5 DOs and DON’Ts of nursing in public

The author and her firstborn at L.A.R.K. Toys in Kellogg, Minnesota.

Nursing in public is such a hot topic, and one surefire way to bring a lot of hits to your website and invite a lot of conversation about how and where babies eat is to publish a list of the DOs and DON’Ts of breastfeeding in locations where other human beings beside your nursling may be. Here is my contribution to the debate.

1. DO nurse however and wherever you feel comfortable.

Do you like to use a cover? Then use one. Do you feel comfortable popping a breast out of the top of your dress to nurse? Do that! Do you need a comfortable chair, or is sitting on the floor fine? Do you want to seek out a mother’s room or go back to your car for a feeding because your baby is distractible? Do whatever works for you and your baby. Don’t feel the need to hide for other people’s comfort.

2. DON’T breastfeed in a bathroom.

Unless, of course, this is where you are most comfortable, avoid moving to the bathroom to breastfeed. Bathrooms are for taking care of much different, although related, bodily functions, and sitting on a toilet is probably not comfortable and may be stressful.

3. DO stand your ground if asked to nurse in another location or cover up while breastfeeding.

Almost every state has a law on the books that specifically allows mothers to breastfeed in public. You can trot out this information if anyone gives you any grief. You can print up the statute relevant to your state on some business cards to hand out if you feel you need some backup, or, heck, just pull up a link on your smartphone and let whoever’s asking you to cover up (or leave) to read for him- or herself. Be polite about it, of course, but letting them know that it’s your legal right will not only help you, but possibly help other moms in the future.

4. DON’T be intimidated.

Project confidence. Gaze sweetly at your baby, or smile at passers-by. Talk with your companions, eat your food, or keep shopping. Demonstrate with your posture and attitude that you are doing one of the most natural things in the world, not something shameful. Remember, your right to breastfeed—and your baby’s right to be breastfed—is protected by law, and no store policy or manager’s whims override that.

5. DO remember that you are doing what is best for your baby, for yourself, and even other families.

Breastfeeding provides your baby with food, comfort, and the opportunity to connect with mama. It’s soothing and familiar, and especially when you’re in public and being exposed to a wide variety of germs, is protective. Moms benefit, too, from those beautiful hormones that are released that relieve stress and emptied breasts mean robust milk production and avoiding plugged ducts and mastitis. (And those are just the immediate, short-term benefits!) Nursing in public helps get breastfeeding out into the public sphere; it is an activity that nurtures our little ones, and not something that needs to be covered and hidden away. When we breastfeed in public, we’re not only feeding our little ones and emptying our breasts, but showing the moms and dads of the future how it’s done. One of the best ways to encourage breastfeeding is simply to do it yourself.