Considering how often newborns need to eat, it is sort of crazy that the way we feed them causes so much controversy. For nursing moms, everyday activities like shopping and eating out have the potential to spark the breastfeeding in public debate.
We’ve all seen the stories that circulate social media of moms being asked to leave, cover up, or breastfeed in the restroom (uh… gross).
So what is the problem with breastfeeding in public places?
Some say it is indecent and offensive.
For all of you on the other side of the breastfeeding in public debate, many states have laws that protect a mother’s right to breastfeed in any public space they are lawfully present.
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In This Guide:
How Do You Discreetly Breastfeed in Public?
If you’re 100% comfortable breastfeeding in public and have no qualms, more power to you! But if you’re the nervous or shy type, there are ways to breastfeed without drawing a lot of attention.
By appropriate I don’t mean modestly (although if that’s your thing, that’s cool too). By appropriate I mean you gotta have quick and easy access to the goods (i.e. your breasts).
One of the easiest ways to dress for success is to layer tops. All you have to do is simply pull down the undershirt, lift up the overshirt, and you have instant boob access to feed your babe.
For the bottom layer, Jo loves the Undercover Mama nursing tank tops best because they are very high quality. They have these cute little clips that fasten right to your bra straps so you can easily pull them down when needed. They come in lots of fun colors and other neat styles like lace trim or tummy control. I bought a bunch during my first pregnancy 6 years ago and I still use them today as undershirts!
Also, tops specifically designed for nursing can make you more comfortable breastfeeding in public. Rachel prefers ones that open like this because they’re very easy to nurse without exposing much or shifting lots of extra material out of the way.
Be particularly careful with dresses. Make sure you have a stretchy neckline or other nursing access or you may find it almost impossible to nurse without undressing. There are also super adorable nursing dresses are also a great choice – super cute and practical!
A little bit of preparation can go a long way in making you feel more comfortable breastfeeding in public.
First, while planning your day out, consider when and where you will breastfeed. Some places and errands are just going to be easier than others for nursing.
Will you have a spot you can comfortably sit? Are you going to be in a rush? Will baby be distracted?
Having a plan with your baby’s schedule in mind will make everything run more smoothly. An extremely hungry or overtired baby is likely to fuss and cry, drawing more attention and making nursing more difficult.
Second, make sure you’ve packed everything you need like burp cloths and nursing pads. Though you probably won’t be lugging it to the mall, for a long day out or trip consider bringing a nursing pillow. My Brest Friend makes an inflatable travel pillow which makes it possible to fit in your diaper bag.
Admittedly, using a nursing pillow may seem counterintuitive since isn’t exactly inconspicuous. It’s totally worth it if it helps you feel more comfortable and confident.
Third, practice makes perfect.
If you’re nervous about flashing the room, practice latching your baby in front of a mirror.
Use a Baby Carrier
Get comfortable with nursing in a carrier.
Using a baby carrier is a super convenient way to breastfeed discreetly in public once you get the hang of it. Not only does it allow you to walk around and have your hands free, but most people will have no clue that you’re even nursing.
Jo LOVED the Moby Wrap baby carrier for this reason. Baby can be sleeping and wake up hungry and all mom has to do is whip out a breast and they instantly settle again.
Here’s Jo nursing in the Moby while simultaneously videoing her toddler hunting Easter eggs – talk about multitasking!
What If I Want to Avoid Breastfeeding in Public?
Strategy #1 – Plan around the baby’s schedule.
Does your baby nurse every 2 hours like clockwork?
Schedule your outings around that.
For instance on quick trips, nurse right before leaving. That gives you about an hour to get out and back home. It’s not a ton of time but you can fit in a short errand nearby.
For longer trips, plan on nursing in the car right before going in and/or before driving home.
The other benefit of this type of planning is that it means the baby is fed and happy while you are actually out. You don’t want to risk them crying while trying to get the groceries. If they’ve just eaten, they’re more likely to be an angel the whole time.
Strategy #2 – Find a private spot
If the car isn’t an option, there are usually plenty of spots to breastfeed in private.
Think a store dressing room, a hidden park bench, or the back corner table at Panera.
If you’re somewhere unfamiliar look for places that are secluded to limit distractions and onlookers.
Don’t use a bathroom. Just don’t.
Strategy #3 – Cover up
If the situation is unavoidable and you absolutely have to breastfeed in public, use a nursing cover.
While you can use a blanket, nursing under a cover isn’t always easy and having the right cover can help.
Rachel highly recommends the Boppy brand nursing cover. The top is stiff so it creates an opening where you can easily see baby. It’s also lightweight (without being see through) so baby doesn’t get too hot.
Jo prefers the Multi-Use Baby Breastfeeding Infinity Nursing Scarf. All that fabric is very forgiving and hides the occasional nip slip. Plus, you can wear it like a regular scarf when you’re not nursing!
What States Is Breastfeeding in Public Illegal?
Yes indeed. Should it from the rooftops!
As of 2018, all 50 states have legalized and put an end to the breastfeeding in public debate… legally speaking, that is.
Fun fact, Idaho and Utah were the last hold out states.
So now you are protected to breastfeed your baby any place you are legally allowed to be. You can find out the specifics of your state’s laws about breastfeeding here.
Is It Appropriate to Breastfeed in Public?
Ok so let’s finally tackle this breastfeeding in public debate. After all, for something that has been a natural part of parenting since the beginning of human existence, it is shocking that the topic of breastfeeding can still be so polarizing.
Naturally as ‘The Moms at Odds’, Jo and Rachel have differing opinions on the topic.
Jo says, “Whip it out and breastfeed away, ladies!”
It’s a simple concept – If my child is hungry, I’m going to feed them.
If that child happens to be my toddler at snack time, I’ll give him a bowl of cheerios and blueberries.
If my child happens to be my breastfed infant, I will nurse them regardless of my location.
There’s no negotiating with newborns. You can’t calmly explain to them, “we’re in public right now, I’ll nurse you in 30 minutes when we get home”.
You know what that will only cause? A huge meltdown.
No one should be offended by my breastfeeding in public because it doesn’t affect them. In fact I think it would offend them a lot more if their ears had to suffer hearing my baby scream from hunger!
Often those who like to assert that breastfeeding in public isn’t acceptable are usually somehow tying it into the sexualization of breasts.
Guess what, guys.
Boobs were breastfeeding waaaaay before Pamela Anderson was in Baywatch.
Breasts were made to feed babies. That’s literally their job.
Sure they might serve other purposes, including some sexual ones, but that doesn’t take away from their original design.
But above all, the main reason I like breastfeeding in public is because it’s super duper easy.
Look, I have a million things to think about every time I leave the house. Is the diaper bag packed? Is nap time approaching? Does everyone have shoes on??
The last thing I need is yet another thing to worry about. I am literally a walking-talking milk machine, so if my infant is hungry I can feed her without much effort.
People have asked why I don’t pump and bring a bottle… and I have a couple of reasons for that.
First, pumping sucks.
Second, if I pump I have to worry about storing the milk at a safe temperature and not spilling it.
Lastly, breastfeeding is better for your supply as it maintains the supply-demand balance.
So no, I’m not going to inconvenience myself and pump when nature has equipped me to feel my baby.
Rachel says, “It makes me uncomfortable”
Before I sound like a total hater, let me state up front that I have no issue with any one else breastfeeding in public.
Whenever I see a nursing mom out and about I always try to give them a smile (hopefully in an encouraging-and-not-creepy way). Rock on mama, feed your baby!
My issue is that I just don’t like breastfeeding in public.
So if I’m truly cool with the idea then what’s my problem?
I can’t be the only mom out there with insecurities.
It’s not like I was ever truly happy in my own skin before kids, but pregnancy has magnified my body issues.
The last thing I want to do is lift my shirt to nurse and risk showing off my mommy tummy.
And is there really any discreet way to put on a nipple shield?
Well, I never felt like I could and I used one for the first few months. It seemed like I needed more hands trying to get my baby to latch right.
My first was also a really slow nurser, so this wasn’t going to be a quick thing. And like many babies, he was also easily distracted.
The idea of spending 45 minutes to an hour with him unlatching every time someone walked by just seemed way too nerve wracking.
I was terrified that I would end up completely exposed. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but again for me it’s body issues.
Finally, there was the fear of what others might say. I know that I shouldn’t let this bother me, but it does.
I hate confrontation and felt super worried about someone being rude to me. Overall, I just felt too anxious and uncomfortable, so I tried to avoid it when possible.
Want more breastfeeding debates? Check out our discussion on Drinking Alcohol While Breastfeeding
The Bottom Line
Moms need to leave the house and babies need to eat. Whether you choose to breastfeed in public is a personal decision and is no one’s business but your own.