by Liz Abbene
Making the decision to breastfeed is fabulous, but following through with that commitment is something many new mamas struggle with. One of the big obstacles mamas face is breastfeeding outside the home and in public places. While this is definitely different from nursing in the comfort of your own home, it shouldn’t be a source of stress or interfere with breastfeeding goals.
The first step to easily nurse in public is the same as nursing at home: get comfortable. This is a physiological requirement of breastfeeding. If you are uncomfortable, your body will not release the hormones essential for lactation. Many women are uncomfortable with the idea of exposing their breasts while nursing, but the reality is that when you are feeding, the baby actually covers up the majority of your breasts. Test this out at home—sit in front of a mirror during a breastfeeding session to see how little of your breast is actually revealed. Most likely you will not travel with your nursing pillow, so practice different positions that you can do without one or try nursing in a carrier to hold baby in place.
Another key element to successful breastfeeding in public is to dress appropriately. Usually all this requires is wearing clothes and a nursing bra that open easily for nursing and that provide you with the coverage you are looking for. Some women are very comfortable exposing bare skin, while others prefer not to. Either way is completely fine—personal comfort is what is important.
There are many types of nursing shirts available in stores or online. While they may be helpful, it’s not practical to completely replace your entire wardrobe. Instead, invest in several nursing camisoles which can be worn under shirts or sweaters. Another option is to wear a nursing bra and a stretchy tank or camisole under a regular shirt. Pull up the top layer, pull down the stretchy second layer, and open the nursing bra. Viola! You can nurse easily and discreetly.
Some mamas like to cover up with a blanket, shawl, or a nursing cover designed specifically for this purpose. Nursing covers are usually a piece of light fabric with a strap worn around the neck, and are designed to make it easy to see your baby while feeding.
Baby carriers such as slings and wraps can be great for nursing too, giving both coverage and support for the baby. These tools can be helpful, especially in the beginning when you and baby are getting the hang of things or with an older baby who is easily distracted by other things in the environment.
Once you’ve practiced a bit at home, get out there! The only way to really master the art of breastfeeding in public is to do it. Start by going to a friend’s home or a quiet coffee shop with comfy chairs. Going to the movies is a fantastic place to get used to breastfeeding outside the home—it’s dark and everyone is facing the opposite way.
When you’re getting baby started at the breast, try not to look around the room to see if anyone is watching you. Most likely, they’re not, and you’re apt to call attention to yourself by looking around. Maintain eye contact with your companions, and try to getting baby to the breast as quickly as possible. Do your best not to stress about it, and before you know it, you’ll be nursing with ease in every situation!
Liz Abbene, founder of Enlightened Mama, is a birth doula, birth doula trainer, Lamaze childbirth educator, breastfeeding counselor, wife, and mama to four amazing children.