Nursing in public: Tips for feeding baby outside the home

Rebekah Skillen breast-feeds her second child, Mabel in her Elizabethtown home. (Photo by Chris Dunn)

Wendy Shore said breast-feeding can be as divisive as the U.S. political system.

As a lactation consultant in southcentral Pennsylvania, she has worked with moms who have varying opinions about the subject. Breast milk versus formula isn’t the only debate. People also feel strongly about where women should breast-feed and whether it’s appropriate to nurse in public.

So is there etiquette to follow when breast-feeding?

Shore said it depends on the individual.

She encourages moms to practice at home by standing in front of a full-length mirror to see what they look like while feeding their babies. Layering your clothing can help you be more discreet.

Shore said you shouldn’t wait until your baby is hysterical to start feeding because crying attracts attention.

Another pointer: Don’t throw a blanket over your shoulder.

“That’s the only time that women in public throw a blanket over their shoulder,” she said. “If we do that, then we’re going to say, ‘Look at me, I’m breast-feeding.’”

Most important, Shore said, never allow someone to direct you to a restroom. She said most people wouldn’t eat a meal in a public bathroom, so why should infants?

If nursing in public makes you self-conscious, go to your car or a fitting room.

However, she said, onlookers shouldn’t be bothered by it.

“There’s no reason that anybody should feel uncomfortable and consider it anything less than healthy and necessary,” Shore said.

Tracy Smith, 29, of Glen Rock, a mother of three, said she breast-feeds her 6-month-old in public only when she has to because she knows it makes some people feel awkward. But she also thinks people shouldn’t judge her.

“They need to be considerate of my feelings,” Smith said. “And I need to be considerate of theirs.”

She puts her baby in a ring sling and sometimes breast- feeds while walking around. She said people barely notice.

Her comfort level usually depends on the sex and age of the people around her. She prefers not to nurse in front of men.

“When it’s women, it’s not really that big of a deal,” Smith said.

Desiree Johnson, 30, of Spring Garden Township said she was a lot more reserved while breast-feeding her first child than she is with her second.

She worked full time when her 2-year-old son, Aiden, was an infant.

As a field representative for a bank, she often had to pump in the car while driving to appointments or while eating lunch at work.

One time, Aiden got hungry while Johnson and her husband were at a mall, and she tried to feed him in the food court. She used a cover, but people still stared. She said that bothered her husband, so she starting going to her car or a dressing room when she was out.

With her 10-month-old, Reese, she breast-feeds whenever and wherever. When she’s out with both boys, it’s too inconvenient for her to keep Aiden in a dressing room while she breast-feeds Reese.

Johnson said she wears pants with a higher waist — no more hip huggers — and bras that flip down. With a tank top and sweater and the baby, not much is exposed.

“I feel very comfortable with myself,” she said. “I have the confidence. If someone wants to look, fine.”

Rise in popularity?

Lactation consultant Wendy Shore said it’s becoming more acceptable for moms to breast-feed in public. Years ago, she said, a lot of moms wouldn’t dare nurse in a mall or grocery store.

In areas of the U.S. with high breast-feeding rates, such as the> West Coast, it’s even more accepted as a natural part of life.

She said southcentral Pennsylvania is more conservative, but that people are more open to it in public than they were 10 years ago.

Leigh Zaleski

I'm a health features reporter for the York Daily Record/Sunday News and healthy living blogger for No Sweat, York. Contact me with story ideas at lzaleski@ydr.com, 717-771-2101 or @leighzaleski on Twitter.

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1 Response

  1. January 10, 2013

    [...] Gross. Who wants to eat in the bathroom? Not you, not me and not Jax. (Don’t worry, I’ll keep it classy with my co-worker’s tips for nursing outside the home.) [...]

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