COVID-19 Update - Find out more

Breastfeeding in Public

It’s Breastfeeding Week in the middle of what’s been a toasty summer.  We all want to be out and enjoying the weather… not as easy as it sounds when you’ve got a small baby and you’re learning to breastfeed.

So you’ve finally braved that first trip out of the house with your newborn – you’ve remembered all the nappies, changes of clothes and other essentials, but what you can’t easily plan for is when you’ll need to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding works best when you feed regularly and meet the often unpredictable milk needs of your baby.  It’s completely normal for young babies to feed very frequently and for varied lengths of time.  Especially when it’s warm and they need to stay well hydrated too. And so however hard we might want to plan around it, all of us have found ourselves with a frantic baby needing a breastfeed on the go.

I’ve found myself trying to feed in carparks, on street benches, in shopping centres and on trains.  At first I found it an intensely stressful experience – like some hunted animal I would desperately search for a ‘safe’ place; finding myself in changing cubicles, public toilets, or hiding somewhere in a corner.  If I couldn’t hide completely, I’d faff about with enormous breastfeeding covers whilst my overheating and thirsty summer baby sweated underneath.

But then I started noticing just how many mums breastfeed in public.  I’d thought it would feel like some conspicuous, indecent act – that I’d be seen as an eye-sore and that people would stare and judge me.  But in reality it’s so much more normal than we realise.  Yes, there are occasional thoughtless people who say unhelpful things, but most of the reactions I had were overwhelmingly positive and supportive.

So I grew more confident.  I ditched the faffy covers and dark corners, and started feeding confidently wherever I needed to be. By my second baby I found I could even get mobile, feeding my baby while she was in her sling or carrier.  I never quite mastered the carry-my-baby-one-armed-feeding-around-the-supermarket that I’ve seen some awe inspiring mums achieve, but I found ways to make the whole experience much easier for myself and my baby.

How you can make Breastfeeding in Public easier for yourself:

Know your rights

In the UK the Equality Act protects all women from being discriminated against, or treated in any way negatively because she is breastfeeding.  In Scotland it is also an offence to stop anyone from feeding a child under 2 years old milk in a public place, and this includes breastfeeding.  Wherever you are, your right to breastfeed when your baby needs it is protected.

Plan your clothes

You can make unexpected feeds so much easier if you wear clothes that are easy to breastfeed in.  Depending on what works for you, tops that open in the middle or under your bust are great, as are layering looser clothes (e.g. peasant-style or batwing tops) that can be pulled down or to the side for easy breast access.  You don’t want to be trying to half undress if you can avoid it!

As well as clothes, bring any accessories you’re likely to need for inevitable milky leaks or spit-ups – breast pads and muslin cloths are a godsend, though in an emergency I’ve been known to mop big milky spills with a clean nappy, and once even my socks!

Use a Sling or Carrier

Even if you haven’t learned the art of hands free feeding whilst your baby is in their carrier (see our blog post Can I Breastfeed in a Baby Carrier?), a sling can still be a really useful thing to support feeding on the go.  A wrap or ring sling can be easily tied across your body as a sort of hammock to help lift your baby up when you don’t have any cushions, and extra fabric can be used to make everything more discrete for you too.

Drink plenty of water

It goes without saying, but breastfeeding is thirsty work!  Make sure you’ve always got a big bottle of water with you so that you can stay hydrated too.

For loads of excellent independent information about breastfeeding, visit The Breast Feeding Network.

I wish all of you happy breastfeeding experiences; let’s make public breastfeeding so common that no-one thinks twice about it, and don’t be like me trying to make feeding in public more stressful for yourself than it needs to be!

Emily Williamsons signature