If you breastfeed, it seems like it would be super simple to leave the house. No bottles, no formula, just put the baby to the boob and let them get it straight from the tap! But I know that paranoid feeling of “But what if they get hungry and I have to feed them… what if someone sees?!” Let me give you some tips for nursing in public comfortably and confidently.
I’ll tell you first of all that nursing in public, or NIP, isn’t really the same thing as being conservative. I have never worn skimpy bikinis in public, don’t wear low-cut shirts nor miniskirts nor act promiscuous. NIP is not about showing skin, it’s just feeding my baby. Don’t let society’s perverted way of looking at breasts (or the female body in general) be the reason you don’t feed your baby in public.
Secondly, you can always run to the car or bring a bottle of pumped milk; there are downsides to both of course. The best way to maintain milk supply is to nurse baby on demand; pumping is a burden and an inconvenience. I always felt, when I was locked away in a small space pumping or nursing, that I was having to hide because I was doing something shameful. Breastfeeding and pumping are nothing to be ashamed of! (Hell, formula feeding isn’t, either.) You’re just feeding your kid.
I repeat: You are not doing anything wrong or illegal.
Breastfeeding and pumping are nothing to be ashamed of! When we hide, we’re telling society that what we are doing is shameful. You can be discrete and polite and still nurse your child in public.
If you’re afraid of what other people might say, and you’re scared of confrontation, I totally understand. That’s a crappy feeling, but it’s justified. I can tell you to know your rights and be ready to explain them to someone. However, in 3.5 years of nursing kids in public places: I’ve been complimented once, smiled at about 1,000 times, and have never had a negative reaction from someone.
So look: if you want to try nursing in public, you just don’t know where to start or you’re a little nervous, then you’re exactly who needs to read this!
When you know that you’ll be going out in public with a breastfed baby, plan ahead. Wear clothes which are comfortable and easy to situate one-handed for nursing. I’m a big fan of the two shirt method, which I’ll explain in a minute. Don’t wear outfits which will cause you to struggle when it’s time to nurse. Just plan ahead on what will be comfortable. And keep in mind when your baby might want to eat next.
Be Comfortably Dressed
The best way to nurse in public is to be comfortable. When you relax, you can get your baby latched quickly. It’s that minute of exposed boob + waiting for the baby to latch on which causes anxiety (and shows the most skin). So make sure you can see what you’re doing, get easy access to the breast, and comfortably hold your child. That means it’s probably not best to be in a booth or in a bathroom stall (besides… ew).
And I’ll say again: nursing in public is not being promiscuous, nor is it being liberal. You can be a conservative person and nurse in public. You’re not showing skin with the intent to cause someone else to sin, or to get a shock factor. You’re just feeding your baby, and your baby’s needs should honestly be more important to you than what a stranger thinks of you.
My Favorite: The Two Shirt Method
The easiest, best, most conservative way to nurse in public is to wear two shirts. Here’s how I do it:
- Wear a nursing cami which has the clip to nurse from one side. My full review of various brands (with photos) is here.
- Wear a regular shirt over that – if you want to be the most discrete, don’t wear a button-up shirt or cardigan which is open in the front. This shirt will be lifted up. (And to be as discrete as possible, make both shirts the same color. Then people can’t even tell that one shirt is lifted!)
- When it’s time to nurse, the outer shirt goes up and the nursing cami gets clipped down, making a “peekaboob” if you will. (If that term takes off and becomes famous, you heard it here first.)
The only thing which will be seen is your breast in the split second you lift Baby’s head up to your breast. Once they’re in place (even if they’re not latched yet), their head is covering up your breast. And your stomach, back, and upper breast remain covered the whole time. So don’t even rush the latch: you see more skin people-watching at the mall, anyway.
Practice In Front of a Mirror
I bet if you can see yourself pretending to latch your baby in front of a mirror, you’d be amazed at how little skin you’re really showing in the first place. Someone would have to be positioned right over your shoulder, or with their face in your chest (ahem) to really get a good look at what’s going on. Plus, remember that once the baby is latched on, you can’t see anything, as Baby’s head is in the way. Nursing in public doesn’t have to be a “bare all” experience if you’re not comfortable with that.
Babywearing While Nursing
Another great trick when you’re out is to simply nurse your baby in a carrier. (If you’re not already babywearing, here’s my list of why it’s amazing!) Your baby is upright and against you, and you are hands free. I’ve nursed in both my Baby K’tan with my young baby, and in the Ergo when they’ve been older.
Again, unless someone is really staring at you, they probably have no idea what’s even going on in there! I’ve had full conversations in line at Target with people who had no idea. But then I tell them when they ask if Baby is asleep, just to help normalize breastfeeding in public. Nursing in public is not weird until someone makes it weird.
Know Your Rights
If you’re legally allowed to be sitting or standing somewhere, you’re legally allowed to be breastfeeding or pumping there. It’s reassuring to know what your rights are in case someone tries to challenge you; after all, everyone deserves to be educated on the truth.
To learn about the rights you have in your state, check the National Conference of State Legislatures here. And you can read more about the laws, harassment, and enforcement on Breastfeeding Law. Note that neither of these sites have any of my original content, but they are resources which I trust and recommend to any nursing mother.
I have not met someone in person who’s been harassed about breastfeeding in a public place; however, most of us breastfeeding mamas have heard at least one horror story about a mom nursing in public. A crazy guy in Target, an uninformed employee at the gym, an old lady at the pool.
Do you know what you would say and/or do if you were in that situation? Are you armed with facts and a response in case this happens to you? I admit that I overprepared and was almost challenging people (in my mind) to just dare say something to me. Say it to my face, damnit! Bring it on! Fortunately, that’s never happened. But the more informed you are about NIP laws, and breastfeeding benefits in general, the more likely you are to have an enlightening experience with someone else.