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Breastfeeding in public

When your baby wants to be fed, he won’t care if you’re in the privacy of your own home or the middle of a supermarket. Breastfeeding in public can feel daunting if you’ve never done it before but once you’re in the swing of things, it becomes second nature. Being prepared before your first trip out alone with your baby will help you to overcome any nerves.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Sep 22, 2023

Woman breastfeeding a baby in a cafe

How can I get my baby to latch on well in public?

The first time your baby latches on in public can be nerve-racking. You may feel like people are judging your technique or that you have too much flesh on show. It will inevitably be the time your baby decides to have a good look round first, leaving your nipple exposed for all to see.

Try to remember most people aren’t even looking (and if they do catch an eyeful they’re likely to be even more mortified than you are).

I practised getting my boob out and latching my baby discreetly at home first. It soon got easier. I also used a feeding cover to begin with. It helped me in those first few weeks and I soon abandoned it once I got the hang of it.

The following tips could help to make things easier for you:

  • Practise at home. If you don’t want to feel self-conscious then it could be worth practising in front of the mirror and trying out different positions to see what works, but ultimately remember it's only how you feel that matters. The general public will just have to get on with it.

  • If you’re going to use a sling, muslin, breastfeeding cover or feeding cloth for discretion, then it’s worth practising with those, too. Some mums like to use a sling to breastfeed as it can help to support the baby without having to lug a pillow with you. Holding your baby, supporting your breast and trying to maintain a bit of privacy can be a tall order if you’ve not done it before.

  • Try different locations around your home. While it’s often recommended to feed your baby in the same location, this could cause problems if you suddenly start feeding in a strange environment and your baby wants to have a look round. Try out different chairs, ones with and without arms, feeding sitting cross-legged on the floor and anywhere else you can think of. If you’ve always fed in the same chair in the same quiet corner of your home, you’ll feel a bit at sea and your baby will be distracted the first time you do anything differently, so change it up a few times before you brave the big wide world.

  • Practise in front of a friend, relative or support group. It may help to build your confidence if you try feeding in front of a more empathetic audience before you meet an audience of total strangers.

  • Keep your baby’s body facing towards you. This will make latching on easier for your little one and prevents him from turning his head to reveal your breast to an entire cafe – or, worse, staying latched on while suddenly turning his head. Ouch!

  • Take some moral support with you when your first start breastfeeding in public. If it makes you feel more comfortable the first few times and you have a friend or relative who has breastfed their own children, they could act as a good support initially. You could also join a mother and baby group that meets in a local cafe. This can be a good way to get used to breastfeeding in public in the company of other mums who also breastfeed. You might be able to swap a few tips, too.

“I took my mum to a cafe with me. I fed my daughter there while mum distracted me from feeling self conscious.”

What clothes are best for breastfeeding in public?

Woman's torso breastfeeding a baby in a nursing top

Whatever you choose to wear, make sure you are comfortable and that it allows easy access for feeding. There is a now a large range of affordable nursing clothing available on the high street and it can be worth investing in a few pieces if you plan on breastfeeding long term.

You don’t need to buy specific nursing tops to feel comfortable though. You could try wearing a stretchy vest top underneath another top. You can pull the vest top down and your second top up so that your baby can access your breast without revealing your entire mid-section.

Even if you choose not to buy tops designed specifically for nursing, you may still want to invest a some good nursing bras. These will either have a cup that unclips to allow access or be stretchy enough to pull aside. Mumsnetters can offer advice on which bras they found best.

“I think that having the clipped cups enables you to move the cup right out of the way and is more comfortable than trying to squeeze your boob out of a normal bra cup. In the early days when you're both getting the hang of breastfeeding, you need good access to the whole boob.”

“When I was still getting used to breastfeeding my son, I used to tuck a muslin cloth in my bra strap before undoing my top/bra and that would cover me enough to give me confidence.”

Where are the best places to breastfeed when out?

You can breastfeed anywhere, but some places are either better suited to your needs or are specifically breastfeeding-friendly so build up a cache of locations you know are good in your area.

Ask a friend, your midwife or health visitor for tips on where the best local places are to feed. Some places may even have a Breastfeeding Friendly or Breastfeeding Welcome sticker in their window. You could also check the websites for venues in your area.

The strangest place I’ve breastfed is at church while I played the organ!

Many shopping centres and large department stores also have mother and baby rooms where you can sit with other breastfeeding mothers if you feel more comfortable there than feeding in public.

Of course, if you’re not at all shy, feel free to whip a boob out wherever you wish.

Wherever you choose to feed your baby, never feel that you have to do it in a toilet. If you wouldn’t eat your lunch in the loo, why should your baby?

“I did use an apron/cover mainly because I have boobs bigger than my baby’s head and it was just easier. I even fed him in a busy pub in front of my partner’s hairy-assed builder work mates and had an informal business meeting with him latched on.”

“I once fed my baby on a pedalo in the middle of the lake and also when bending over the changing mat at the swimming pool – while I tried to get my pants and skirt on.”

Am I legally protected when breastfeeding in public?

Yes. Breastfeeding sometimes comes with its own problems, but one of them shouldn’t be where to feed your baby. Thanks to the Equality Act 2010, your breastfeeding rights are more protected than ever. In fact, it is now illegal to discriminate against a woman breastfeeding a child of any age across the UK.

This means that you can’t be asked to leave a premises or refused service if you are breastfeeding your child. You are protected on public transport as well as in public places such as cafes, restaurants, theatres, hospitals and cinemas – almost anywhere.

I remember being really nervous for quite some time about feeding in public. The phrase ‘fake it till you make it’ springs to mind. It will get easier and you will feel more comfortable.

Sadly, the law can’t stop people being pillocks and there may be rare occasions where someone objects, stares or is even rude to you. Try to be confident and remind yourself that what you are doing is a natural part of being a mother and this is their issue, not yours. You are making sure that your child is fed. The very people complaining would probably prefer you to feed your child than listen to a crying baby anyway.

Objections and rude people are the exception and not the norm. You’ll probably find that the more relaxed and confident you are, the less likely people are to look.

“I’ve breastfed all of my babies in public with only one nasty comment as far as I can recall. I’ve had countless positive comments though. I think the nicest was when I was sat feeding on a bench in a theme park. A woman came up to say how lovely it was to see someone breastfeeding and asked if she could get me a coffee. A very small gesture that really made me feel more confident!”

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