Written by Marie Barnhurst, IBCLC
Some mothers naturally feel comfortable breastfeeding their babies wherever they are. They may think nothing of nursing in the middle of a crowded shopping mall, no matter who may be watching. This is wonderful, and they are to be applauded. But we are all creatures of our culture, and in American society, many moms feel a little bit shy about breastfeeding away from home.
If you are among them, will you be forced to stay at home near feeding times, to express, store and heat breastmilk in bottles, or to give artificial milk when you are out with your baby? No!
Breastfeeding when you are out guarantees your baby fresh, readily available comfort and nourishment. And it can be done so discreetly that no one but you and your baby will know. In other words, nursing away from home does not have to mean nursing “in public.” Here are some tips.
Plan ahead. Choose a nursing bra you can open and close easily with one hand, and an outfit in which you can nurse with a minimum of fuss. Loose-fitting tops that can be lifted from the bottom are a good choice, because your nursing baby will cover any portion of your midsection that would otherwise be exposed. If you wear a button-front top, unbutton it from the bottom up. Some mothers find that specially designed nursing garments, with strategically placed flaps or hidden slits, are helpful when nursing away from home.
Practice at home before you go out. Try nursing in front of a mirror to help you learn how to get your baby latched on with a minimum of exposure. If you find that the latch-on process shows more skin than you are comfortable with, try draping a blanket over your shoulder and the baby until he is settled and nursing. Your mirror will prove to you that once he is latched on, a nursing baby looks just like a sleeping baby to an outside observer.
Start small. Before attempting the shopping mall, try nursing at home in front of friends and relatives, or at a Nursing Mothers meeting. The confidence you build by nursing in the presence of these supportive “audiences” will help you feel more comfortable when you venture out into areas that are more public.
Choose a relatively quiet, comfortable spot. They can be found, even in public places like shopping malls. Tried-and-true possibilities include department store fitting rooms or furniture departments, secluded benches in parks, restaurant booths, and furnished lounges adjoining restrooms in some department stores, theatres, hotels and other gathering places. Try not to use the restroom itself – would you want to eat there?
Bring allies. If you go out with another adult or an older child, you can place them between you and the public while you breastfeed. Having someone to chat with while you nurse may help you feel more comfortable. Also, if you are focused on your companion, onlookers will be less likely to notice that you are nursing your baby. When you do go out by yourself, you can turn your body so that you are facing away from more public areas, using your back to give you a bit of extra privacy. Looking around you rather than at your baby while he nurses will help keep onlookers from focusing on the fact that you are nursing.
Feed early, feed often. You can avoid attracting attention by feeding your baby before he is overly hungry and fussy.
Feel proud. The more confident you appear, the less likely you are to attract unwanted attention. But more importantly, breastfeeding your baby shows your commitment to his health and well being and should be a source of pride, not embarrassment. When you nurse outside your home, you set an example for others that may encourage them to breastfeed or empower them to do so more publicly. Your courage in conquering your discomfort can help ensure that our daughters won’t have to feel shy about doing what is natural and right for their children.
There’s a big, wonderful world out there for you to help your baby discover. Breastfeeding shouldn’t stand in your way.