Breastfeeding in Public: Eliminating the Stigma + Tips for Avoiding Uncomfortable Moments

Without fail, every year around the holidays, we hear news of discrimination against breastfeeding in public.  Whether it is a major retailer or restaurant that asks a mother to leave or cover up, or harassments from an unknowledgeable public, it will inevitably happen again this year.  Why the ignorance?  Why the obsession with how someone else nurtures their baby?  Why the intolerance?

We may never know the answer to those questions but the truth is, breastfeeding in public is not against the law in any U.S. state so you cannot get into legal trouble for doing it.  In fact, it is one of the most natural things a mother can do for her baby.  But still, many moms face criticism, ostracism and are made to feel uncomfortable.

Breastfeeding in PublicAs more people learn about the benefits of breastfeeding, our society will hopefully become more tolerant.  Global and national educational initiatives such as World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month are designed not only to assist mothers in getting more information about feeding their children, but also to enlighten the public and inspire acceptance.  You, too can play a part by spreading the word about the positive effects of breastfeeding.

If breastfeeding in public is not part of your daily routine, you may be reluctant to do it.  But when your baby is hungry and you’re out-and-about with your family during the holidays, necessity may require a feeding in public.  Obviously exposing yourself publicly is not a common practice, but when your breasts are a source of food for your baby, it may be impossible to avoid.  Remind yourself of just that: your breasts are a source of nutrients for your baby, the best source in fact.  It may help alleviate some of the embarrassment.

You can always bring a nursing cover or find a private lounge to breastfeed, whenever possible.  Dress for simple nursing by wearing easy-to-lift or button-down tops, many of which can act as a cover-up as well.  A nursing bra or nursing cami always comes in handy, too!  Many people find that bringing a friend along, perhaps an experienced mom, can boost their confidence.  Chat and make eye contact while nursing to draw attention away from the feeding.  Chances are, most people won’t even notice what you are doing.

If you do get some unwelcome comments, make a choice to be the bigger person.  Ignore them, smile or caress your baby instead.  And if you are asked to leave an establishment, look into informing corporate headquarters.  As in most cases when breastfeeding moms are harassed, companies and the media side with the mother.  It’s important for companies to know what is happening at a local level so they can correct it and help inform their employees to support moms and babies.

On the flip side, if people smile at you or give you encouragement, thank them for their kindness.  Moms and breastfeeding advocates should support one another on their mission for healthy babies, healthy mommies and healthy families.

Happy holidays and happy breastfeeding!