Breastfeeding in Public
Manufacturer: Author: Karen McCully
Nursing in Public has been a hot topic recently with lots of media attention in the UK, Canada and the US. It is something that can make the difference between someone being successful at breastfeeding or stopping breastfeeding earlier than they had planned. A mother who is too scared or embarassed to leave the house with a new baby because they may get hungry while out can leave a Mum feeling isolated and alone at a time when they need support the most.
I have breastfed my children for a total of four years and counting. I have breastfed in the airport, on the bus, in the Federal building in Baltimore, at the zoo, at nursery, at the cinema........... I am in no way an expert on the subject, but I have spent a lot of time talking about different ways to do it with lots of pregnant and nursing mothers.
If you are nervous about nursing in public for the first time here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Practise at home before you leave the house. You may want to practise in front of a mirror or another person who can assure you that you are not showing anything that you don't want to. In the early days it can be more difficult for baby to latch on quickly and quietly, so practise makes perfect.
2. You may want to choose a breastfeeding support group as your first outing. Everyone else will be breastfeeding there, you won't look out of place, and you may pick up some great tips from the other Mothers there. Local Sure Start Children's Centres, La Leche League, Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, Baby Cafes, and the NCT may have these groups, usually run by volunteers or local breastfeeding health professionals.
3. Going out with a friend or family member can be really great for morale and help you take your mind off of the people around you. If you are nursing and having a conversation at the same time you will not be looking around nervously, wondering if anyone is staring at you. In all honesty, people rarely even realise what you are doing, but your mind plays tricks on you sometimes.
4. Be aware of the time. You may decide to feed baby a little early so that baby doesn't cry to be fed.
5. Plan your first few trips so that you know where you might feed the baby. There are lots of coffee shops and pubs with nice comfy chairs, a park bench is also a great place to sit on warmer days. If you prefer more privacy you can aim for a department store or mall that has a feeding room or a favourite shop with a nice changing room which always have a seat. Furniture shops are also full of lovely comfy places to feed the baby, and once the first salesman comes up to you and realises what you are doing, they usually spread the word and you get a nice peaceful rest with no interruptions. When you become more confident, you will find that anywhere with a seat is good enough, I'm pretty happy on the floor also if not too dirty or in the way.
Now, here are the photos. Please keep in mind that it was a cold, windy day in January, but the park was very busy that day with what looked like five football matches going on and lots of kids playing in the playground. I wasn't sure that Ellie would even be interested in nursing for the entire shoot, but she was a trooper and then slept all the way home.
Nursing using a loose top (my usual pose)
The lose fitting top (this one is from the Monsoon sale) covers your shoulder while nursing but allows you to lift it up from the bottom to get at the breast. You can use the neck line to look under the top to check that baby is latching on correctly. As you can see there is very little skin exposed, and once baby is latched you can drop the top back down to cover as much of your breast as you want to. As the baby grows she will also cover any of your stomach on show as well as any boob. I put my leg up like this in place of a pillow. It gives me somewhere to rest my arm while nursing and helps bring Ellie up to the right height. Sorry about the serious face. Monsoon is one of the only places I have shopped since being back in the UK because I received a gift card for Christmas. I have found a good selection of loose fitting tops and also tops that button down at the front. I also have a great dress I found at TKMAXX with a crossover at the front which gives me just enough give to get a boob out at a formal occasion. If you look hard enough, you'll find lots of clothes that can easily be worn while breastfeeding.
A strategically placed hand helps cover any skin on show, and if baby is distracted for any reason, the loose fitting top will probably drop on its own to cover your breast, but your hand can do the same job.
Wearing a nursing vest under a loose fitting top
If you find that the loose fitting top does not provide enough coverage for you under the breast and you have lots of stretch marks (like me), you may feel more comfortable wearing a nursing vest instead of a nursing bra under your top. The nursing vest will also keep you warm when your top is lifted to feed. Nursing vests usually have a built in nursing bra or support shelf, so can be worn without an additional nursing bra.
Again, there is very little on show, and on a cold day (as it was) my belly remained nice and toasty.
A Nursing Vest on it's own
A nursing vest is a versatile piece of wardrobe. It's great for layering, wearing on it's own and I love to wear mine in bed. I decided to brave the cold to show nursing with a nursing vest alone. There are two main styles of nursing vest available as with nursing bras, and they are a side-sling and an a-frame. The nursing vest shown here is by Hotmilk and has an a-frame. When the cup is opened for nursing the breast is still surrounded by material and the breast comes through a circle cut in the fabric. A side sling exposes the entire breast with a piece or material attaching the strap to the top running down the outer side of the breast only. You may feel more exposed using a side sling, but you do get more skin to skin contact with the baby, and some may find it more easy to latch on with a larger surface area of breast to work with.
So I chickened out, it was really cold and I had to throw a coat over my shoulders. As you can see there is a lot more skin exposed with the vest only. But this does show that you can use something to cover your shoulders to provide a little bit more privacy and coverage while nursing. If I was on a train for instance next to the window, just the jacket over the shoulder would prevent the person seated next to me from seeing much. I have nursed many times on the train in to London. I am not normally this discreet, but you do generally find that people would rather see you nursing a baby than listen to a baby crying.
What else can I throw over my shoulder?
There are many different variations along the same theme. You could wear a nursing vest under a button down shirt or blouse for a more formal look, or use a cardigan to get the same effect. A blanket or a muslin are also pretty handy and I find that if you tuck it into your nursing vest strap or nursing bra strap then they are less likely to fall off. A scarf of some kind would work similarly and would look more natural if it goes with your outfit.
So, here we are modelling a lovely pink blanket tucked into my nursing vest strap, which was useful because as I mentioned previously it was really windy that day. The first time I nursed in public with my first baby was like this. I was sitting at BWI airport (Baltimore & Washington International) waiting for my brother to arrive. I was sitting directly in front of the arrivals exit of the international terminal. I was the first person everyone saw when they exited baggage claim and customs. We had been waiting quite a while and William became a little bored and hungry. Of course everyone around me began to tell me that he was hungry and I should feed him (as they do). The blanket lasted for exactly 3 seconds before William decided he didn't want to be covered up and would rather be able to see what was going on. I believe it was also the first time that my brother had seen any part of my breasts!
I just love this picture, it's such a magical experience when you can nurse and look into your baby's eyes, and the first time she smiles back at you will be a moment you will never forget.
I completely see a place for a nursing cover. If you continue to breastfeed successfully and reach your breastfeeding goals, and would not have done it without the use of a breastfeeding cover, then they have a place. I don't personally like nursing covers, and have never used one, and don't own one. Because of this I did not have one to use for this article, so we improvised.
As you can see, Ellie likes to have a good look around when nursing. My main reasons for not liking nursing covers is that they are expensive, lots of babies do not like being covered up, they attract attention, and when someone gets one out of their bag to use at a support group, the other Mothers tend to think they need to cover up too which saddens me. There are some really lovely nursing covers available, some with hideous names, but there are also lots of covers that look hideous. I've seen two companies selling covers in the last year that would not have looked out of place at a hair salon or dentists office. In fact, at a popular baby show just last year my Mother and I were walking past one such cover and when my Mother was approached by the salesperson and shown the nursing cover my Mother couldn't help but say very loudly "but it's so ugly!". My Mother speaks the truth, it was ugly, but I kept on walking in fits of giggles.
Nursing in a sling
I have owned a few slings in the last few years, but I keep coming back to two of my favourites. I love the Maya wrap which is a ring sling for a newborn. It keeps baby upright and snuggles close to Mummy, and is really versatile for older kids, nursing.........
The hardest part about breastfeeding in a sling is getting the boob and the head at the same height. It just takes practise, and if you use a sling everyday you'll soon get the hang of it. Nursing in a sling has so many advantages. I have done many a weekly shop at the supermarket with Ellie feeding in the sling. It leaves me at least one hand to push the trolley and pick up food. With practise you can have both hands free to grab small toddlers with when they decide to run away to look at the toys and pack your shopping with. I have also found a sling great for growth spurts and cluster feeding when I need to do things other than sit on the couch or lie in bed. I can read my 4 year old a story and get dinner ready.
The Maya wrap is extremely versatile for positioning and you can pick different lengths of fabric and use the tail to keep baby warm or cover up if needed.
I get loads of compliments on this sling, I think mainly because it's not an popular as a buggy.
The tail piece of fabric has a pocket for a nappy and your keys, so mind out when you cover baby with it because keys can be sharp! (LOL) I use the tail as a cover when Ellie falls asleep.
You can also use the tail like this so that baby can still see the World and you while nursing.
I love to wear my Mei Tai, which is my sling of choice right now. It's so easy to use and it gives me two free hands to do shopping or push a pushchair, or travel through London. I don't usually nurse in this sling but it is totally possible.
A Mei Tai may suit you better if you like a specific way of carrying. The Maya Wrap is more abstract in how you wear the baby and never feels the same way twice. The Mei Tai has a square piece of fabric with 4 straps, which can be easier to get your head around. When my son got older I wore him on my back in the Mei Tai for hikes and general days out. Again, the hardest part is getting the head and boob at the same level. I usually wear Ellie a little higher, and that's probably why I don't nurse in this sling very much. You can't help but get lots of cuddles in a sling, but if I had moved my hand away, there is no way she would be going anywhere, it's very very safe when done correctly.
As with the Maya Wrap there is not a lot on show while nursing. The loose fitting top I was wearing had a little tie at the top which allowed me to bring my boob out over the neckline. If that is not possible then you can lift up your top from the bottom also. If the sling does not cover your belly then you can wear a nursing vest, or if you are still wearing your maternity trousers with a wide band then that will do the same job. In the Maya wrap I have also used the tail to cover my belly, it is so versatile.
I hope I have given you a few suggestions and that you are now armed with the knowledge and skills to venture out into the World and nurse in public. Remember, you have every right to breastfeed your baby in any public place you choose and you cannot be descriminated against because you are breastfeeding. You can take as much or as little from this article to use as you wish. I have tried to show you how nursing in different clothing and in different positions can be done and which provide the most breast coverage. However, if like me you lost the ability to be embarassed after giving birth in a hospital room filled with 10 people staring at your "lady bits", maybe you'll just have got a laugh out of seeing a picture of me nursing my baby under an apron in Tonbridge park after magically changing from wearing a top and bra to a nursing vest all without the use of the public toilets or a changing room. I do not believe that you have to be discrete, but I respect that all women have different levels of modesty. I hope that this article can help just one person feel they have the courage to nurse in public rather than have to express, sterilize and heat her milk when she goes out, or indeed not go out at all.
Many thanks to Nev for taking these amazing pictures and to Ellie for being so patient.