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Breastfeeding in public: top tips

Being able to feed when out and about is important to successful breastfeeding, so how can you make it easier on yourself?

Posted: 22 July 2008
by Maria Muennich

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. 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.

The right clothes
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, so if you're unsure then have a read of our nursing bra buyer's guide.

Several companies offer specially-designed and clever feeding tops and dresses, for example, specialists such as Mothercare and JoJo Maman Bebe and even fashion houses like H&M. But you don't necessarily need special feeding tops: You may already have 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.

Shirts can work in combination with a vest, tanktop or jumper but we personally find the unbuttoning 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 simply feed your baby under, though this really only works with younger babies.

Ease yourself in
One way to build up your confidence is to start out by feeding in public with other mums before going solo. A get-together with your ante-natal group is ideal for this, particularly if you know that other mums are breastfeeding. In the beginning you may also feel more comfortable with the company of someone else who boosts your confidence, like your mum, partner or a friend.

Know your rights
If you're a breastfeeding mum based in Scotland then you're in luck - your right to breastfeed in public has already been enshrined in law for over a year and many Scottish mums say that the new law has already made them feel more comfortable about feeding when out and about.

There's an ongoing campaign to have a similar law introduced in the rest of the UK, but until then it is possible that you may be asked not to breastfeed in some restaurants, cafes, shops and other public places. Last year the NCT awarded fast-food chain McDonalds a 'Booby Prize' for appalling treatment of breastfeeding mums after many members complained that they had been asked to stop breastfeeding or to use the loos to feed their babies. If you ask about the company policy on breastfeeding you might find that whoever has asked you to stop feeding doesn't even know what that policy is. However, there generally isn't all that much that you can do about this beyond pointing out that your breastfeeding is legal, natural, discreet and best for your baby: Vote with your feet and spread the word to other mums too.

Recognising feeding-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. Other mums offer a wealth of information when it comes to finding places that are comfortable to feed in. It's not just a question of places which don't vocally object to breastfeeding, many shops and cafes are actively supportive of breastfeeding mums, offering special arrangements for them, as well as other conveniences that any parent will find useful, such as a baby changing room.

The NCT's 'Booby awards' had high praise for Starbucks, Pizza Express Debenhams, John Lewis and Ikea. Of course those awards recognise large chains rather than your local independent cafes or shops which may be very breastfeeding-friendly. We find most of the high street coffee shop chains and many department stores to be fairly comfortable for feeding, but do ask other breastfeeding mums for their location tips, and keep your eyes peeled when you're out an about for other mums feeding - the best places will often have a few mums sitting together.

Plan your route
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 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.

Develop a thicker skin
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 treat you as public property and spout their unsolicited opinions on everything you do - or don't do. 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 as 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 about it: If anyone has a problem with your feeding then it really is their problem, not yours.

And if you've got other tips for making public feeding as headache-free as possible, and particularly specific location recommendations, then do chip in on the forum!

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Those are our starter ideas, I'm sure you've all got plenty more though, so let's have them!

Posted: 28/02/2007 at 08:09

I breast fed in public, I did not care, my daughter was crying & hungry. Once I had to feed her in Macdonalds, these teenage girls started making comments. I normally quite person who does not stand up to myself. I said to them "do you have a problem with me feeding my baby or would you rather I let her cry" which sharp shut them up. Anyway my daughters are 4 & 2 now so don`t have those problems at the moment ,but we are trying for baby number 3.

Posted: 28/02/2007 at 22:48

Don't forget that Mothercare stores have dedicated babyfeeding rooms. Not as pleasant as going to a cafe, but I have used them sometimes when I couldn't find anywhere else suitable.

Coffee shops such as Cafe Nero etc are good because they often have armchairs which are more comfortable and private to feed your baby on than a normal dining chair.

I always used to take a spare muslin out with me, and if I was feeling a bit exposed I would use it to make sure we were all covered up.

Similarly to some of the clothing tips given above, I found a cardigan useful as I could keep it buttoned up over my tummy whilst lifting up my t-shirt to feed my baby. Wrap-over tops with a vest underneath work in a similar way.

Its unfortunate that many shopping centres combine the baby feeding and changing room, and then don't empty the nappy bins very regularly, and its not a very pleasant environment to sit and feed your baby in for half an hour or so, with the smell of dirty nappies wafting around!

I think its awful that people expect mums to breastfeed babies in public toilets! They wouldn't sit and eat their dinner in the toilet, would they?

Posted: 05/03/2007 at 15:55

I walked into town carrying my baby daughter whilst feeding her a couple of days ago. Rather that than let a 2 week old baby scream with hunger!

I do not know if anyone noticed and I do not care!

I think i was being discreet, but you know what i find it more offensive that I see people smoking dope, drinking high strength beer and so on in the street, which will be my answer if anyone does object.

i went to a la Leche League meeting and the people there told me of places which are 'breastfeeding friendly' so i feel better knowing that.

Posted: 20/10/2008 at 16:56

I never really thought about the place I was feeding my baby in, if he was hungry I just fed him. I remember a friend mentioning feeding her little girl in our local Debenhams 'feeding area' (also the nappy changing facility as someone else mentioned they generally are) I remarked that I hadn't even thought about there being a feeding area when I was there I just got my boob out in the restaurant.

My local town is very good and when I first had my little boy the mw bought around a list of shops where they were bf friendly, which was most of them!

I never got comments from anyone about feeding in public and never noticed anyone staring at me also. I think most people don't mind as long as you are discreet, which I always aimed to be anyway as I didn't want to show my boobs off to everyone

Posted: 20/10/2008 at 20:00

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