public breastfeeding

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.

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  • Need help feeling confident about your rights? Look up the law in your state, and print it out on a wallet-sized card. Then if anyone questions you, you’ll have an easy way to educate them without having to argue.

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.

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  • You can layer up with a regular stretchy tank, too. If it’s stretchy enough to pull below your breast, you can breast-feed and then re-cover quickly and easily, without having to bother with any hooks.

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.

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  • If you’re nervous about how much is showing, practice in front of a mirror! You might discover you’re more covered than you thought.

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!

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  • If you accidentally leave your cover at home, a lightweight swaddling blanket or shawl will do the trick. And if you just need to cover the top of your breast, a burp cloth will work, too.

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.

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  • Breast-feeding at kid play areas is a great way to connect with other breast-feeding moms. If you meet more experienced breast-feeding moms, don’t hesitate to ask for advice! You also might be able to help a less experienced mom with breast-feeding.

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.

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  • If someone asks you to move to a different location, assume they are just trying to make sure you’re comfortable, and not trying to move you out of sight. If you don’t want to move, just thank them and say you’re comfortable where you are.

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.”

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  • Education can go a long way! Many people don’t know about breast-feeding laws, and sometimes just informing them is all it takes. If a staff member of a store or restaurant asks you to cover up or move, ask to talk to a manager, and take a moment to educate others.
Lisa Baker