Breastfeeding: Can you nurse discreetly in public?

I am pregnant with my first baby and very much looking forward to breastfeeding, but I'm concerned about doing it in puvlic (I'm pretty modest). Can I nurse discreetly or will I need to stay at home to do it?


Kathy Kuhn

Kathy Kuhn is a registered nurse who has been working with breastfeeding families since 1981. She has been an International Board Certified... Read more

You're not alone in this camp--Many women feel the same way, especially with their first baby. But once you become more experienced at breastfeeding, these feelings change.

You will definitely be able to leave your house with a breastfed baby! As a matter of fact, many moms agree that breastfed babies are very portable because there is no worry about measuring,  mixing and keeping formula cold wehn you're out and can skip packing up bottles and nipples, too. You also don't need to worry about running out of formula.

Choose the right kind of clothing. Generally two-piece outfits with lightweight tops that are pulled up from the bottom to breastfeed are best. If you combine these with a jacket, or cardigan that covers your side and can be used as a "screen" to hide the baby, it can be nearly impossible for others to see any of your breast. Of course there are also many cloting lines made especially for nursing moms with pleats ans slits for easy and discrete access.

Nurse in a sling worn like a sash over mom's shoulder to carry the baby. Slings have lots of extra cloth to provide cover. 

Practice makes perfect. When your baby arrives you will be probably be at home for a few weeks. Use that time to get comfortable with breastfeeding. Try to minimize visitors, except those who are truly helping with household chores.

As you breastfeed in the beginning, it is more common it's recommended that you expose the whole breast for ease of learning. The trickiest moment is during the latch-on process because your nipple is exposed.

Once your baby is latched he or she will be covering most of the breast and your clothing can be pulled closely around you. Some women cover the baby and breast with a lightweight blanket or cloth diaper, or even purchase special "capes" specially designed for discrete breastfeeding.

Do a dry run. You may want to try breastfeeding at home in front of a full-length mirror to check your technique. This can serve as a check on your "discretion level" before heading out the door. You could also practice in front of a close family member or friend. You may also want to attend a breastfeeding support group such as La Leche League where you can pick up tips from other moms and see the technique in action.

If you are still uncomfortable with nursing in public there is often somewhere you can go to be in private or to minimize your exposure. Some of the best options are fitting rooms of department stores. They are often cleaner than the bathrooms and usually have a stool or chair. Usually if there is nowhere completely private you can find somewhere away from the crowds, such as an out of the way bench at the park or on a blanket behind a big tree. Some moms will go to their cars and use a sunscreen in the windshield for privacy or park in a distance spot. In restaurants the booth in the back corner works well, just make sure you are facing the wall and the others with you face out. At a family gathering you can usually slip off to a more private place in the house. In church sit in the back pew, others should be facing front.

Some moms are most comfortable using a bottle of expressed breast milk when in public. If you plan ahead, this can be a simple solution.

Try to feed your baby at the first sign of hunger, since a crying baby will draw attention (quiet nursing is better than having him wail!).

As your baby gets older he or she will take longer stretches of time between feedings, so it often becomes possible to time outings between feedings.

Moms who are comfortable breastfeeding in public areas should not be discouraged from doing so. Take the right attitude. Don't ask for permission to nurse, it's your right and your baby's right to breastfeed wherever you are and asking permission or commenting on it at all only draws attention to you. Your body language will speak volumes. For example, turning away momentarily to latch tells people you don't want them to look right now. Making eye contact with those talking to you shows confidence in what you are doing and people are less likely to question your breastfeeding in public.  You will be surprised how often people don't even know you are breastfeeding your baby.

Most people, if they realize you are breastfeeding will avert their eyes to avoid embarrassing you and to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Other women who have breastfed may try to catch your eye and smile or give some positive gesture of support. So smile back--and enjoy this time with your baby.

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