There comes a time when you, as a new breastfeeding mom, finally must leave the nursing nest (your house) and rejoin the outside world. One of the challenges you will face is how to nurse confidently in public. This can seem overwhelming at first because you feel you are on display. Here are some tricks to help you gain confidence when you nurse in public.
Go somewhere that there will be other nursing moms
Start out nursing in a location that is full of families with babies. You are more likely to see other moms nursing in family-friendly areas. Your library, Gymboree, and your local La Leche League meetings are some good places to start. You will meet other moms going through similar experiences. Nursing next to other moms can feel very powerful and build your confidence. You will have the freedom to watch other moms nursing to see how they position their babies. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make new friends! Once you are comfortable nursing in family-friendly environments, you will be ready to nurse anywhere.
To cover or not to cover
Avoid feeling exposed by knowing how you look while nursing. Start by practicing in front of a mirror. Put on the clothes you plan on wearing and nurse your baby in the position you feel most comfortable. You could be sitting in a chair or standing.
Many maternity tops that you already have can be good for nursing, as they are loose and can be lifted or adjusted easily. Start with a nursing or a shelf-bra tank, and pair it with a loose-fitting shirt. Wearing flowing, batwing tops will allow you to lift your top shirt easily. The nursing tank will keep your belly covered, as will your baby’s body. There are also nursing tops that do not require a tank, as they have layers of fabric that can be pulled or lifted for nursing access.
Nursing in a baby carrier is another way to nurse on the go. You can be sitting or moving. A ring sling, like a Maya, has a tail that may be used as a cover over your baby’s head and has a pocket to carry baby items like a diaper and wipes. You can wear your baby using the familiar cradle hold that you are probably comfortable with from nursing at home. A soft-structured carrier, like an Ergo, holds your baby upright. Your baby’s head covers your breast as they nurse. The Ergo has a cover on the top if you want to use it to cover your baby’s head while nursing. Your hands will even be free as you walk around.
If you are more comfortable nursing while covered, there are many options. You can use a baby blanket over your shoulder, wear an infinity scarf, or even use a wired apron-style nursing cover.
Don’t get caught off guard
When I started nursing in public, I was anxious for the moment when I might get challenged. Having a prepared response for offensive comments can alleviate this anxiety. You can practice your reply in front of a mirror. Sometimes just meeting someone’s eyes with a bold, confident stare, or even a smile, can stop unwanted anti-breastfeeding comments. But if that doesn’t work, you can have a response ready.
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends “ exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.”
The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends “exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”
As your child’s mother, you are the expert on your child. Sometimes saying something as simple as “This works for our family” will shut down any outside criticism.
Know your rights
Most states have laws protecting nursing mothers. Keep a card with your state’s breastfeeding laws in case you are challenged. The more confident you look while nursing, the less likely it is that you will get unwelcome comments from people around you. When you are alone nursing in a large area, concentrate on your baby’s face. When you are talking with other people, meet their eyes to let them know it is all right to look at you. If unwanted breastfeeding comments escalate to an uncomfortable situation, tell the commenter to feel free to call the police and explain why they are breaking the law. Know your rights.
Nursing in public will get easier as you gain experience. Hang out with other moms, wear comfortable clothing to nurse in, and have a response prepared for unwanted comments. And remember, when other breastfeeding mothers see you nursing in public, you are helping them build their confidence as well!