How I Gained the Confidence to Breastfeed in Public
I had never seen anyone breastfeed, much less breastfeed in public, until I was in my 20s. When I was growing up, it was something done privately, behind closed doors. Sadly, I only knew breasts as something to be sexualized.
I will never forget the first time that a friend breastfed her baby in front of me without a cover while at a large dinner party. She was relaxed and confident. Initially, it gave me a weird tinge of awkwardness to witness something so intimate. But I immediately questioned why it made me uncomfortable. Ultimately, that moment planted the seed of curiosity about breastfeeding and led me to join the army of women normalizing breastfeeding in public spaces.
My first true education in breastfeeding was reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding when I got pregnant with our first baby. It convinced me that I wanted to do all I could to breastfeed our baby on demand in that first year, which meant I had to tackle the challenge of breastfeeding in public.
I wish I could be like a few of my friends who don’t give breastfeeding in public a second thought right from the start. It comes easy to them, but that just isn’t me. And that is okay. I knew for me, it would be a work in progress.
As I researched how to breastfeed in public, a lot of articles said to just go hide and do it in the bathroom, the car, or some other private space. While as breastfeeding mothers we should absolutely do whatever makes us the most comfortable, I hated the thought of constantly having to duck out on meals, good conversations, and experiences to go feed my baby for 30 minutes (or more). So, I decided I would take the plunge, breastfeed in open public spaces, and figure it out as I went.
Be Prepared for People to Occasionally Judge
According to the CDC, in a survey taken in 2018, only 68% of the public agree women should have the right to breastfeed in public places. While some might find this statistic encouraging because the majority of people are okay with it, I find it discouraging. To me, this means that in any given public space, someone is probably judging me.
I am happy to report that in my experience, the majority of the time people did not stare, openly express judgment, or make me feel uncomfortable. I blended right in. But, unfortunately, you will inevitably encounter the person who creepily stares or the person who gives you a dirty look like you are offending them with your “immodesty” or the person who simply has never seen anyone breastfeed before and just can’t seem to look away.
Somehow just expecting this would occasionally happen helped me to stay calm and confident because I wasn’t caught off guard. Do I accept it? No. We should not have to face judgment, but we do.
The first few times I breastfed in public, I made sure I was with my husband, a trusted friend, or a family member. That alone helped to empower me. The mantra I repeated while breastfeeding in public was “It is not my job to make other people feel comfortable. My job is to feed and love my baby.”
To Cover Up or Not to Cover-Up?
Sometimes I felt compelled to be that mom who doesn’t feel the need to cover up and chooses to breastfeed freely. It’s the way my baby and I preferred to nurse. But at the end of the day, your comfort level is important, and you should pick the method that works best for you.
At first, I opted to have a full breastfeeding cover. But a few months in, I found I was very comfortable using a nursing shirt that provided some coverage, or nursing with my baby in a sling (ring style slings are my favorite option for this).
Remember, You are Helping Other Mothers
It always helped me to remember that I was normalizing breastfeeding in public for other mothers and future mothers. When I was intimidated, I would imagine there was another woman in the room who needed to see us and would be encouraged to do the same one day. After all, I would have never found the confidence or desire to breastfeed if I hadn’t seen other moms do it.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding reminds us that “we learn best by watching other mothers nurse, so by modeling successful breastfeeding, you may be teaching someone you never even noticed how to breastfeed confidently.” As mothers, we are all on this crazy breastfeeding journey together.
It Does Get Easier
I still remember the day I was walking down a busy street breastfeeding my daughter in a sling while on a shopping trip with my sisters. It felt second nature and I didn’t give a single thought to who might be watching. And this was the exact day. The day I knew I had found my confidence as a breastfeeding mom. I felt no anxiety and truly did not care who was staring or judging. I was celebrating my ability to feed my baby, while also enjoying a much-needed girl’s day out.
Here’s to breastfeeding our babies where, how, and when we choose.