Alexiyah Coughlin, BSN, RN, IBCLC
Feeding your baby doesn’t stop for errands, family events, or even walks in the park. It’s a full-time, around-the-clock job. Many moms ask: how do I go about pumping or breastfeeding in public? My answer is always this: families should never feel guilty or embarrassed about feeding their babies. Ever. Unfortunately, I am up against a pretty big battle as a lactation consultant. Our culture has formulated a false sense of “inappropriateness” toward feeding in public that has progressed over many decades. Over time, shielding moms has become so normal that you may receive breastfeeding covers at your baby shower, even if you don’t ask for them. So, it’s not surprising that I have moms reach out and ask for permission to breastfeed in public. Luckily, in the last several years, there has been a lot of advocacy toward normalizing breastfeeding and welcoming chest/breastfeeding parents to feed their baby whenever, wherever, and however they are comfortable. From a progressive lactation consultant to all of you breastfeeding families: here are some breastfeeding in public tips.
Breastfeeding in public
Nursing your baby is the equivalent of offering a baby a bottle: feeding. Babies are frequently fed during the stage of infancy. Because of our culture, breastfeeding in public can be a cause of anxiety for breastfeeding moms. This issue has even caused some moms to feel like they either can’t go out in public until their baby is going for longer stretches or need to leave the baby home with a family member and pumped milk. For some, this is just their preference, and that’s certainly okay. But for many, they’d really like to be out and about with their baby, but feel like they can’t. That’s a really big problem.
If you’re one of those moms who wants to go out with your baby, but you’re experiencing guilt or nervousness about feeding in public, you’re not alone! Talk to other moms about how they are breastfeeding in public. Start out with a familiar place. Maybe it’s the coffee shop you’ve always gone to, or a park in your neighborhood. It’s often easier to start in a place that is likely to be filled with familiar faces that are more likely to support you. Ease into it as you build confidence. Eventually it won’t seem so intimidating.
Breastfeeding outside can be even more nerve wracking. I think that’s because we take away 4 walls, and somehow that seems a little scarier. Just like breastfeeding anywhere else in public, try to ease into it. Start at a park under a pavilion or on a bench at the park you always go to. Pretty soon, you’ll feel comfortable breastfeeding outside. Aside from your feelings, breastfeeding outside can be challenging. You might be in an area where there isn’t a place to sit. Sometimes, breastfeeding outside is easier with a wrap or baby carrier. I’ve even seen a mom hiking while breastfeeding her baby in a carrier! While it can be less convenient, you’ll thank yourself for developing a routine for breastfeeding outside.
Pumping in public
Much like breastfeeding in public, pumping in public is a similar issue. Whether you are a mom who likes to run errands by yourself, or you’re simply away from your baby for something like a business trip, pumping in public is likely to be a big part of your breastfeeding journey. Ask yourself: how many times have you seen someone pumping in public? The answer is probably zero or not many! That’s because the majority of moms choose to pump in their car or in a dirty public bathroom. You shouldn’t have to!
I’m here to give you permission: PUMP! Wherever, whenever, and however you need to. Sit in a cozy chair in the lobby of a boutique, or on a bench in your grocery store, or at the table in a restaurant on date night with your spouse. Better yet-ask the waiter for ice to cool your milk until you get home. As a society, we support formula-fed families by offering them warm water to heat up a bottle. We can and should support pumping moms. Just like breastfeeding in public, if you’re nervous of the idea of pumping in public, start with a familiar place and build up your confidence. I promise – you won’t miss fumbling in your car or in that Target bathroom stall.
By the way, one way that pumping in public has become easier is the availability of wearable collection cups. Rumble Tuff is proud to offer Go Cups: our collection cups that hold up to 8 oz of milk each. These are low-profile and can be used discreetly with a portable pump. If you’re a Rumble Tuff user, our Go Cups are compatible with your pump. If you have a different brand of pump, it’s likely that they will still work for you. If you have questions about pump compatibility with Go Cups, send us a message or schedule an appointment with one of our IBCLCs below.
While many companies are marketing wearable pumps, many IBCLCs will encourage you to have a traditional pump with regular flanges, as they are more effective in milk removal and building a supply. Collection cups are a good way to utilize your pump however you need to, without having to invest in a whole separate pump. Check out Rumble Tuff’s hands free Go-Cups by clicking on the link below.
Pumping and Breastfeeding in public without a cover
Okay, so you’re considering taking my word for it. You plan to try breastfeeding or pumping in public. The next thing you want to know is whether or not you should cover yourself. Breastfeeding in public without a cover can be extra scary, but I’m here to tell you that you might be surprised how many people will actually offer you a smile. I think we are turning a corner in changing the culture to normalize breastfeeding. With that, comes more people who understand that their outing may include witnessing a mom breastfeeding in public without a cover.
Covers can be an added step to feeding your baby. They are another thing you have to remember to bring along, and they’re sometimes bulky, taking up lots of space in your diaper bag. They fall down, they get in the way, and they’re inconvenient. If you’ve decided you’d rather not use a cover, don’t use a cover! Breastfeeding in public without a cover is normal and 100% acceptable. If you haven’t already, give it a try.
Use that cover, if that’s what makes you comfortable
For those of you who love your cover, there is no one saying you can’t use one. In fact, I would encourage you to do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable with breastfeeding in public. Sometimes, this is a tool I recommend for a parent who is really nervous about feeding in public. It can be a tool that you can use while you’re building confidence. Eventually, you may feel comfortable with ditching your cover, and that’s great. If you’re someone who always uses a cover, that’s more than okay too. You should feel comfortable, confident, and equipped with any tools you need to feed your baby anywhere you need to.
What about toddlers?
Another cultural nuance adds to the dynamic of breastfeeding in public: toddlers. You may be comfortably nursing your infant at the local Costco, but when it comes to your toddler, you’re not so sure. And you’ve been conditioned to feel this way. Nursing an older child can bring you backlash from people who don’t understand. If it makes you feel any better, there is an army of lactation consultants and breastfeeding parents fighting against this perception, but it’s going to take time to really make the progress we need to.
Here’s the deal: breastfeeding your toddler is really no different than breastfeeding your infant. It’s up to you to develop a comfort level with nursing a toddler in public. Sometimes, moms set boundaries with toddlers, only nursing them at home. If that’s you and that works for you and your child, that’s totally okay. Toddlers are different from infants in that they are already eating a full solid diet and can be offered other snacks throughout the day. If you’re a mom who wants to feed your toddler in public, go for it! Know that you’re backed by so many others who are fighting for less stigma against breastfeeding older children.
Breastfeeding in public tips and troubleshooting:
Choosing to visit supportive locations
If you’ve faced any reservations about feeding your baby in public, or if you’ve ever had a bad experience, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it’s a relief to find a supportive crowd. Many businesses are offering designated areas for breastfeeding or pumping. Some may say that that defeats the purpose of trying to empower moms to truly breastfeed in public, I actually appreciate the gesture.
As a mom who has breastfed two babies, even though I am comfortable feeding in public, a special room with amenities is always appreciated. Some babies are easily distracted in crowded areas. Other times, you may prefer to pump where there is a nice, comfy chair, a sink, or a changing table. Businesses who create these areas are doing their best to encourage breastfeeding. Let’s support them! As a professional, I’ve gone so far as to finding the owner and thanking them for thinking of breastfeeding families. We need more breastfeeding-friendly businesses and locations.
Having a conversation with family
If your biggest challenge is your own family or friends, you might be facing one of the hardest problems. It can be frustrating to feel like you can’t feed your baby at family functions, especially leading up to the Holiday season. Luckily, it’s [hopefully] a little easier to approach your family than it is to approach the general public. Sit them down and explain how you’re feeling and your comfort level. Try to work through the discomfort and help them understand that breastfeeding your baby is a normal part of making sure your baby is happy and healthy.
Some moms prefer to feed in a designated room. It’s quieter, there’s less distraction, and that just might be what makes you the most comfortable! Talk with the host and the rest of your family to designate a room where you can comfortably feed your baby.
How to respond if someone expresses concern
No matter how successful we are at progressing toward a culture that accepts and encourages breastfeeding, there will always be people who disapprove. Every now and then, you may have someone bold enough to voice their concern. While this can be shocking and unexpected, it’s always better to have a plan for what you’d say if you’re ever confronted. I encourage you to say something like this: “I’m sorry you feel uncomfortable, but I need to feed my baby, and his/her needs do not stop when I’m out in public. I encourage you to learn more about breastfeeding and develop a comfort level for seeing families feed their babies.”
At Rumble Tuff, we know it’s tough to get past cultural barriers and general stigma against breastfeeding. We are here to help. If you are a Rumble Tuff user and you have questions or would like to chat with one of our international board-certified lactation consultants for more breastfeeding in public tips, click the link below to schedule a FREE 30-minute appointment.
Want to dive into the conversation? Join us in breaking down barriers and fostering understanding about breastfeeding in public. Catch the latest episode of ‘Breast Pump: The Musical’ where we tackle these crucial topics with humor, heart. Empathy is the key to transforming these long-held perceptions. Click the link below to binge the series.
You’ve got this, and we’ve got you.