I remember the first time I nursed my son in public so clearly. He was one week old and we had ventured to a local pancake house to meet a friend from work. She coo’ed over my tiny baby as I regaled her with my birth story. I was still sore from my c-section, and I felt fragile being out of the house (even though it was only around 100 meters away from our home). After about half an hour of catching up, my beautiful boy began to chew his fists and get unsettled, “Time for a feed.”
My colleague could not hand him back to me quickly enough and hurried out of the pancake house before there was any risk of her seeing a glimpse of my bosoms. Her reaction put me on edge to say the least. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, I awkwardly tried to arrange a cover over myself and my squirming newborn. I was getting more and more flustered as I tried to keep him and the muslin cloth I had draped over us in position. As I was fumbling with my baby, my top and the cover, one of the the servers approached me with a complimentary cup of herbal tea. “This is for you, you’re doing an incredible job.”
I almost burst into tears at her small but mighty act of kindness and her words were all I needed to feel reassured. I abandoned the muslin, got comfortable and settled down to nurse my baby boy, happy and undisturbed. Perhaps halfway through our feed, the server returned to our table looking wistfully at my son and I . She recalled nursing her own babies and told me that breastfeeding mothers were always welcome there.
My experience that day, so early in our nursing journey, had a huge impact on me. That brief exchange reaffirmed what I already knew: I was breastfeeding for my son and no-one else. Therefore, whenever and wherever he needed to be nursed, I was going to nurse him, cover or not. I appreciate that not every mother feels comfortable breastfeeding in public without a cover, but I hope that it reassures you to know that nursing in public is protected by law in the UK, all 50 US states, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Taiwan (with or without a cover and with no upper age limit).
Whether you are nursing a newborn baby or a twiddling toddler, there may be times when you feel uncertain about nursing in view of others. Here are my top tips for nursing in public at any age and stage of your breastfeeding journey:
Dress for Success
Wearing clothes which you feel comfortable in and which allow for easy access to your breasts is a really simple way to boost your confidence when it comes to nursing in public. There are so many wonderful, mum-owned breastfeeding clothing labels nowadays. Here are some of my favorites:
· Tilbea London (UK)
· Juno Jacks (UK)
· Stylish Mum (UK)
· The Mum Collective (UK)
· Lyla and Leche (UK)
· House of Hurrah (UK)
· Nine the Label (UK)
· Nursing Queen Clothing (US)
· Latched Mama (US)
· Naked Tank (Canada)
You do not necessarily need breastfeeding-specific clothes of course, even if you would like to remain covered whilst nursing. Wearing a tank top or vest top beneath another top means that you can lift up the outer layer and pull down the inner layer to nurse comfortably and discreetly. This is known as the one-up-one-down method. Button down shirts, wrap tops and dresses are also great options for nursing-friendly fashion.
Your Hype Team
If you are especially nervous about breastfeeding in public, it can really help to surround yourself with people who support you doing so. Whether that is a friend or family member who has breastfeeding experience, or a dedicated breastfeeding support group, it can make such a difference to speak to someone who has been there, done that and got the milk-stained t-shirt. La Leche League is a great place to start looking for local breastfeeding support near you.
My number one tip for feeling confident about breastfeeding in public is to count your baby’s tiny fingers, look into their big eyes and remind yourself that you are breastfeeding for them and no-one else. Breathe deeply, focus on your child & remember that every single drop of your breast milk does way more for your little one than anyone’s opinion ever will.
I nursed my son whenever, wherever for three years and nine months. We nursed in parks, the pools and cafes, as well as on trains, planes and buses. Breastfeeding during my son's first ever flight was a life-saver and it helped me to calm many tantrums too over during the toddler years! I can genuinely say that I can count on one hand the number of times that we received unwanted attention in any form. On the whole, we were showered with compliments and often nostalgic memories from retired nursing mothers. I hope that this reassures you that breastfeeding in public needn't be scary - it can be really wonderful.
These tips are adapted from my debut book, ‘Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition,’ which is available here, now.