Breastfeeding in public: top tips

Every breastfeeding mother should feel able to breastfeed in public but what do you need to know – and what should you wear – before doing it for the first time?

A young mother is breastfeeding her baby on a park bench

Once you’ve made the decision to breastfeed your baby, whether or not you feel able to breastfeed in public can make an enormous difference to your quality of life.

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Let’s face it, it can be daunting enough as it is to get out and about with a new baby, but if you feel you need to hide away at home or in a private room whenever your baby decides it’s feeding time then you’re likely to feel even more restricted in your movements, just when you could both benefit from getting out and about.

But it’s very natural to be a little hesitant about breastfeeding in public at the outset, particularly when you have a desperately shrieking baby and you haven’t quite yet mastered the art of the quick-release bra. So if you’re struggling with public feeding then here are a few ideas for making it easier.

Top tips for breastfeeding in public

  • Wear a nursing bra that allows you to drop the cup down at the front easily
  • Seek out breastfeeding-friendly cafes in your area
  • Know your rights – it’s against the law to stop you breastfeeding in a majority of public places
  • Go to places you know there will be other mums or do it for the first time when you’re with your antenatal group (if you have one).

What should I wear when I’m breastfeeding in public?

Wearing feeding-friendly clothing is vital to being able to breastfeed comfortably and reasonably discreetly in public. When we say discreet we’re not talking about trying to hide the fact that you’re breastfeeding, but who wants to flash their postnatal tummy or acres of boob?

The basic essential is a breastfeeding bra which should allow you to quickly and easily drop down a cup at the front. There are a few different kinds on the market: have a look at the nursing bras our testers liked best.

Several companies, including JoJo Maman Bebe, offer specially-designed and clever feeding tops and dresses. And there are so great-looking breastfeeding covers, too: take a look at our top breastfeeding covers here.

But you don’t necessarily need to buy special clothes to wear over your nursing bra: you’ve probably already got suitable stuff in your current wardrobe.

Layering is the key here. Simple, stretchy vest tops (stretchy enough so that you can pull them down over one boob as well as up, so something with a high Lycra content rather than plain cotton) are really useful to wear under other clothes to give you good boob and tum coverage when you open up or lift the outer top for access.

If you pull your outer top up for boob access then pull the vest down, and vice versa. Likewise tanktops worn over tops that you unbutton or pull down to get to your boobs can give you coverage above your boobs. Baggier tops are useful for allowing access while still giving plenty of coverage but they’re not everyone’s cup of tea.

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Shirts can work in combination with a vest, tanktop or jumper but unbuttoning can be a bit fiddly, particularly if you’re juggling a hungry baby with the other hand. In the summer, you can also get away quite well with large, light, floaty tops which you can simply feed your baby under (although this may not work so well with an older, curious-about-the-outside-world baby).

You may also find it wise to take a large muslin with you wherever you go: brilliant for emergency coverage for any bits you hadn’t quite anticipated exposing.

Where’s the best strategy for the first time I breastfeed in public?

One way to build up your confidence is to start out by feeding in public with other mums before going solo. A meet-up with your antenatal group or a visit ti a local mum-and-baby group is ideal for this, particularly if you know that other mums there will be breastfeeding, too.

On your first breastfeeding-in-public venture in a more ‘open’ place, like a shopping centre or a cafe, you may feel more comfortable with the company of someone else who boosts your confidence, like your mum, partner or a friend.

What are my rights to breastfeeding in public?

We can’t say it clearer than this: it’s actually against the law in the UK to stop a woman from breastfeeding in public.

How can I find the most breastfeeding-friendly places?

If you don’t feel very confident about feeding somewhere, and are consequently tense and uncomfortable, it’s not a good recipe for a settled, calm feed as your baby will probably pick up on your unease.

And, of course, an unpleasant experience can make you apprehensive about feeding in public the next time around, so finding somewhere with a welcoming atmosphere is important.

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Other mums can offer a wealth of information when it comes to finding places that are comfortable to feed in. It’s not just a question of finding places where people won’t vocally object to breastfeeding; it’s more about locating the shops and cafes that are actively supportive of breastfeeding mums, offering special arrangements for them, as well as other conveniences that any parent would find useful, such as a baby changing room.

Most high-street coffee shops and many department stores are reliably good places to breastfeed these days but do keep your eyes peeled for other places that have ‘Breastfeeding Friendly’ or ‘Breastfeeding welcome’ signs, either official ones provided by breastfeeding charities such as The Breastfeeding Network or the Breastfeeding Welcome Scheme or homemade ones.

Is there anything else I need to be prepared for?

Until you’re a seasoned public feeder, and particularly before you and your baby have a feeding pattern established, it can really help to plan out your trips so that you’re never too far from a feeding-friendly place when you may need one.

It’s not a pleasant experience as a new mum to be clutching your hungry and screaming infant on the high street while trying to rack your brains for somewhere that will pass muster for a feed: take it from us!

If you’ve travelled somewhere by car then, in a pinch, you can always retreat back to the car if you feel you need a bit of privacy.

Once you have a good idea of when your baby will want feeding, it’s far easier to plan ahead a bit and make sure that you’re somewhere suitable for feeding before the hunger wails set in.

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How do I cope if people are rude when I’m breastfeeding in public?

Whether it’s the size of your bump, the amount of clothing your baby’s wearing or how and what you’re feeding, from the moment you’re visibly pregnant there will always be some people ready to treat you as public property and spout their unsolicited opinions on everything you do – or don’t do.

And, if you’re a new mum, then it’s easy to be unnerved, or even angered by this, particularly with all the hormonal upheaval you’re experiencing, but do try not to take any of it personally.

If you think that someone is looking askance at your public feeding, then try to be impervious and stay calm. Keep in mind that breastfeeding is not only best for your baby, but it’s also perfectly natural and there’s nothing remotely inappropriate or illegal about it.

If anyone has a problem with your feeding then it really is their problem, not yours.

Pics: Getty

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