Breastfeeding in public | A beginners guide

Feeding a newborn in an unfamiliar environment can be a daunting task. But unless you’re planning to shut yourself inside your house for the next 6 months, chances are it is going to happen. So before I get into ideas on how to tackle the task, here’s the most important thing you need to know

Your right to breastfeed in public is protected BY LAW in all parts of Australia.

  • You CAN NOT legally be required to leave a public place because you are breastfeeding.
  • You CAN NOT legally be required to use a cover or parents room while breastfeeding.
  • You CAN NOT legally be refused service or otherwise discriminated against on the grounds that you are breastfeeding.

Your right to feed your child, which includes expressing/pumping in public, is protected under the Sex Discrimination Act (1984) (you can read in more detail about it here)

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Tandem nursing at a play centre

So, now that you can step out armed with your legal rights I can cover the more practical side of public feeds.

Getting comfortable

I vividly remember the first time I fed my oldest in public. I had planned a cafe visit with my husband with the intention of giving it a try. In my head, I would be tucked away in a booth in the back corner with a calm baby and a snack. Reality did not comply. The cafe was raised and planted in the middle of a walking concourse, with people streaming by. I was pretty much on stage. I fumbled with a muslin cloth, realising my whole belly would also be exposed when I lifted my jumper. My cheery husband stood up to order drinks for us and I practically yelled for him to sit back down and block the view. She finally latched but I spent most of the feed convinced that people were staring, or that I had accidentally left some part of myself exposed.

3 babies later I comfortably feed in public every day. If only I could tell my old self this! Through thousands of hours of breastfeeding I’ve come across a trick or two that I would love to share and hopefully encourage another mum to plan an outing and get feeding!

Clothing

A nursing bra is completely pointless if your top isn’t just as easy to access. This took took me way too long to learn! It also doesn’t help with exposing your entire belly or boob during feeds (but hey, rock that belly or boob if you’re comfortable doing so!) Instead of spending big dollars on maternity gear, just use the tank + top combo:

  • Use a nursing SINGLET which has built in support/panels
  • Put your regular wardrobe over the top

That’s it! When you lift your shirt or jumper it gives you a discreet cover for above your nipple and the nursing singlet covers boobs down. In many cases it is difficult to tell that bub is actually having a feed because there is such minimal exposure. Not to say that there is anything wrong with exposure! The way you feed is your own personal choice.

Nursing singlets can be cheap as chips. Kmart sells them for $10! You can easily pop nursing pads directly into the singlet, for those ladies who spring a leak every now and then (hello other side let down!) For bigger busted ladies, you can find ones that have more built in support at places such as Bonds. Or if you need a bit of a lift/padding simply wear a comfy nursing bra underneath a nursing singlet. You just pop both clips and off you go. Not only are singlets comfortable and practical but the lack of underwire and general looser fit is a big bonus in preventing the dreaded mastitis.

Covers

While learning how to latch, breastfeeding around others or dealing with a baby that loves to pop off and look around all the time, some mums feel more comfortable wearing a cover. Although muslin cloths are a better option than a blanket (don’t use anything that will limit bubs air!) they can still prove fiddly and make it difficult to check if bub is latching properly. Spend the money and buy a cover that has a stiff, open neck. This gives bub some ‘tent space’ and also allows you to clearly see the latch. Etsy has some gorgeous designs for around $30 or you can buy them from any decent baby store. Be warned though, some babies simply will not put up with being covered during a feed. As soon as they have the full use of their hands this can become a tug of war, may the most determined party triumph!

Parents rooms

More and more large shopping centres or public buildings provide parents rooms to nurse in. Not only are they comfortable but they seem to be getting more stylish and functional with each new addition. Time, effort and planning is going in to these spaces to cater for parents. So even if you’re not ready for the crowds, don’t put off an outing. Big comfy armchairs, private rooms with curtains and plenty of space for prams and nappy changes await.

Exposure

Boobs. Why are they viewed as being so outrageous by some? What is so offensive about these squishy things that produce life sustaining liquid gold for tiny babies? If you’re ever flustered by an accidental boob flash, remind yourself that these glorious boobs are on display at beaches and public places across the nation with no fuss attributed. And yours have the added bonus of actually serving a purpose.

Reactions and response ideas

I can honestly say that in my years of feeding in public I have never had a negative comment, dirty look or request to stop. That includes daily outings breastfeeding twins, so that’s across hundreds of feeds! In my own experience, people either smile at you, look away politely or carry on as if it’s not an issue. Because guess what, it isn’t! I know that this is not the case for everyone, but please be confident in responding to any potential ignorance from the public. You may like to go out armed with a response ready, just in case you find yourself being discriminated against. Some ideas might be:

“Australian law protects my right to feed my child in public”

“I am caring for my child, breastfeeding is natural and healthy”

“Babies are entitled to eat with the rest of their family”

“Please may I speak to the manager about your policy on supporting mothers”

These are all non-confrontational ways to politely rebut discrimination. Some mums may be inclined to use slightly stronger language but I personally prefer to meet ignorance with calm. If you are spoken to by a member of the public, ideally we might help them to understand that breastfeeding is natural and healthy. If you are spoken to by an employee or business it is very important to report your treatment to a manager, or authority, as this is illegal conduct. For more information, advice and support you can call the Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268 (1800 mum 2 mum).

BF in Public
Image credit: City of Toronto CA

#normalisebreastfeeding

Every time you feed your child in public, you’re providing awesome nutrition and comfort to them AND helping to normalise breastfeeding for other mums. Think of it as a community service! A society and community which supports breastfeeding is one that breaks down barriers to something that can already prove extremely challenging. Plus, getting out and about is so important to ensure that mums don’t feel isolated and alone, especially for those who are struggling with PND or even the typical stresses of parenthood.

So message a friend and get out into the world Mumma! Pave the way for future mums, including your own daughters, and help to normalise breastfeeding.

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