Breastfeeding in Public

Dear yayas,

I’ve been nursing my baby for about six months now, at home and in public. I didn’t think much of it until the other day at the store when I looked up from nursing to see an older couple scowling at me. I’m not an idiot, it was pretty obvious they were disgusted with the fact that I was nursing without a cover. In hindsight, I’m mad at myself for not saying anything in the moment. But what was I supposed to say? Since then, I’ve been looking around more when I’m nursing in public and I feel like I get a lot of dirty looks and negative feedback. Is it all in my head? I’m suddenly paranoid after 6 months of hard work (breastfeeding is hard!) and don’t want to use a cover when we’re out because my son hates it and just waves it around, drawing more attention to us. Is it a generational thing? Any advice on how to deal with these Negative Nancys? I really want to get my confidence back.

– Nervous Nurser

Hi Nervous Nurser, First off-kudos to you for helping normalize breastfeeding around here! Secondly, breastfeeding is normal-and you do not, I repeat DO NOT, need to feel embarrassed, ashamed, or paranoid for feeding your baby. I typically choose to ignore anyone I feel “judged” by while I’m nursing; however, if you wanted to say something in a moment like that, I would go for gentle education over sarcasm (though, the sarcasm does sound like more fun, lol). I know that when I see another mom nursing in public, I want to high five her and let her know I get how tough it can be! I wouldn’t worry about other adults—they can look away. You worry about feeding your baby and making the right calls for you two. You’ve got this, momma! –Cortney

Unless directly spoken to, I always ignore. I choose to focus my energies on what’s most important – our nursing relationship. My motherhood time and energy is too precious to waste on nay-sayers. –Diana

I’m not sure I can help with this. In my day no one would breastfeed in public, so it was a whole different thing. Back then moms stayed at home and babies would be weaned by 7 or 8 months. If you breastfeed in a quiet place where you and the baby are both relaxed its just better. That’s so rude that people react that way. –Grama Claire Bear

Grama Claire Bear and I were talking about this and, wow, it is a generational thing! Not only did you not breastfeed in public you could not say the word “pregnant” and moms wore “smocks,” never tight clothes. Sounds like a lot of hiding before the baby was even born! Grama Claire Bear just said how there was a time when it was called “being in confinement” and you didn’t show your pregnant body! When I was nursing I had so many other issues going on and so focused on my daughter that I think I missed this one, although I’m sure it was there because I started to notice the scowling when Miranda was a toddler. I think there will always be scowlers, I would say to you look at that sweet baby’s face as she nurses, you created this miracle, nothing is more powerful than that bond! Be confident, be strong and know that if the trend of “uncovering” continues, times will change for the better for your children and their children. –Taren

Momma, you keep doing your thing! You just have to trust yourself on this one, you know what works for you and your kiddo. I do believe this type of reaction is often a generational issue. There is nothing to gain from confronting these individuals. Keep letting all your love for you kiddo shine and never let strangers steal your parenting comfort or confidence. –Karen

Nervous Nurser, I don’t really know about the generational thing, but I can tell you from experience that people in different parts of the US react differently to public nursing! I live in Ohio, and while I don’t know that I ever noticed anyone give me a dirty look while nursing in public, they certainly kept their distance. And I even used a cover up when nursing. I never noticed the regional aspect until I was nursing my third child at Disney World. I was so nervous about going there and knowing I’d have to nurse him in public! For me, nursing with lots of people around was nerve-wracking, so kudos to all women who are unfazed! In Florida, I was amazed how friendly everyone was. People there had no problem sitting down next to me and starting a conversation while I was nursing. So, I’m sure some of it is generational, but in my experience, I think where you live also can be a factor. Regardless, do what you need to do to keep your baby happy and healthy! And try your best to just ignore the Negative Nancys. They aren’t worth the energy. –Lorelei

Dear Nervous, You’ve really touched on something since so many of us felt compelled to answer! I get those same kind of dirty looks and, to be frank, it pisses me off. I’m not surprised you’re just noticing after 6 months. Breastfeeding can take such dedication and focus that we often don’t look around at first–our focus is where it needs to be: on our baby. When you finally get the latch down so that it’s habit and you feel you can look up, it can be really discouraging to be met with grumpy, disapproving faces. I try to have patience with older generations who disapprove because many were taught not to breastfeed their kids. I try to have patience with the younger, no-kids-yet generation because they really don’t know how much dedication it takes or understand the basic needs of a hungry child. Either way, their thoughts are their own problem—let them sort it out within themselves. You breastfeed on knowing you are doing the best for your child, your rights are protected, and there are those of us who have your back 100%, even if we can’t be there in the moment. If anyone ever does say anything to you, I would have a phrase ready, something like: “I have a legal right to breastfeed my child in public. I also have the legal right to report you for harassment.” (That’s pretty direct…come up with a line that is comfortable for you). You are giving your child a great start by breastfeeding. You are doing the world a great service by normalizing breastfeeding and nursing when your child needs it. Hugs, Lori Beth

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