Breastfeeding in public: Feeling comfortable and knowing your rights

mom learning how to breastfeed

UNICEF Ukraine from Kyiv, Ukraine. Wikimedia Commons. CC license.

One of the most important things with breastfeeding is feeling confident and comfortable especially if you’re going to do it in a public place. In this article I will discuss tools and techniques that can empower you to feel comfortable and confident no matter where you go and the laws that surround breastfeeding.

As I enter my third pregnancy, I think it’s a great time to share bits of wisdom that I’ve learned along the way. One of the most important elements I discovered is that fed children are happy children. And if you’re planning to breastfeed those babies in public, it’s essential that you feel comfortable. There are three tips to help you with comfortable, discreet feeding.

  1. Find a comfy seat, ideally something with back support.
  2. Try to have a something to drink so you can stay hydrated (and keep your supply up).
  3. Implement your chosen coverage method.

Coverage methods

  • Use a nursing cover. This is often the easiest method to build confidence while being as discrete as possible. The only downside is if it’s hot or baby doesn’t want his head covered. strap for nursing tank
  • The double shirt method (my personal favorite). Get a fitted nude, black or white tank. Cut the straps and make a small loop on the front of each side of the tank (see image), then resew the straps on in the new position. That way you can slip the loops over your nursing bra and wear any shirt on top. This provides added discretion no matter where you are.
  • A nursing top or nursing dress. These are specifically made for nursing and being discrete. The top or dress usually has slits or layers that move to allow the breast to be uncovered. The downside to this method is the price; I would say they are well worth the investment, especially if you are planning to have more than one child.
  • Loose fitting clothing or a button-front top. Loose clothing can be lifted to one side and still cover your stomach and chest. A button-front shirt works great too because it allows easy access. Depending on your baby and preference, you can unbutton from the top or bottom. This is the simplest method. If you feel too exposed, you could always wear your prenatal belly band (you know, the one you wore over your pants when they didn’t button anymore) to provide coverage over your stomach.

Also, you can nurse while baby is in a sling or carrier. This gives you mobility and free hands which can be nice on the go. I would recommend the double shirt, loose top, or button-front for this so you don’t feel overexposed. When done right, this is incredibly discreet and you can breastfeed at the park, airport or just about anywhere.

Know your rights

Being an active family that loves to travel, I’ve done my fair share of breastfeeding in public places. It wasn’t until my second child that I was confronted about breastfeeding in public. I felt—as any woman would feel—scared, embarrassed and uncomfortable to be harassed in public for doing something so natural. Knowing what to say and keeping calm can help in this unfortunate situation.

In 2014, Governor Snyder signed the Anti-Discrimination Act, which allows nursing mothers to breastfeed openly in any public place. This includes parks, restaurants, stores, churches, busses, and just about anywhere you can go. Michigan is not the only state with this legislation; all 50 states have similar legislation on the books. Furthermore, breastfeeding is exempt from public indecency laws. The law is on your side. In fact, you could take legal action. The Anti-Discrimination Act gives discriminated mothers the right to file a civil suit and claim up to $200 for damages related to the discrimination in addition to full reimbursement for legal costs incurred from filing.

You need to be prepared for dirty looks or comments. I find a smile is my best tool. If you’re nervous to go out in public, it may help to have a response ready. If you’re in an establishment, you can always ask for a manager to address the harasser. If the management is uninformed and uneducated, you can also ask them to call the local authorities to inform them.

I nursed my first child for a year-and-a-half in Canada, Mexico and coast-to-coast in the United States, and never had an incident of someone confronting me while nursing in public. In fact, the opposite happened. People came up to me everywhere I went (e.g., restaurants, festivals, airports, churches) and told me I was doing a great job nursing in public. I cannot tell you how uplifting this was, especially to a new mother.

Breastfeeding encourages women to engage in child-rearing methods that support healthy attachment and development. Public shaming, humiliation and non-acceptance of breastfeeding in public is unacceptable and illegal. If you see a mother being harassed for feeding her child, you should speak up. Parenting is hard and there is never a bad time for encouragement or to feel a village behind you.

– Stephanie Celaya de la Torre, MSW, is a Beaumont Parenting Program volunteer and past program participant.

2 thoughts on “Breastfeeding in public: Feeling comfortable and knowing your rights

  1. Although I am done having children now, what is the view on pumping in public? My youngest never attached, so I would have to pump. We got a good schedule down and I always tried to be at home to pump, but for others that may not have that option, does it also fall under this law?

    • Hi Katie,

      I don’t believe pumping falls under this law. That would be a gray area. I know several mothers who pump in their car when they are out if they’re not in a place that has a private room with outlets.

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