Health & Science

Breastfeeding in public: How to pull it off in comfort

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For the first time in a decade, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated their guidance on breastfeeding — recommending that parents breastfeed or chestfeed (a term used mostly by masculine-presenting transgender or nonbinary folks to describe how they feed their babies) their children for at least their first two years of life, if possible. 

The AAP formerly recommended that babies breastfeed for the first year of their lives. Their new recommendation comes with the caveat that breastfeeding isn’t accessible to every family, specifying that pediatricians should have nonjudgmental conversations with parents about their feeding preferences. 

Parents face feeding challenges

The AAP recognized that there are additional constraints on families that make feeding their babies even more challenging, like the nationwide baby formula shortage, lack of access to paid leave and child care, and lack of public and workplace support for breastfeeding parents. 

Parents who choose to breastfeed may be shamed by others in public, or struggle to find private spaces to feed their children if they don’t feel comfortable doing so in public spaces. Despite the increasing normalization of breastfeeding, a 2019 survey revealed that 1 out of every 4 people think breastfeeding or pumping in public is “inappropriate.” 

Nursing parents in larger bodies face even more scrutiny and shaming than many other folks, with the additional shaming of simply existing in a larger than average body compounding the negative messages they might receive around breastfeeding in public. 

How to respond to rude remarks about breastfeeding

New moms and breastfeeding parents are often faced with constant criticisms and unsolicited advice from family, friends, and strangers. The fact is, however, that babies simply need to eat, and they don’t care where they happen to be or who happens to be in eyeshot when they’re hungry. 

Here are some examples of unwanted remarks breastfeeding parents might hear, and how to respond to them —

  • If you hear, “Can’t you do that in private?”… You can say, “You don’t have to eat in private, so why should my baby?”
  • If you hear, “Eww, no one wants to see that!”… You can say, “Then you should look somewhere else…”
  • If you hear, “That child is too old to breastfeed!”… You can say, “How I feed my kid is between my family and our doctor.”
  • If you hear, “Cover up. That’s gross!”… You can say, “I think judging people for feeding their kids is gross.”
  • If you hear, “Why can’t you do that in the bathroom?”… You can say, “Would you eat your lunch in the public bathroom?”
  • If you hear, “Why don’t you just pump before you leave the house?”… You can say, “This is how my baby eats. If you want to do all the extra dishes and carry around all the extra stuff that pumping requires, be my guest.”

Tips for breastfeeding in public

For parents who choose to breastfeed in public but aren’t totally at ease yet, there are some ways to make the experience more comfortable and empowering —

  • Practice in private. If you’re concerned about being too exposed, you can practice breastfeeding in front of a mirror to get an idea of what other people can see, and adjust your technique accordingly if you feel too uncovered. 
  • Use a sling. Many fabric baby slings and wraps can double as a breastfeeding cover on the go. 
  • Choose your outfit strategically. For example, you can layer a cardigan and a loose-fitting tee over an easy-access bra. This allows you to easily breastfeed while covering up with the cardigan.
  • Know your rights. Breastfeeding in public is legal in all fifty states and Washington, DC. If you’re in a public space and someone tells you you’re not allowed to breastfeed there, let them know you’re aware of the law and are well within your rights. 

And, if you see someone breastfeeding in public, let them know they’re doing a great job! Offering up some unsolicited support during what might be a nerve-wracking moment for a parent can turn their whole day around and give them a much-needed confidence boost.

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.