Nursing in Public

This is the Backward Edition of Works For Me Wednesday in which advice is asked for instead of given, and I need your advice, friends.

A few months ago, our family went to one of the most enjoyable parties we have been to in a long time. Our former next door neighbor invited us to a Fall Party where the kids got to decorate pumpkins, go on a hayride, hit a pinata, and enjoy some delicious food.

During the time we were there, the hostess disappeared for a few minutes to go upstairs to nurse her baby. It got me to wondering if I should be removing myself from sight when I nurse. I usually just excuse myself to a chair in a quiet corner, but in the same room so I can still hear the conversation. I cover myself with a light blanket so that the baby and I are comfortable, but completely covered.

I wondered, after noticing my friend excuse herself from the room, if it makes others uncomfortable to have me nursing in their presence. The best part of the party, after all, had been the easy, casual, relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. I know that good manners are all about making others feel at ease in social settings.

I have nursed in restaurants, at pot luck dinners, in friends’ living rooms, at a Texas Ranger Baseball game, and walking through the mall. All the while, I have been completely covered, but now I wonder if I have made others uneasy.

What do you think? I know that it is my right to nurse wherever I want, and that I can do it modestly, but what I am asking is; can I do it without making others uncomfortable? Does it make people nervous or uneasy to have a mother nursing in their presence? Does it make a difference if there are men present? Or adolescent/teen boys?

Tell me what you think and then go on over to Rocks In My Dryer to give any other advice you have.

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Comments

  1. Great question – one I have pondered often, especially lately as I have a 5 week old little one now.

    I usually dont have a problem nursing in public either. I really havent noticed anyone being uncomfortable with me doing so, except my FIL, which I do go to another room when I am at their house, which is not often. I wouldnt have a problem nursing in front of men, Most , I think are mature enough to know that that is what breast are for! :) But, I think if any young man, say about 9 or so, were in the room I would either remove myself, of if say, I were visiting with their mother/parents, have them leave for a few minutes!

    Great question!

    Alicia

  2. In general I don’t leave the room when I’m in a public place and the baby wants to nurse. However, with people I have to see on a regular basis I have made an exception. My brother threw a big fit once, and it was very unpleasant for a while. For my own peace of mind and as an olive branch to my brother, I now wander off when C-Rex wants his leche rather than standing my ground and inviting contention.

  3. michellenotdawn says:

    I can totally relate. I just kind of played it by ear. Most of the time, my little man would not tolerate being covered up, so I always had to remove myself to another place. My opinion? Just do as the situation dictates. If you are completely covered and comfortable, go for it. If there are young men in the room (or even some uncomfortable older ones) then by all means disappear for a few minutes and then return with a happy, well-fed baby.

  4. No you should not feel uncomfortable to nurse in public, ESPECIALLY if you are covering yourself. I found that most people were quite understanding and very accepting when I was nursing my daughter. My dad was the most uncomfortable person that I ever nursed around. I would excuse myself when Ladybug was first born, but once I learned the system, it was not a problem at all. I was fine, he was fine and the baby was happy! Good luck!

  5. I have nursed in public descretly and I figure if someone doesn’t like it they can look another direction. That is if I am out at a restarant, the mall, the park etc.

    If I am at someone’s house I am more careful. Sometimes I will ask the host if they mind if I nurse or if they’d rather I used another room. My husband has a single friend and I was told I needed to go to another room at his house, because it made him uncomfortable. I did out of respect, but when that same man is in my house, I will discretly nurse in front of him because, well, it’s my house.

    But for the most part I just nurse when needed and do so with respect, and a blanket, and hope that people are mature enough to respect the right of my child to eat.

  6. I don’t mind nursing in public. The best advice I received about it is to look other people in the eye when talking to them while nursing. This lets them know that you are comfortable and they will be too (hopefully). In another person’s home I ask their preference. “Do you have somewhere I can nurse?” I have usually gotten responses letting me know what makes them comfortable. Usually, here is fine or this room is quiet.

  7. I believe that if you are being discreet then by all means do what makes YOU comfortable. So situations call for you to retreat to another room, and other times, no one even notices. As long as you stay covered, I don’t see why anyone has a problem. Discretion is the better part of valor, right? And if you know certain people, ask, it never hurts. We had friends I looked in the eye and said “does this honestly make you uncomfortable?” and if they had said yes, I would have moved to a different spot.

  8. If we act like nursing is some shameful thing, then the next generation of moms will think that they have to hide it, too. I say you should be out there nursing. In 2.5 years of nursing (oh God are my boobs tired), I have only been hassled ONCE.

    Go for it!

    And please visit my blog and tell me what to do about my little nursing dilemma.

  9. Christine says:

    There will always be people who are completely uneducated about and uncomfortable around breastfeeding. However, you should never base your decision of when to feed your child on those who are uneducated.

    In fact, by breastfeeding in public, you are helping everyone around you to experience how natural it is, and possibly encouraging a woman to nurse, or a future husband to be more supportive of his wife breastfeeding.

  10. This is one I’ve been thinking a lot about these past few months. I have started nursing publicly – just making sure not to flash anyone, but otherwise not trying to act like I have anything to hide. And here’s why: less than 25% of children in the USA are EVER breastfed. EVER. And the health benefits of breastfeeding are amazing. How sad is that? And I’d bet that many of these moms choose not to breastfeed because they think they’ll be unable to go anywhere. I want to be a part of changing the idea that breastfeeding shouldn’t be done publicly – I want people to get used to it, I want kids to grow up seeing it, I want it to be normal. That’s worth the awkward feeling, to me.

  11. I just say use good discretion in each situation. The only time I have felt uncomfortable is when my oldest was 3 months old and we were flying to CA from TX. It was just she and I flying and I was placed in the middle seat between two older men. I was 21 years old and I think my cheeks burned the whole time! Good luck.

    • @Liz,

      I know! My first was born when we lived in Hawaii. One of my sisters got married in Florida when my baby was only 5 months old. I got really good at nursing on the plane. A lot of times I sat by men and thanked God when I was placed by women. It is totally awkward! But, it is what it is. =)

  12. I really believe that if you are being discreet, you shouldn’t be ashamed to nurse your child in public. God gave us breasts to feed our children, although our culture has managed to skew that entirely. You are providing loving nurture for your child, and may be encouraging others.
    I would nurse my firstborn wherever I was. He was placid and took well to being covered.
    Then I had twins. I nursed them at the same time, but I must admit I didn’t do that in public as it was far from discreet! If I was in public (like I ever got out of the house), I would nurse one at a time and the other would scream because they were used to eating together. So that wasn’t a bit noticeable, nope! ;)

  13. Your baby’s right to eat when hungry trumps an adult’s need to feel comfortable looking in every single direction they choose at every moment.

    That said, it is very easy to nurse discretely (practice in front of a mirror if you’re unsure of yourself). Most importantly, I’ve found that the more blase you are about nursing, the less people make an issue of it (positive or negative), and many simply don’t notice at all. If you’re looking up while you breastfeed or continuing a conversation with someone else, or just simply looking around, most people simply won’t focus on the baby you’re feeding. I’ve also found that using a blanket or cover can in fact be LESS discrete. Sure, no one sees anything, but it’s like hanging a neon sign around your neck that says “breastfeeding taking place RIGHT NOW”. It also means that your babies have to eat while under a blanket. Personally, I wouldn’t want to eat that way… A confident can-do attitude coupled with the knowledge that you’re doing the best thing for your baby can stave off most of the nay-sayers. Try it, you might be surprised. And if all else fails, try a good comeback. If asked “Are you breastfeeding that baby right now?” say “Of course I am.” Usually stops the conversation in its tracks LOL.

    Good for all of you for breastfeeding proudly and publicly. Think of all the other mothers you’ll be encouraging by showing breastfeeding as just another normal part of life.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I nursed in many public places (baseball game, malls, etc) but I agree with many of the other comments that when at someone’s house or in a more intimate setting I excused myself if I thought it would make someone else uncomfortable. Typically if it was a pre-teen boy or teen boy or if a single man was around I would just go in another room. (My husband used to be really uncomfortable with breastfeeding women when he was single. I’m sure he would agree they had a right to feed, it was natural, etc…but it still made him uncomfortable. So I keep that in mind when we have a single guy over.)

    Also, my second HATED the blanket and so once he got older (6 months or so) he would unpredictable fling the blanket off him no matter how well tucked or careful I was. So at that point I would just excuse myself. Your host might have a baby with similar blanket issues and have left for that reason. :)

  15. Like you, I was always very concerned about making other people uncomfortable. I think I always tried to be away from other people if possible and was very discreet if that wasn’t possible.

    Even in my own home, I usually left the room with men. Not because it’s not natural or my right or anything, but because it did make the men uncomfortable, probably mainly because I was the only one in both my and my husband’s families who breastfed. It didn’t change my feelings on it, just made me more discreet for their sake.

    The people who feel like you should do it because people need to see it to understand it, I don’t agree. People know what it is and seeing it isn’t going to make them understand the benefits to the baby (and the mom!!)

    As for the women who do it wherever & whenever, I agree it’s totally your right and you don’t have to care what other people think. If you do care, then I say go with your instinct on who seems okay with it and who seems a little awkward with you doing it in front of them!!!!

    Wow, I really rambled on there!!!

  16. I think it’s important esp. for men and boys to be exposed to breastfeeding aka healthy views of the female body. I don’t leave. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable, but to be quite honest, the people that have expressed uncomfortableness are people that have a twisted view of the process and female anatomy (this is my personal experience, anyway.). I’ve been directed to public restrooms to nurse my infant, and I will not go. Would you leave with a baby who is feeding from a bottle? I say stay. It’s not about rights for me, so much as it is about helping society get over the discomfort. Do we get ackward watching a new mother dog nurse her pups? What about calves nursing in a field? It’s only human nursing that causes this “uncomfortableness”, and that because we’ve designated the human bre*ast as a s*exual object, rather than something God-designed to nurish and nurture an infant. There was a time that only the “dirty hippies” breastfed. That’s wrong and twisted. My two cents.

  17. I don’t really have any advice (having never been there myself), I just wanted to make a comment.

    Two hundred years ago, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. If you look at the styles of clothing from back before formula, most middle- or lower-class women’s clothing – from every culture – was designed to make nursing easier. Some cultures went so far as to completely eschew the shirt! So what we can learn is that nursing used to be a large part of everyday society, and totally normal. It’s a shame things have changed so much.

    It used to be that only the very wealthy women didn’t breastfeed. They either hired wet nurses, or (as in the Southern US) had slaves nurse the babies. Incidentally, that’s also why Southern women tended to have more babies than Northern women.

    I also think that’s the reason formula feeding took off so quickly. For centuries, only the very wealthiest of women could afford not to nurse – it was a status symbol. So after WWII, when suddenly everyone could afford to be rich, who would want to nurse? So sad…

  18. I think you should be fine to nurse in public, especially while she is still so little. I nursed both of my babies while out and had noone seemed to have problems with it. Funny enough older women would comment that they wished more women would nurse. Anyway as she gets older and you can adjust outings to schedules you might consider nursing her somewhere more private…just from my experience my kids liked to “look around and talk” when they hit the 6-9 month age! I had a friend who would nurse in the bathroom at walmart…oohh GROSS, would you eat in the bathroon at walmart? I wouldn’t!! ANyway hope this helps! just my 2 cents!! By the way are you still smocking??

  19. I only read a few comments, so I hope I am not repeating…
    But when I have company over, I go upstairs to nurse to make MYSELF comfortable. I, personally, just nurse easier and more relaxed if I am not in front of others. So I bet the hostess did it more for herself than for others.
    It does not bother me at all when people nurse in public. I just prefer to nurse alone (or my husband or good friends).
    Of course, in my opinion, you always need to be respectful in other people’s homes….especially if its like a single guy!

  20. aggiemomma says:

    Nursing your child one of the most important things jobs you have as a mother. I’ve personally nursed 2 sons…each for a year. The first time I around I tried to leave the room everytime I nursed him…with the second baby my in-laws were much more used to the idea and sometimes I did stay in the room with a blanket. But I think the most important thing is to make sure you and your baby are comfortable first….and then just kinda go situation by situation…I would normally try to be ‘out of site’ if possibly…but if it’s not possible, then it’s just not…so you do what needs to be done. But as for the men and especially teenage boys…I think they feel really uncomfortable, so I try to leave the room.

  21. SAHMmy Says says:

    My experience with public breastfeeding has been 100% positive. I do always keep my breast and the baby’s head covered out of modesty and respect to others. Whether I’m sitting on a bench in the mall or trekking around Disneyland with my baby nursing under a blanket I’ve only received pleasant smiles and kind comments. That said, when I had my first baby I always retreated to the bedroom to nurse him when my MIL was over–she invariably turned the conversation to breastfeeding and called an inordinate amount of attention to what I was doing so I felt uncomfortable. With my second baby I didn’t want to miss out on visiting (she nursed dozens of times a day) so I just learned to gently steer the conversation in a more interesting direction.

  22. When I nursed my first one at a party one time there was an aquaintance who was uncomfortable and made a comment. Instead of arguing with him about it (I assumed it was because he was offended) I asked him why. His response really surprised me. He was not offended at all, but he felt like he was intruding on a private moment he shouldn’t be sharing. I still nursed in public after that but was more private about it.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Hi
    I think we all need to be sensitive to other peoples’ hangups…er, sensitivities. If you’re at someone’s house, ask your hostess. I nursed my kids in the early ’70′s. Heavens to Betsy!
    Very few were horrified,and many were so touched by it. And you can be totally discreet, not whipping one out like a six-gun! At least until Baby gets big enough to yank the blanket off!
    Sometimes, I would just go sit with my back to the room. If you live in warm climate, go sit in the car!
    I’m surprised that you still have to deal with this nonsense, after all these years.
    Susan

  24. I have a nursing 7 month old and I am hoping to nurse until she is at least 2 years old. I think that if you are being discreet, go for it. If others make a scene, I do leave so that I can remain calm and not upset the baby. Also, if there is alot of noise/distractions, I do go into another room, just so I can get the baby to focus on the task and not keep popping off every 5 seconds.

    Nursing in public is about being comfortable with yourself, not with other people. Plus, it’s a great lesson to kids to see a mommy and baby nursing. They need to know that milk doesn’t come in a bottle. I have memories of nursing my own baby dolls as a child. I wonder where I picked that up from?

  25. If I am someplace like a restaurant, movie, etc., I’ll BF where I am. If I were at a party, I would go to another room. If I’m visiting someone’s house, and they never breastfed, I would ask first, especially if any males were in the room. Most of my friends’ sons and hubbies never cared, since they had been around breastfeeding before

  26. Do what YOU are comfortable with. When they were really small, I never thought twice about it. If you are being discreet, nobody can see anything. Once they were bigger and more curious/easily distracted, I often found myself leaving the room. Nothing like having the baby let go to look around and flahing a room full of people!

  27. HomeSchool Mommy says:

    Do you use slings? If so, you should be able to nurse without anyone even noticing what you’re doing. If you already have baby in the sling, no one will notice your hand under it for a couple of seconds.

  28. Life In Progress says:

    I nursed both my babies until they were 1. I was much more comfortable the second time around, but still just judged each situation & did what I felt OK with.

    I have a tip for nursing attire that’s not nursing attire. The blanket didn’t always work for me, especially once the babies were old enough to rip it off.

    As long as it’s not blazing hot, this works great. I wear a tank top with a light zip-up sweater or sweatshirt over it. Take the zipper down past your bra, pull the tank up & latch baby on.

    The zip-up covers your belly & sides. The tank bunched up above baby’s nose keeps your top covered. Nobody can see anything, but the baby’s head isn’t covered up. Works For Me!

  29. Milehimama says:

    I nurse all over in public (even in the grocery checkout line!) covered with a blanket.

    However, if I was in someone’s home as a guest, then I would simply ask the hostess if there was a place I could go nurse the baby.

    If the hostess directs me to a chair in the corner of the living room, but still in view of the other guests, then that is where I would nurse. If she directs me to a rocking chair in the nursery, then that is where I would go because I am a guest in her home. I do the same with diaper changes – at home we change the babies where ever we find a convenient spot, but at others homes we do what the hostess wants.

  30. Okay, I am laughing right now, because I think the last time I left the room to nurse must have been at that party. Now I pretty much nurse wherever. I think breastfed babies have the right to be nourished whenever they need to just like bottle-fed. I think I used to worry about others feeling uncomfortable, but I have now decided that it is far more uncomfortable for my baby and me and everyone in the near vicinity if I don’t nurse, lol. Oh, and I’ve gotten real good at the one handed draw…where you get shirt pulled up, bra unlatched, and baby latched on in a mere .45 second:)

  31. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know your friend but maybe she didn’t leave because she thought she was making everyone else uncomfortable, maybe she left because she wanted to. I nursed wherever my boys needed to eat but I truly would have rather been off in quiet space. I treasure those quiet times times we had together where all I had to worry about was just looking at my little guy as he was munching away.
    I also think consideration is a good thing but worrying about the discomfort of others does not trump my babies need to eat or my need to socialize. I mean it doesn’t last that long. Just think of it as doing your little part of exposure therapy, eventually these people will be so used to you nursing that they will stop noticing you doing it, kind of like when you hear that annoying noise but eventually you don’t. The noise doesn’t stop but you stopped hearing it.

    Jerri for the 2nd time in a week!

  32. danadiaries says:

    I usually end up going to a quiet room because my daughter won’t pay attention if there are people around. Unless we’re in church, and she pays attention like a little angel when we’re there. Go figure.

    Janelle

  33. i nursed in public, covered, discreet. i’m sure most people didn’t even realize that i was nursing. the only times that i did excuse myself were the times when i was hormonal (sweating) and ME, MYSELF and I needed to be less covered.
    the only time i ran into any problems was when mclaine was five weeks old, and we were in the waiting room at the hospital while ira was having his first hip replacement. the one that had a problem? my AUNT! she was so embarassed. i was sooooo surprised by her behavior. noone knew what was going on until i was burping the baby and she burped loudly. then i switched sides and my aunt at that point decided it was necessary to stand in front of me with a blanket and cover me. then, of course, everyone was looking and other relatives/friends in the group were asking, what’s going on? “oh, she’s feeding the baby” “gotta keep ‘em covered”. i was mortified. this was my second child, so i knew what i was doing! but she insisted on “helping” me. i am so glad that i only had to nurse once in the waiting room. after which i nursed in ira’s hospital room once it was assigned.
    but my experience was always (except this one in particular) that most people didn’t even realize what i was doing in the first place.

  34. lisa (lost pezhead) says:

    I think you are fine. Personally, I am even a little uncomfortable seeing someone nurse and I probably wouldn’t like it if they were doing it in front of my husband…but if you’re covered then really it’s not a big deal. but some people just like some privacy…i do.

    hehe i know i’m a little conflicted there!

  35. I cover up when men & boys are around, and I try to be especially sensitive to non-dads. But if you’re being modest, then I can’t imagine it making people uncomfortable. You are just fine.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always followed the majority opinion here, but recently had a little extra insight lent to me. A friend of mine was talking about how uncomfortable he had been at a small group meeting when someone started nursing (in a modest way). I asked why, defending the naturalness and modest way in which it was done. Some good men really struggle to keep their thoughts pure, and he told me that even when someone is covered it can still be very distracting and difficult. So while I would still nurse in public (though as discreetly and modestly as possible – I like to use dressing rooms at stores, especially with squirmy older babies that don’t stay covered up), I would be more considerate of asking if it would make anyone uncomfortable before nursing in a more closed environment.

  37. Wow. I read all those comments. I have no problem nursing anywhere with #4. It took me a little bit to get to this point though. I am discreet and don’t just “whip it out.” I feel like I’m empowering other women who might be hesitant about nursing in public or nursing at all. I recall seeing my aunt nurse and my mom nurse when I was growing up and just naturally assuming I would do the same.

    If I were in someone else’s home and they seemed uncomfortable, I might excuse myself. But in my home, I’ll cover up, but I’m unlikely to leave the room– even if the 19-21 year old missionaries are there. My friend’s hubby was very uncomfortable with her nursing her son. She told him that he had to get used to it because that was the healthiest thing for him (her son) and that’s what she was going to do. And he did get used to it. He’s very supportive now and she’s on baby #3 now.

    Danny has asked me numerous times not to leave during sacrament meeting to nurse. He encourages me to just stay in there and nurse. But you know, I like the comfy chairs in the nursing room– just me and my baby listening to the talks of the speaker. :)

    Follow your mother’s instinct.

  38. The Correspondent says:

    I always left the room to breastfeed because, even after 5 babies, I could never get the hang of the blanket/cover-up. It was my problem, and I wanted the privacy for my own sake. Could that have been your friend’s reasoning?

    I thought the comment about being sensitive to teen boys/single men was a good point.

    However, when done discreetly, public breastfeeding should be welcomed, in my opinion.

  39. I used to obsess over the breastfeeding-in-public dilemma when my son was a newborn, but experience has taught me that the issue isn’t as serious as I thought it was.

    Most people don’t even notice a nursing mother, especially when you do it discreetly. I have nursed in restaurants, shopping malls, church, and anywhere else I took my baby.

    My only exception is when we visit my in-laws. I know that my father-in-law is embarassed to see my nursing my baby, so we breastfeed in a bedroom. I feel this is respectful because it is my father-in-law’s home.

    I do try to find a more secluded spot to nurse in public now that Baby is 10 months old, insists on nursing sitting up, and turns his head to investigate every little sound that he hears. There is absolutely no way to nurse discreetly in public anymore.

    My opinion is that you should do whatever makes YOU comfortable. Unless someone tells you that they are uncomfortable, don’t assume that they are.

    In the case of the party hostess, it is likely that SHE was more comfortable nursing in private.

    That’s my two cents…

  40. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s fine to nurse in public- I never feel uncomfortable when someone is nursing her baby in the same room as everyone else. I’ve done the same.

    I’ve also been the one to leave the room at times. I’m not a small chested mommy and so when I nurse it wasn’t always as modest as I wanted it to be! Sometimes baby would fuss, or with my firstborn I just needed practice, or one of my kids just liked to flap my shirt up and down with one arm (!), etc. I noticed that one of my kids needed peace and quiet to nurse. It could be anything, but I don’t think her leaving the room is saying that you shouldn’t! She’s just doing what she needs to!
    :-)

  41. I’ve been wondering about this too. I’m nursing my 4th baby and though I use a cover-up (has a string that snaps around the neck, I LOVE this thing!!), I sometimes wonder if I’m “overstepping” other’s feelings/sensitivities by nursing in front of them. The most uncomfortable for me is church in the sanctuary. We usually sit in the first row (my husband’s choice), so I think I’m out of view of everyone else BUT the pastor and music minister. I know our pastor is used to it by now (I nursed our 3rd child there too) but I do wonder about our music minister who is young and single. The former youth pastor’s wife nursed her child in Sunday School class which was very helpful to me. (I was almost due with our 3rd.) This let me know that the church was already somewhat used to it.

    I guess I’d echo the comments above (I didn’t read all of them), it’s your free choice to nurse in public but in a more private situation you may ask those around you. I find that I’m afraid most people wouldn’t be honest with me. Also, I’m so nosy and feel like I miss out on so much anyway that I don’t want to hide away!! :)

  42. Chris Cuppage says:

    I am from the UK and am smiling a little over this discussion. Why? In the UK it is illegal to ask a breastfeding mother to move on when she is breastfeeding in public. Those of us that do breastfeed do it anywhere and everywhere although some shopping centres have special baby facilities for that purpose. Ikea has a special feeding area in their restaurants for instance with a comfy chait and cushions etc. We also do not routinely use blankets etc to cover ourselves. We have nursing tops if you want to be more discrete but pretty much we just pull up our top and feed. I have been known to feed at the communion rail before now – no problem.
    I think you do whatever you feel comfortable doing – sitting where you are comfy and what works for baby too. If it starts a conversation then use it to convey some facts – yes this is normal, no it doesn’t really hurt and it is worth it.

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