Feel Confident Breastfeeding in Public

Breastfeeding     by Rita Tarnate     Oct 5, 2020     4 min read

Mother nursing her child outdoors

TL;DR for Busy Parents

  • Women have the legal right to breastfeed in public, anywhere in the world.
  • In the United States, there is increased support for breastfeeding mothers who travel by air.
  • Gradually work your way up to breastfeeding in public.
  • If someone criticizes you, stay calm, focus on nourishing your child, and take note of anything you may need to report.
  • Breastfeeding groups are a great resource for additional support and advice.

Those who understand the benefits of breastfeeding show their support in different ways. In some countries, breastfeeding is so ingrained in the culture that people don’t even think twice about it. Others have enacted laws to promote and normalize it.

Brazil and Norway, for example, ban formula advertisements, while the United Arab Emirates takes a different approach. Their law requires all mothers to breastfeed until their child turns two, and provides a wetnurse if health issues prevent them from nursing.

Despite the global push to improve breastfeeding rates, breastfeeding in public is still controversial. But as the number of working women and traveling families increases, so does the extent to which the breastfeeding experience goes beyond the home.

Ultimately, the decision to breastfeed, either in private or in public, is a personal one. While many factors go into that decision, social constraints shouldn’t be one of them. If you choose to breastfeed in public, take pride in knowing that you’re helping to improve our culture and normalize breastfeeding.

Moms and babies can’t stay at home forever. Luckily, there are laws to support you and ways to confidently meet your breastfeeding goals while you’re away.

Breastfeeding Laws

Across the world, women have the right to breastfeed in public. The act of breastfeeding constitutes both nursing and pumping.

United States federal law permits breastfeeding on all federal property and protects a woman’s right to pump at work. All 50 states allow a woman to breastfeed in any public or private location she’s legally allowed to be but, the laws vary by state. Check the laws of your home state and other states you may be visiting for exact details.

You’ll also want to research your destination country when traveling internationally, so you know what to expect. While breastfeeding may be legal, there may be cultural and religious views to be aware of.

Breastfeeding While Flying

The skies are becoming friendlier for breastfeeding mothers. Breast milk is allowed in carry-on and check-in bags, and the Friendly Airports for Mothers (FAM) Act provides even more support.

The act, passed in October 2018, requires that medium to large airports provide a private lactation space in every terminal. The lockable space cannot be a bathroom, must be ADA-compliant, and have sanitizing options such as a sink. Other requirements are a flat surface and an electrical outlet.

When it comes to the flight, policies vary, so be sure to check with your airline carrier ahead of travel. Accommodations may include warming a bottle, providing ice to keep your breast milk cold, or moving passengers uncomfortable with breastfeeding to another seat.

Nursing in the air can be very convenient, but pumping is another story. While it’s ideal to express milk before boarding, things happen, and travel doesn’t always perfectly align with your pumping schedule.

You still have some in-flight options. Wearable pumps or milk catchers are subtle and give you the convenience of staying in your seat. If you need to pump in the lavatory, inform the flight attendant so they’re aware you may be occupying it for a while.

Practice Makes Perfect

Nothing will compare to the comfort of home, but there will be times your breastfeeding schedule will coincide with when you’re out. The more comfortable you are with your breastfeeding routine, the more confident you’ll be when you need to nurse or pump in public.

Keep it simple. When nursing in public, less is more. Get comfortable nursing without a boppy or other items that aren’t practical outside the home.

Know what works for both you and your baby. A good latch takes practice. The early weeks at home is a great time for you and your baby to find your rhythm. Experiment with different positions and techniques, and pretty soon, it’ll feel like second nature.

Take cover. Having a nursing cover to maintain your privacy may make you more comfortable. Some babies get easily distracted and may benefit from one, while others absolutely hate being covered. You can try specialized nursing covers or simply repurpose a swaddle. Bonus: breathable muslin swaddles are well-ventilated and minimize overheating.

Dress for success. Today’s maternity wear is a huge improvement from what our moms had. From wrap sweaters to dresses and tops with secret openings, there are tons of options that make breastfeeding easier and keeps you looking chic.

Mirror, mirror. If you’re concerned about what others may see, try nursing in front of a mirror or ask someone to check your positioning and make adjustments until you feel comfortable.

Baby steps. Start small and build up your confidence. Once your home routine feels solid, try nursing in a quiet spot in the park. From there, move up to more crowded areas until you’re comfortable nursing in a restaurant or on an upcoming flight.

No One Else Matters

Chances are, you’ll be so confident in your breastfeeding routine that when you nurse in public, no one will even notice.

In the unfortunate event that you’re ever confronted or harassed, try to stay calm and avoid escalation. Your child’s needs and safety come first. You don’t have to address someone who criticizes you. Should you choose to respond, be polite, and try to engage in constructive conversation around breastfeeding rights. Empathy goes a long way towards persuasion.

If an establishment is violating your rights, make a note of the parties involved, and any additional details. You can file an in-person complaint with a supervisor or submit a complaint to customer relations at a later time.

Support Systems

Raising a child truly takes a village. Find your tribe and lean on them for extra tips on nursing in public or advice on how to handle a difficult situation.

Whether it’s family, friends, or a local breastfeeding group, having a strong support system will boost your confidence. The more positive experiences we have, the farther we’ll go towards normalizing a natural necessity.

What’s been your experience breastfeeding in public? Share your story in the comments.

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