Breastfeeding is the most natural and normal way of feeding and nurturing your baby, and is highly valued in many cultures. Many mothers also find that although they feel proud of nursing their baby, they feel concerned about how to do this in a public place without drawing unwanted attention to themselves.
Being modest doesn’t have to keep you and your baby at home (or hidden in the restrooms). It’s easy to breastfeed discreetly in public if you wear the right clothes. A loose-fitting shirt or top that lifts or can be unbuttoned from the waist will let you feed your baby without exposing your breast, because the baby will cover the nipple and lower breast. You can also buy special nursing blouses, dresses, or shirts, with hidden slits and panels, or modify your existing clothes. If you wear a nursing bra, it’s easiest to breastfeed discreetly if the bra can be pulled up or unfastened and re-fastened with one hand. Layering of clothes can often be helpful so that you can use the “one up, one down” method and lift your outer layer up and pull down a vest underneath. This is good for warmth too.
Getting your baby latched on properly can be awkward in the early weeks, while you are both still learning, but you’ll soon find yourself able to easily and smoothly get your baby to the breast. If you bring along a shawl or small blanket, you can cover the baby and any part of your midriff that might be exposed. Sitting near a wall or corner will usually give you the most privacy. Restaurant booths can give even more privacy, especially if another adult sits on the aisle, but sometimes the table will be too close to give you and your baby enough room. If you do use a blanket or cover then it’s worth bearing in mind that some babies do not enjoy having their heads covered, so you may find they pull it off when you are least expecting it!
Another tip many mothers find helpful is to use a baby sling when your baby needs to nurse in a public place. Learning to nurse in a sling can be quite tricky, and it is important to follow guidelines from the manufacturer to ensure safe positioning. If you have used a sling to feed in a cradle or other cross body hold it is usually recommended that when your baby has finished feeding you return them to an upright position. This will ensure a safe carrying position and should also help digestion.
Rest assured that discreet breastfeeding becomes easier with practice–it is a learned skill. Before you first breastfeed in a social setting or in a public place, you may want to practice in front of a mirror, or ask a trusted friend to watch you or take a photograph so you can feel confident about what others can and cannot see. Learn to recognize your baby’s pre-nursing cues. It’s easier to get a baby latched on discreetly when he’s not crying and calling attention to you while your fumbling with the clips and your clothes.
Finally, it can be helpful to be armed with knowledge of what your local law says about breastfeeding in public. Knowing you have a legal right to be feeding your baby can help if you are feeling shy or conspicuous.