You survived childbirth and learning the art of Baby’s successful latch, but there’s another frontier to face: nursing in public. “Breastfed babies, especially newborns, nurse frequently,” says Holly Robinson, a registered nurse and international board-certified lactation consultant. “No matter how well you plan, eventually you are going to find yourself out of the house with a hungry baby, so it’s important to be prepared.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of Baby’s life and continued breastfeeding — along with the introduction of solids — for one year or longer. With all of this breastfeeding going on, you WILL learn how to nurse Baby in public with confidence and ease!

Practice Makes Perfect

To boost your confidence, practice breastfeeding in front of a mirror so you can catch a glimpse of what others will (and will not) be able to see.

Before venturing out of the house for the first time with your infant, consider attending a local breastfeeding support group or grabbing coffee with a supportive friend who has or who is breastfeeding.

    “I started small — going to the same coffee shop every day — for practice,” says breastfeeding mom Rhianna Mathias. “It was a shop I’d patronized a lot before Baby, so I was familiar with the staff and felt comfortable there. Nursing in a group setting (as in a mom’s group in the early days) was also a comfortable place to practice and gain confidence,” she adds.

Find Your Comfort Zone

Some mothers feel totally at ease lifting their shirts to nourish their newborns, no matter where they may be. Others prefer a bit more privacy. No matter what your personal preference, be prepared when you head out in public and scope out the setting as soon as you arrive. Look for a comfortable chair or bench where you'll be able to sit and nurse when Baby gets hungry.

If you're dining out and prefer to breastfeed discreetly, ask for a corner booth or table so you can sit with your back to other patrons. Many shopping centers and museums also offer private nursing stations as a courtesy to breastfeeding mothers.

“I found that corners were my friends because I could simply turn a bit to get her started,” says Melissa McAlpine of her experience nursing her daughter in public. “After the baby is latched on, there’s not really anything to see, so I could swivel back.”  

Dress for Success

The right clothes and accessories make all the difference when you’re out in public and Baby decides it's time to eat. Wear a stretchy sports bra that can be pulled aside as needed, or learn how to unhook and lower the cups of your nursing bra with one hand.

Many breastfeeding moms like to pair a specially designed nursing tank top with a cardigan or loose blouse, since the top can be lifted up while the tank still covers your middle (where many of us have stretch marks we prefer to keep hidden). Other mothers prefer to simply undo a few top buttons. A fussy baby is what draws attention, so wear clothes that make it easy to get baby latched on quickly.

A few key accessories can also make nursing in public easier. Learn to nurse while carrying Baby in a sling or infant carrier. Try wearing a fashionable scarf or poncho that can double as a cover when Baby is breastfeeding. Mom of two Melody Meiners is a fan of nursing covers, specifically the kind that have weights in one side or that tie around your neck and tent up. “It makes switching sides so much easier if you prefer to keep a cover over you,” she says.

Know Your Rights

Keep in mind, when it comes to nursing in public, the law is on your side. Tennessee supports and protects breastfeeding families.

TENNESSEE LAWS:

  • A mother may breastfeed in any public or private place she is authorized to be.
  • Breastfeeding shall not be considered public indecency or nudity, obscene or sexual conduct.
  • Local governments shall not prohibit breastfeeding in public by local ordinance.
  • Employers must accommodate breastfeeding mothers at work.

Also be aware that, sensationalized news stories aside, most people genuinely support your right to nurse in public, and mothers do it every day.

“I never had any rude comments, in 10 years of nursing, only supportive ones,” says breastfeeding veteran and mom of four Jennifer Heffern.

Martine Samocha, who also breastfed four children, adds, “Even though you think everyone is watching you, you're mostly being ignored.”

Remember, You're Not Alone

If you feel nervous about breastfeeding your baby in public, you're not alone.

“The first few times can seem uncomfortable,” admits mom of two Tammie Egloff, “but it gets easier.” You will gain confidence gradually, so in the early days and weeks, smile politely at passers-by and rest assured that the more you nurse in public, the less self-conscious you will become.

“Eventually,” says Robinson, “you will appreciate the freedom that comes with knowing that, no matter where you are, you always have the perfect food ready to feed your baby.”

Learn more about what Baby gets when he nurses in The Science of Breast Milk.