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Nursing in public
I’m expecting my second baby in a few months and really want to breastfeed this time around. One of the reasons I was reluctant to persevere last time was my fear of breastfeeding in front of other people. None of the mothers in my close family—my mom, sisters, aunts or cousins—have breastfed their babies and I have heard some of them say negative things about nursing mothers we have encountered when we have been out and about together. How have other moms found the confidence to breastfeed when members of their family are unsupportive? And how often do moms meet with negative responses from the general public when they are breastfeeding in public spaces?
Before I had my first baby, I expected to be harassed at some point when nursing in a public space: I even had the appropriate state law bookmarked in my phone. What I encountered was quite the opposite. Many mothers have come up to me and talked about how they loved nursing their babies and complete strangers have told me their stories. In my three plus years of nursing, I have never had a comment that made me feel uncomfortable. I think that has helped build my confidence and knowing that I am doing the best for my child, who has the right to eat wherever we are.
Megan Miltz, Valparaiso, Indiana
I breastfed both my babies even though my husband and our families were unsupportive. Every time we ran into problems (sleep, teething, illness), their first response was, “Maybe it’s time to quit breastfeeding.”
It is important to be confident in yourself and your choice. Find other mama friends who breastfeed and can support you: look for a local LLL group.
Using a cover made my husband’s family uncomfortable, so I nursed in a bedroom, and it was nice to have some quiet time. In fact, when visiting family, my babies were passed around so much it was the only time I really got to spend holding them!
The general public cares less than you imagine.
With my second baby, I decided that people who got offended could turn around or leave. I used my cover only when I felt it was appropriate. Nothing is more natural than feeding your baby. It is one of the most fulfilling things you can do as a mom, don’t let fear deprive you of the chance to experience this. Figure out what works for you and your baby, and don’t allow naysayers to interfere.
Krista S. White, Bastrop, TX, USA
Barely anyone notices when you are feeding a small newborn. I would try, when possible, to sit facing a wall if somewhere busy, such as a café, to give myself some privacy. I built up confidence so was then more prepared to feed an older infant in public.
Emily Andrews, Northampton, UK
You’ve obviously found La Leche League, which would have been my first suggestion: surround yourself with pro breastfeeding people to help re-balance the potential challenges nearby. I’ve found comfort and support from various online and local groups, as well as friends who have breastfed.
Educate yourself so you feel equipped to inform your family should they have questions about breastfeeding. I began to read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding while pregnant and I can recommend getting it on a Kindle App to read while nursing.
I’ve only ever had positive comments about feeding my son in public; I’ve never noticed any negativity, although you can be so engrossed in your baby at times you’d never know!
Melissa, Bedfordshire, UK
Maybe think about employing a postpartum doula? Most will accompany you on outings to public places to sit and enjoy a coffee and help you get used to nursing away from home. They can help with educating your family about breastfeeding and provide a buffer for any negative comments.
Afton Shearer, Northampton, UK
I sought out help before my baby was born, which then gave me confidence to persevere even though members of my family were not supportive. It still makes my mum uncomfortable, but she is beginning to get used to the idea. When we went to a café and she wanted to feed my baby with a bottle of expressed milk, I let her as I was looking forward to a treat of waffles and maple syrup in peace. She was then surprised when we saw another mum breastfeeding there. She hasn’t commented since! I recently breastfed in church at my nan’s funeral. I found out afterward that my mum had asked the vicar if it was OK. I pointed out that if God had a problem with it, I don’t think he would have given us breasts to feed babies. I think the more I do breastfeed around her (particularly in public) the more she gets used to it. But as for the confidence, just look for support elsewhere.
I had a little mantra “I am feeding my baby. My baby needs to be fed.” I used to say it to myself in preparation for any challenge that may have arisen. I used to feel that people were commenting about me breastfeeding, but very rarely found this to be the case. I breastfed my first three children and attempted to breastfeed my fourth, but unfortunately this time it hasn’t worked out (long story) and so I am formula feeding. On a first trip out in public, I felt I was being judged as a bad mum when I had to get the bottle and formula out. So maybe sometimes it’s simply a matter of perception.
Katie Williams, Northampton, UK
The only comments I have received breastfeeding my three have been positive with people wanting to show their admiration for my doing something so lovely for my child.
Theresa Wright, Northampton, UK
None of the women in my family breastfed either, not even a grandma. It actually made me more determined to be the one to change the trend. I got the usual comments about how tying it would be, but the complete opposite was true; it gave me a huge amount of freedom. Later, I ignored all the “When are you finally going to give up?” comments. Ultimately, I knew breast was best for my baby.
I didn’t breastfeed under a cover as I didn’t want to hide. I met with two negative incidents. The first was when a man stared at me in a posh restaurant in a “What on earth are you doing” kind of way. The second was when a woman in IKEA told me where the Mother and Baby area was in the café, to both of which I responded by keeping calm and carrying on nursing just a bit longer. The more we normalize breastfeeding, the easier it will become for others. Good luck with the new baby and with the breastfeeding!
Laura Neville, Northampton, UK
I’ve never had negative comments and have breastfed my baby whenever and wherever she has wanted. I sometimes felt slightly uncomfortable with an older baby, probably because you don’t see many other toddlers being breastfed. Meeting other mums in person and online through LLL, reading lots to understand how good, natural and normal in an evolutionary sense breastfeeding is, even if it’s not the cultural ‘norm,’ has really helped me.
My family was initially supportive but challenged me constantly after 12 months, usually with the best of intentions because they wrongly thought nursing was tiring me out. Changing the subject instead of debating might have helped. Surprisingly, my grampy, who is usually easily offended about all sorts, was cool about my breastfeeding, shocking my family who couldn’t believe it. People do surprise you and if you can get comfortable with it, very few people even notice. Stories in the press can worry you unnecessarily. Sometimes people may be embarrassed so your reaction is key as people take their lead from you.
Lisa Hurst, Northampton, UK
No one in my family has breastfed either. Initially I wore a scarf, which I could quickly use to drape over any exposed bits, until we developed our technique. After a while, family members have gradually become more curious and asked questions. I’ve had no criticism at all. My hubby’s grandad is still a little uncomfortable and tends just to leave the room when I breastfeed.
LLL meetings have been invaluable for me. It’s so reassuring to see mums feeding babies of varying ages, in all sorts of positions, even in the sling. Helps remind me that what we’re doing is normal, acceptable and absolutely the right thing for our family. Good luck, and enjoy the new addition to your family.
Amanda Baldwin, Northampton, UK
I’ve never had a negative experience when out but have had quite a few with family. I found reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and The Politics of Breastfeeding helped me feel I was making the right decision for me and my child. LLL meetings are also a great way to boost that confidence. The first few times, I felt nervous I focused on my baby intently. Now, of course, my head is held high!
Cheryl North, Northampton, UK
I’ve never met with any negative attitudes and I breastfeed on the bus, in shops, anywhere I need to. If I catch people looking or staring I just smile at them.
Alana, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
I didn’t breastfeed my older two for similar reasons because my ex and his family were against it and this is one of my biggest regrets. I have cherished every moment of breastfeeding my little one. It would be such a shame for both you and your baby not to experience this!
Seria, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
I’m sorry you’ve heard negative comments about nursing from your own family. It’s baffling that people see anything wrong with feeding a baby. My mum, who is supportive and breastfed her four children is quite ‘old school.’ She believes in covering up and moving away from the social gathering to feed the baby. I’m pretty sure she must have been housebound when she was breastfeeding us. The first time I nursed in public, she tried to drape a scarf over me! I just said, “Let me do it my way, please” and she backed off. My little girl breastfed beautifully and there was no issue. Another time, we were at a neighbor’s house and my mum had told me I’d need to ask to use another room if I intended breastfeeding because the neighbor didn’t have children, so she felt it was inappropriate. When I asked permission the neighbor was outraged at the suggestion that I should leave the room and miss out on the conversation! Very slowly I’ve started to demonstrate there’s no reason to make a big deal out of breastfeeding.
I suggest taking it slowly; gain confidence at home first and then quietly stand your ground, leading by example. I have never had negative comments. I even nursed standing up in the menswear section of a department store recently, and no one batted an eyelid!
Claire, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
I’m sorry your family seems unsupportive. Perhaps they may change their views about one of their own. In any event, you have the support of many mothers across the globe! I found it more difficult at first because we weren’t experienced—who is the first time?!—and I felt a bit self-conscious.
I’ve never found my cover-up shawl useful and I only end up attracting more attention trying to use it! I like my large, wrap-around cardigan because it is a much easier way to cover up, when my baby has settled into the feed, but I only use it if I need to keep the wind or sun off her.
I asked a friend who has breastfed all four daughters how she managed in church. She said she just fed them in the pew and no one noticed. I wouldn’t have considered myself particularly unobservant but I had never noticed! That was a watershed moment for me.
Negative comments can feel really personal but are frequently more about how the commentator is feeling and not an objective assessment of your actions.
Rebecca, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Mother’s New Situation
I have suffered from depression in the past and after the birth of my first baby, four years ago, I had a fairly serious bout for which I required medication. I gave up breastfeeding after only a few weeks because of sore nipples and I was worried about the medication I was taking getting through my milk to my baby. I have been well for the last 18 months but am concerned about the possibility of baby blues. I really want to give breastfeeding a go this time. What have other mothers done to cope when facing the prospect of birth and potential depressive illness?
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