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Babies eat, like, a lot. In fact, if a newborn could write a memoir, they’d likely title it “Eat, poop, sleep, and eat again.” Thanks to this incessant eating, you may think breastfeeding means your social life has to go out the window in the first year. Not so!
Fortunately, there are laws in all 50 states that make it legal for your little one to dine straight from the source. And there are plenty of tips and tools that can make feeding in public places easy and comfortable.
Yes. Breastfeeding in public is legal in all 50 of the United States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
Basically, if you are legally allowed to be somewhere (not trespassing), then you are allowed to feed your baby in that space. This means you can nurse your baby legally in stores, restaurants, schools, airplanes, and anywhere else you find yourself.
Thirty states have even taken this a step further and exempted breastfeeding from public indecency. This means if you live in one of these particular states, you don’t need to cover up while nursing.
The 30 states include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The laws are written slightly differently depending on where you live. If you’re curious to learn more, consider reading the breastfeeding laws by state.
You probably have places to be, groceries to buy, and older siblings to cart to school and other activities. Your baby doesn’t always get the memo and gets hungry on their own schedule.
And forget the word “schedule” because during growth spurts, it may feel like your baby is insatiable at all hours of the day and night.
Not only that, but pumping and carrying around milk isn’t always possible or desirable.
If you’re traveling, for example, it might just be quicker and easier to feed directly from the source. Your baby may not even take bottles. Or they may want the breast purely for soothing comfort. The list of reasons goes on and on.
So, what do you do when you’re out and about and hear the cries of a hungry baby? That’s where breastfeeding in public comes in. “Public” can mean anything from a designated nursing area at a store to a park bench at the playground to a couch at your friend’s house.
Remember: It’s legal to breastfeed whenever and wherever you want. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel comfortable doing so the first few times you try it.
You may worry your baby will be fussy or that strangers will stare at you. Being prepared can help you feel more confident. Here are some handy tips for feeding baby on the go.
Dress for feeding
There are so many clothing options that make breastfeeding in public easier and more discreet — if that’s what you’re going for. (Feel free to feed however you’re comfortable!)
Breastfeeding apparel includes things like shirts with slits for easy access, scarves that can be draped over baby when needed, and other items tailored for breastfeeding people.
That said, you don’t need to buy anything special to feed your baby on the go. You may find it easier to wear layers.
Try something like a camisole under a loose t-shirt or button-down shirt/cardigan. Or wear whatever you want. It’s about finding what feels most comfortable for your needs. You do you!
Do some research
Know you’ll be out on a certain day? Try looking up where you’re headed to see if there are any friendly areas for breastfeeding.
For example, IKEA offers family-friendly nursing rooms complete with rocking chairs and changing tables. Target supports breastfeeding in its stores and plans to add nursing rooms to remodeled stores. You may also find that stores geared toward babies and children have special spaces for feeding.
The website Moms Pump Here can help you locate breastfeeding spots wherever you’re headed. New locations are being added all the time. There are even pop-up nursing/pumping pods called Mamavas that you can find in various locations, like airports and stores, across the country.
If you can’t find a designated spot, no worries. Look for comfy couches or other soft seating. Want some privacy? Consider feeding in a changing room or trying spaces like quiet cafes, libraries, or museums. You may even ask your mom-friends if they know of any good spots. And make a list to consult for future outings.
Don’t feel ready to breastfeed in the middle of a busy store? Start small.
Consider feeding your baby at home in front of a mirror to practice placing baby at the breast. Pay attention to things like how you adjust your clothing, how you use any covers or other gear, how your baby latches and unlatches, and how you feel most comfortable sitting.
From there, take your practice on the road. Try feeding in a nursing room, at a friend’s house, or at another familiar place, like your neighborhood park. Eventually, you can take bigger and bigger steps until you feel confident enough to feed anywhere you find yourself.
Use the tools that make you happy
You don’t necessarily need any gear to feed your baby in public, but there are a few tools you may find helpful.
- Slings: Nursing in a baby carrier can be especially convenient because it allows you to be hands-free. A sling is a soft baby carrier made of a piece of a single fabric that is run through a ring and then tightened to fit your baby. It’s open between mom and baby, so baby has easy access to the breast.
- Covers: Other moms like using nursing covers, especially with babies who tend to be distracted by all the activity of being out. Covers are different from nursing clothing because you won’t necessarily wear them regularly — instead, you can stash your cover in your diaper bag when it isn’t in use.
- Other useful tools: Consider travel nursing pillows for support, a nursing necklace or a portable white noise machine to keep little ones from being too distracted, and breast pads to help with any leaks you might experience.
Do what feels right to you
In the end, it’s all about what works best for you and your baby. Ideally you’ll find that many environments are supportive of nursing in public.
Other moms have been there and done that and may even be cheering you on from the sidelines. Enjoy the good vibes and soak in those smiles from onlookers.
Some environments, though, may not be as inviting. Know your rights and feel free to share them with nosey onlookers. This goes for everyone from perfect strangers to not-so-supportive family members.
Not into confrontation? You don’t need to defend yourself. You aren’t obligated to make others understand. Do what feels right (and safe) to you in the moment. You may even want to practice how you’d deal with aggressive strangers.
You have the freedom — guaranteed by law — to breastfeed wherever you like. This means you can get out of the house when you want to and when you need to without worrying about what to do when hunger strikes.
Practice makes perfect, so start in a safe and familiar place if you’re a bit apprehensive. After a while, you’ll get the hang of things. Now go forth and feed those babies!