The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you exclusively breast-feed for the first six months of your baby’s life, and in combination with solid food at least until your baby’s first birthday.
But if you’re nervous about breast-feeding in public, that could sound like a sentence for staying in the house for your first year of motherhood. Luckily, you don’t have to lose your mobility to meet your breast-feeding goals.
Here’s how you can feed your baby wherever you are, without worry.
1. Know your rights as a breast-feeding mother
In most of the United States, you have the right to breast-feed with or without a cover in any public or private place where you have a right to be. That means that as long as you’re not trespassing, you can breast-feed anywhere that you feel comfortable doing so. People may not harass you about breast-feeding in public. Many states also protect you from public indecency laws, so even if your breast is briefly exposed because you’re breast-feeding, that’s OK.
2. Try using layers
If you’re worried about strangers seeing your breasts (or your postpartum belly), layers are an easy, affordable way to feel more comfortable. They’ll still give you easy breast-feeding access.
Wear a nursing tank under a T-shirt, and you can pull the T-shirt up while unhooking the nursing tank to lower it down. The tank will keep your belly and the lower part of your breast covered, while the T-shirt works as a cover for the top part of your breast. You’ll only be baring the part your baby is using — and your baby will keep that covered.
3. Breast-feed in a carrier
If you practice babywearing, then a carrier can double as the perfect nursing cover. With a soft-structured carrier in the front, just loosen the straps to lower your baby enough to reach your breast. Use the carrier hood to cover yourself on top.
You might feel a bit exposed with this method, but the combination of the carrier and your baby’s head probably covers more than you think. And if you’re using a fabric-based carrier like a wrap or sling, you can use the extra fabric to cover any areas you don’t want showing.
4. Use a cover
If you want to make sure nothing is visible, a breast-feeding cover will do the trick. Many covers are designed with a wire loop to hold them in place so you can see your baby, but no one else can.
Some babies don’t like breast-feeding with a blanket over their heads, so if your baby isn’t used to a cover, be prepared for protest!
5. Start small
If you’ve never breast-fed in public before, don’t head somewhere intimidating where you’re likely to see lots of strangers. Instead, try it first at toddler story time or at a neighborhood playgroup, where there are likely to be many supportive moms around.
6. Smile at strangers
Even if you feel a little uncomfortable at first, people will be less likely to criticize what you’re doing if you meet their eyes and smile. It’s not a guarantee that no one will make a negative comment, but if you look them in the eye and don’t look embarrassed (even if you feel a little embarrassed!), they’ll be more likely to assume you have a perfect right to do what you’re doing — which you do.
7. Have your response ready
No matter how prepared you are, it’s always possible you’ll encounter someone who thinks you shouldn’t breast-feed in public. If you encounter criticism, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you have every right to take care of your baby. Then, reply calmly with a prepared answer. Try something like, “Thanks for your concern, but I’m comfortable here, and I have a legal right to breast-feed my baby in public.”