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Breastfeeding in public

How to breastfeed in public without feeling awkward

Now lockdown measures are easing in the UK, new parents are going out and about with their babies much more than before.

But the relaxation in restrictions may also mean mums have to get to grips with breastfeeding in public for the first time. After months of being encouraged to stay at home and not socialise with people outside your own household, many new parents haven’t had to think about feeding in front of strangers or even those they know well.

Lockdowns have also brought with them a reduction in face-to-face breastfeeding support. Many new mums initially learn to become more comfortable feeding in front of others at breastfeeding support groups, which were unable to run for long periods due to social distancing.

Experts believe lockdowns may mean new mums feel even more worried about breastfeeding in public but anxiety around this issue is nothing new. A 2015 survey carried out by Start4Life found six out of 10 breastfeeding women took steps to hide it while in public, while one in three felt embarrassed or uncomfortable nursing their baby away from their own home.

Stylish Mum is passionate about making the breastfeeding journey easier for all new parents. We believe everyone who wants to breastfeed their baby should be given the help and support they need to feed their baby wherever and whenever they want.

Discreet nursing clothes

This is why our founder Sarah Blunkett designed comfortable clothes you can discreetly breastfeed in without having to pull them up or down or fiddle around with any zips or buttons. And unlike many breastfeeding clothes, which double up as maternity wear, you can continue to wear them well past the stage where you’ve said goodbye to your baby bump.

But other than investing in a breastfeeding-friendly wardrobe, what else can you do to make feeding your baby in public seem less of an ordeal?

Emma Rosen, author of Milk -  a story of breastfeeding in a society that’s forgotten how, recommends practicing feeding your baby in front of a mirror so you can see exactly what other people’s view will be while you’re breastfeeding and how little of your breast is actually exposed.

She says: “It can be helpful to have someone with you the first time you feed in public for a bit of moral support. This could be someone who is also feeding a baby or a supportive friend.”

Annabel Port, founder of getgetgot.com and a regular contributor on Your Baby Club, says: “A strapping 6ft 4ins dog walker called Jay was one of the first people to see me breastfeed. In a fog of sleep deprivation, I excitedly showed him my new baby when he came to walk our dog, completely forgetting that the baby was still attached to my breast.

“He politely looked for the briefest possible time, while concentrating very hard on my son’s ear. I was later mortified but it totally broke my ‘breastfeeding in public’ ice.

“If you feel nervous and would rather not prepare by flashing a beefy dog walker, choose clothes that make feeding easier like special nursing tops or wear two stretchy tops and pull one up and one down.

“If you still feel self-conscious, a large muslin or a breastfeeding shawl/apron may help. It is illegal to discriminate against breastfeeding but you could also look for venues with a Breastfeeding Welcome sticker.”

Convenient and free

Some mums consider expressing and taking bottles of milk out with them to get over their discomfort over breastfeeding in public. But remember, one of the very best things about breastfeeding (apart from all the amazing health benefits for both you and your baby) is that there is no planning involved.

When you’re breastfeeding, you have everything you need to feed your little one, no matter how long you’re going to be away from home. You don’t need to work out how many feeds to pack or sterilise bottles or work out a way to get the milk to the right temperature.

If you’re getting ready to breastfeed in public for the first time, one of the key things is preparation. If your baby is used to feeding in a quiet environment, introduce some background noise to get them used to breastfeeding around other people. Playing music, putting the television on or even just talking to your baby or partner while your little one is on the breast will help them get used to focusing on feeding while there are distractions.

Give your baby a good long breastfeed before you leave the house so you won’t need to worry about stopping for a feed straight away. And remember that your right to breastfeed in public is protected by UK law. No one can ask you to stop feeding and anyone who does is breaking the law.

Negative comments are rare

Many mums worry about people making comments to them while they are breastfeeding but it is rare to actually experience this. The majority of parents we spoke to had found most people either completely ignored them or didn’t notice they were feeding, while others were positive and encouraging.

Journalist and mum Emma Higginbotham says: “There's no need to be nervous as nobody bats an eyelid - which is why, on the rare occasions that someone does say 'cover up' or similar, it ends up in the papers.”

Mum of two Hannah Hiles says: “My advice is to be confident and just do it! I breastfed my two sons for 18 months each and never had a single negative comment. If anyone had ever said anything, I would have held my head high and stood up for my rights to feed my child.”

If you do feel a little bit apprehensive about breastfeeding in public, you can ask if there is anywhere private you can go. You may feel you are more comfortable sitting in a quiet corner in a café or restaurant than on a central table and some places like shopping centres or public buildings may even have a quiet room you can use.

If your baby is four months old or older, you may find the biggest challenge with breastfeeding in public is that they get easily distracted by what is going on around them. If you’re worried about them whipping off your breast for a look around in the middle of a feed, try leaning back slightly.

This will make it less obvious if your baby does unlatch and their head should stop anyone getting a direct view of your nipple. Leaning back also helps you to feel relaxed, which will help your flow of milk and encourage your little one to stay feeding.

You may want to consider sitting in a quiet corner or angling your chair away from other people. And you could try wearing a breastfeeding necklace to give your baby something to fiddle with during a feed.

If you use a sling to carry your baby, you might find that really useful when it comes to discreetly feeding while out and about. But breastfeeding in a sling can be fiddly so practice at home first and get advice from your local sling library if you’re not sure how to do it safely.

Whatever you do, remember that breastfeeding your baby is an amazing thing and nothing anyone else thinks about it can take that away. The more you feed your baby away from home, the more normal it will seem and soon you won’t bat an eyelid about breastfeeding whenever your son or daughter is hungry.