Are you nervous about nursing in public?
Many new moms feel self-conscious about public breastfeeding and have questions they may be embarrassed to ask. Is it legal? Is it socially acceptable? How can I keep myself covered?
We’ve talked to the experts — lactation consultants, doctors, midwives, and many, many moms — and we’ve got the answers to all your questions, along with tips on making nursing in public work for you.
Read on to learn more, so you can feel completely confident feeding your baby anytime and anywhere.
- All 50 states have legislation protecting a woman’s right to nurse in public, and 30 take it a step further and specifically exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws.
- It is legal to nurse in public, and the law protects breastfeeding mothers.
- Babies are not easily distracted in the first few months and will nurse wherever you choose to feed them, but as babies grow older, their awareness of surroundings improves and they may become distracted easily.
- Choose a place where both you and your baby will be comfortable, such as a park bench, mall sitting area, fitting room, restaurant booth or table, or corner of the room.
- Pack a well-stocked diaper bag with a nursing cover if preferred, and ensure the neck opening is at the desired size for ease of use.
Things to Know Before Getting Started
Women have varying degrees of comfort around nursing in public. Some are modest and avoid public breastfeeding at all costs, while others feel completely comfortable nursing anytime, anywhere, uncovered or not.
Regardless of your comfort level, here are some things you need to know before you nurse in public.
Is it Legal to Breastfeed in Public?
All 50 states have legislation protecting a woman’s right to nurse in public, and 30 take it a step further and specifically exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws (1).
The Law Protects You
Is it Better for My Baby to Nurse in Private?
When a baby is hungry, it’s always best to feed them — and if you’re breastfeeding, that means nursing, even if it’s not a convenient time or location. There are, however, some developmental considerations to keep in mind as you’re deciding whether to choose a public or private space.
In the first few months, babies are not easily distracted and will nurse wherever you choose to feed them. However, as babies grow older, their distance vision improves, as does their awareness of their surroundings, and they become distracted easily.
Some older babies will refuse to keep a nursing cover in place, continually pulling it off or playing “peek-a-boo” while eating in order to check out all the action around them. Others may refuse to settle down enough to eat because they are too interested in all that’s going on around them.
While nursing in public is always an acceptable option for those who choose to do so, it’s also important to know your baby and whether they’ll be able to make it through an entire feeding if they’re not in a quiet, private space.
Where Can I Breastfeed in Public?
When nursing in public, you can do so wherever you’re comfortable.
There are no real restrictions as most states that offer breastfeeding protections do so for places open to the public. This means, however, that if you are in a private space that is not generally open to the public, your breastfeeding rights may be restricted.
Aside from legalities, it’s important to choose a place where both you and your baby will be comfortable. Some options include:
- Park bench.
- Mall sitting area.
- Fitting room (if you’re shopping and the store has one).
- Restaurant booth or table.
- Corner of the room, which offers more privacy.
Tips for Breastfeeding in Public
If you think you may be in a situation where you’ll need to breastfeed in public, a few things will make it easier:
- Make sure your diaper bag is well-packed and includes a nursing cover if preferred.
- If you use a nursing cover, make sure the neck opening is at the desired size for ease of use (you’ll need to be able to see your baby latching at least).
- Think about where you’ll be throughout the day, and brainstorm where you may be able to nurse.
- Be aware of your baby’s feeding schedule so you can feed them before they get too hungry and worked up, which can make the process stressful and draw attention to your situation.
- Wear a nursing bra and nursing top to make breastfeeding easier.
- Wear a nursing dress or two-piece outfit so you don’t end up in a situation where your baby cannot easily access their food source!
How Can I Cover Myself?
Covering yourself is not required, but some women prefer to do so — either to keep their baby from being distracted, for modesty, or to prevent other people’s discomfort. If you want to cover yourself while breastfeeding, you can use any of these items to do so:
- Nursing cover, shawl, or scarf.
- Sling or wrap-type carrier.
- Layered nursing cami and top.
- Burp cloth.
Keep in mind, not all babies like to be covered, and some may fuss when you try to do so. (Can you imagine trying to eat with a blanket over your head?)
How to Use a Nursing Cover
A nursing cover is a product that usually has an adjustable wired neck opening and a drape of fabric below. The wire keeps the neck hole open enough for moms to peek at their baby while nursing, and the drape covers the baby and offers privacy. Here’s how to use one.
1. Adjust the Neck Opening.
Before nursing or even picking up your baby, make sure the neck hole is at your desired opening. You should be able to peek in and see your baby while they’re nursing, but the opening shouldn’t be so wide that it hangs down and allows others to look in.
2. Hold Your Baby Against Your Chest.
When you’re ready to nurse and have your nursing cover handy, hold your baby in a cradle position with their head facing the breast where you intend to nurse first.
3. Pull the Neck Opening Over Your Head.
Put the opening of the nursing cover over your head, and adjust it so it’s off-center and draping down toward the side you’re planning to nurse on.
4. Cover Your Baby.
Use the fabric to cover your baby. The fabric should be across your breasts, the baby’s torso, and around your shoulder in order to ensure adequate privacy and coverage.
5. Unclasp Your Bra and Nurse Your Baby.
Feed your baby, ensuring you can see them through the neck opening. This allows for lots of eye contact during nursing.
6. Switch Sides.
When your baby is finished on one side, cover your breast with your bra, tank top, or other clothing, and either lift your baby to burp or switch them to the other side. Adjust the nursing panel’s coverage to the other side, and nurse as usual.
How to Use a Nursing Scarf
A nursing scarf is similar to an infinity scarf, only bigger. It can be worn as a fashion piece and transformed into a nursing cover when needed, or you can keep it in your diaper bag and break it out when it’s feeding time.
1. For Everyday Wear, Make a Figure Eight.
If you plan to wear your nursing scarf throughout the day, even while you aren’t nursing, hold opposite ends of the scarf and twist into a figure eight. Bring the ends together so it is an “O” shape with two layers of fabric.
Place it over your head and “fluff” around your neck.
2. For Nursing in Public, Use One Long Loop.
If you are already wearing the scarf, lift one layer of fabric off your neck and back over your head, allowing it to fall in front of your body in one long loop.
If you are not wearing the scarf, simply place it over your head. It will drape low in the front of you.
3. Slip One Arm Through the Scarf.
Next, choose which side you would like to nurse on first. Slip your opposite arm through the scarf — it should drape across your body like you’re wearing a sash.
4. Bring Your Baby to Your Chest.
Bring your baby to your chest, placing their head underneath the fabric of the scarf. Extend the fabric so it’s smooth and taut against your baby, offering both support and coverage for your nursing session.
5. Nurse Your Baby.
Nurse your baby as usual.
6. Switch Sides.
When you’re done, sit your baby up or hold them in such a way that they are not on the scarf and you can move it freely. Move the scarf to the opposite side of your body, and nurse again as usual.
How to Use a Blanket as a Nursing Cover
If you don’t have a nursing cover or you left it home, there’s no need to worry. Any larger-sized swaddle or receiving blanket will make an excellent nursing cover.
1. Tie the Opposite Corners of the Blanket Together.
Hold the opposite corners of your blanket to make a triangle shape. Bring the corners together and tie them, creating a loop.
2. Slip the Opening Over Your Neck.
Slip the opening over your neck with the knot slightly to the left or right — it should be opposite of the side you plan to nurse on.
3. Bring Your Baby to Your Chest.
Bring your baby to your chest, and drape the excess fabric over them, providing privacy and protection.
4. Nurse Your Baby.
Nurse your baby as usual.
5. Switch Sides.
To switch sides, simply move the makeshift nursing cover to the opposite side.
How to Nurse in Public Without a Cover
You may need to nurse in public but prefer to do so uncovered. This is perfectly acceptable and legal in 49 states.
However, if you want privacy without having to deal with a bulky nursing cover, you can simply place a burp cloth over your baby’s head while nursing. This will provide coverage for you and keep your baby from being distracted.
If you’re modest or nervous about feeding in public, you can choose a seat in a more private location, like a corner of a room, where few people will notice what you’re doing.