and privacy, and to accommodate those that would feel uncomfortable if they accidentally saw part of my breast. If you choose to use a cover, there are some pretty awesome ones available. My favorite has a popped up top that allows me to maintain eye contact with my baby and gives him the illusion that there is no cover. Of course, if it is 100 degrees outside, you and baby are sweating profusely, and an air conditioned location isn’t available, ditch that cover and feed that baby. Do what you need to do.
- Layer clothes or wear a shirt with a built in nursing bra. My favorite way to breastfeed in public is to simply wear a breastfeeding tank top under my shirts. As my son got older, I couldn’t keep him covered (especially in public), because he wanted to sit up frequently and see everything going on around him. Using a tank top, I can pull my shirt up and us it for a bit of top cover and pull the tank top down so my abdomen isn’t exposed. It is a little more obvious what I’m doing, but it still gives me complete breast coverage. Many breastfeeding moms use breastfeeding tanks while carrying baby in a sling or carrier and no one even realizes when baby is eating.
- If you have the misfortune of having a bad experience, use your eyes. If you are being ogled by a weirdo, stare them down. They’ll look away. If someone is glaring at you, ignore them like you don’t have a care in the world. It will be very disappointing for them. Don’t allow them to make you feel uncomfortable. You have nature, the law, and most of civilization on your side.
- Know your state laws in detail. Seriously. Go look them up right now. Forty-nine states have laws in place to protect your right to breastfeed in public. Most specify that you be provided a sanitary place to do so. Others have laws regarding breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. If someone gives you trouble, start throwing legal terms around. They’ll back off.
Just don’t forget that most people are supportive. I’ve received a few stares and awkward glances, but it was usually people trying to figure out what was going on under my cover. I found their confusion amusing. I’ve never been accosted, refused service, or lectured for breastfeeding in public. Nonetheless, the internet is full of anxiety-inducing drama on the subject. Please, don’t let it discourage you from getting out there. If you get any attention at all, it will most likely be positive.