Even if you feel like a breastfeeding pro at home, breastfeeding in public for the first time can be nerve-wracking. Will people stare? Do you need to cover up? Is there anywhere you’re not allowed to breastfeed? What are your rights if someone asks you to stop?
The most important tip for nursing moms is this: Breastfeeding in public is legal in all 50 states.1 You have the right to feed your baby whenever and wherever you need to, regardless of whether you choose to breastfeed or bottle feed (or both!).
Beyond that, there are a few simple steps you can take to make breastfeeding in public easier for you and your baby.
Here’s what you need to know when you’re nursing on the go.
6 Tips For Breastfeeding in Public
Chances are, you can breeze through your feeding routine at home, where privacy is a non-issue and everything you need is within easy reach.
But it may take time to find your rhythm while breastfeeding in public. These tips can help you feel more at ease.
Practicing at home can help you pin down your technique before you hit the road. Here are a few important details you can iron out ahead of time:
- Are your nursing clothes manageable for you and your baby?
- Do you prefer to cover up with a nursing blanket? Does your baby seem comfortable with a blanket?
- Can you breastfeed while standing or walking, or will you need to find a place to sit?
- Do you need a sling or carrier to help position your baby while feeding on the go?
Practicing in front of a mirror may also help you ease your concerns and make any necessary adjustments.
2. Start in a supportive space.
If you’re nervous about breastfeeding in public, you may not want your first foray to be in a high-stress environment like a packed airplane or crowded grocery store.
Instead, build your confidence by breastfeeding in a more low-key public space — like a friend’s house, a quiet park, or the lactation space at your office.
3. Wear nursing-friendly clothing.
Nursing bras, tops, and dresses can make breastfeeding in public a little less stressful. Designed specifically for breastfeeding moms, they typically feature wraps and flaps to give your baby access to your breast with minimal exposure.
But you don’t need to invest in a whole new nursing wardrobe. Zip-up or button-down tops can also be a convenient option. Or try layering a low-cut tank top under a looser t-shirt or cardigan. Pull the tank top down, move the top layer out of the way, and you’re good to go.
So what shouldn’t you wear while breastfeeding in public? Avoid high-neck dresses, rompers, and jumpsuits, since you’d need to fully disrobe to give your baby access to your breast. If dresses are a wardrobe staple for you, opt for wrap dresses, nursing dresses, or deep-V dresses in soft and stretchy fabrics.
4. Look for lactation spaces.
You may have heard horror stories about moms who got scolded for breastfeeding in public or were told to nurse their baby in a grimy public restroom. Rest assured, you’re not obligated to hide while breastfeeding.
But if you feel more comfortable in a discreet setting, ask if the location has a quiet area for breastfeeding. Many businesses now offer lactation spaces with comfy seating and privacy features so you can feed your baby in a stress-free environment.
5. Talk to fellow moms.
Ask the experienced mamas in your circle to share their best tips for breastfeeding in public. They’ve probably picked up some helpful hacks along the way and can offer recommendations to make your journey easier — everything from the comfiest nursing bras to their favorite breastfeeding-friendly local spots.
6. Practice self-care.
The same steps you take to support successful breastfeeding can also help to make nursing in public go more smoothly. Continue to follow a balanced diet that nourishes both you and your baby, and support your breastfeeding journey with a daily supplement pack formulated specifically for motherhood.
What Are Your Rights While Breastfeeding in Public?
When it comes to breastfeeding in public, the laws are on your side: Breastfeeding in public is legal in all 50 states.
However, only 31 states — along with DC, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands — exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. So it’s important to understand exactly where your state stands, so you know whether you’ll be expected to cover up while nursing.
Your state may also have specific laws about breastfeeding at work. In some states, employers are required to provide breaks throughout the day and a private space for breast pumping at work.
You can learn which breastfeeding laws apply in your state here.
What to Do if You’re Harassed While Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is widely accepted — according to the CDC, more than 83 percent of infants are breastfed at some point2 — yet it’s not uncommon for moms to occasionally get some pushback while breastfeeding in public.
So what should you do if you’re harassed while breastfeeding?
First and foremost, the Office on Women’s Health advises: “Remember that you are meeting your baby's needs. It isn't possible to stay home all the time, and you should (and can) feel free to feed your baby while you are out and about.”3
Here are a few steps you can take if someone makes a rude comment or confronts you:
- Without apologizing, calmly explain that you’re feeding your baby.
- If you’re asked to move to a different location, remember that the decision is up to you. If you’d rather not relocate, explain that you’re comfortable and don’t need a separate space.
- If pressed, remind the person that you have a legal right to breastfeed in public.
- If you’re at a store or restaurant, ask a manager to handle the situation. If they don’t make an effort to resolve it, let other moms in your network know, so they can avoid a similar experience at that establishment.
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Read next—nine breastfeeding tips for new moms, your complete resource guide.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.