I know this is a hot-button issue. But I decided to go for it anyway. It's truly sad that our culture (meaning the US) has sexualized things so much that people are uncomfortable with their own bodies and the bodies of other. Sometimes I wonder if breastfeeding in public would be more accepted if everyone could just agree on the etiquette that goes with it. It seems like everyone has differing options on how it should be done. Here's my take on the subject for both breastfeeding moms AND those who might encounter them.
Moms have a right to breastfeed pretty much anywhere they want. There are laws in most states that protect that right. That being said, I believe that discretion is important. Now, I'm not saying you should try to hide what you're doing – not at all! But I do think that a little bit of discretion goes a long way.
Advice for moms:
- Use a cover* (if your child will tolerate it).
- Move to somewhere less crowded if you're in a busy area.
- Wear clothing that reduces how much skin is shown, such as comfortable nursing tops or tanks, instead of taking off your entire shirt.
- Smile at people who pass by to let them know that you're confident and comfortable.
- If something slips out of place and/or you show more than intended (ie baby moves your shirt, pulls back from your boob, etc..), try to calmly move on. You do not need to apologize or call attention to what happened.
- If someone tells you they are uncomfortable with you NIP, ask what you can do to reduce their discomfort. You can then decide if what they're asking is a reasonable accommodation for you to make.
- Ask if you think NIP might make some people uncomfortable or if you're around strangers. Why? Because it's the considerate thing to do. You can simply say, “Hey guys, Lucy is hungry. I'm going to nurse her here. Do you mind if I skip the cover? She's been really squirmy lately.” This gives someone who may be uncomfortable the opportunity to excuse themselves, or speak up and let you know their feelings.
Advice for everyone else:
- If you support breastfeeding, when you see a mother NIP, smile at her or give her a thumbs up.
- If you don't support breastfeeding, please do not make faces or snide remarks. Remember, this mother has the right to breastfeed her child, no matter what your personal beliefs may be.
- Be friendly – it's ok to ask a nursing mom if she'd like some company or some help.
- It's ok to ask questions if you're curious. Asking questions is much better than making assumptions.
- Negative comments about the age of the child related to their breastfeeding relationship are inappropriate. Breastfeeding is a parenting decision, and the choice to breastfeed to whatever age should be respected, regardless of personal beliefs.
- If something slips out and you see more than the mom intended, politely look away. Do not make a big deal out of it. She may or may not be embarrassed, and pointing out the issue will only make things worse.
- Remember that nursing covers are an option, not a requirement. Some babies do not like to be covered, some moms find them cumbersome, or sometimes they're left behind by accident.
- NEVER suggest that a mother should nurse her child in a bathroom or any other icky place.
- If you're in a situation where you feel like you're unable to just walk away and you're uncomfortable, it's ok to say so. Not everyone is comfortable with seeing a mom NIP. Just be prepared with a solution. For instance, if you're uncomfortable with the amount of skin showing, you could say “Excuse me. I'm not quite comfortable with my kids seeing a woman nurse her baby in public. Would you mind adjusting your shirt so it covers things up a bit more?” Notice that this statement is NOT judgemental, is NOT negative, AND offers a solution to the issue. Keep in mind that a nursing mom does not have to accommodate your request. If nothing else, you can always just look away.
*I realize recommending moms use a cover is controversial. I don't believe in hiding what you're doing, but I do think that covers make breastfeeding more socially acceptable to the public in general. There's less of a chance of flashing boob by accident, which seems to be a big fear many people have about mothers NIP. I'm not saying this is right for every situation, but I think covers are a small step towards normalizing breastfeeding for those that are anti-NIP or have never seen it before.
Above all, try to be considerate and respectful. Personally, I think it would be great if all breastfeeding moms felt comfortable enough to nurse in public. This isn't a complete list of all things related to NIP etiquette, but hopefully these guidelines will help.
Now, my disclaimer. I've never nursed in public. I exclusively pump, which means I feed my son breastmilk from a bottle. What makes me think I'm qualified to write this? 1) I've been a NIP observer, both willingly and unwillingly. 2) I've pumped in public. I know it's not the same, but a lot of similar issues come up. And yes, I do follow my own advice. If I'm pumping in my car, I use a cover. If my husband is with me, I ask if he minds if I pump in front of him. Sure, he's my husband, and no, he doesn't have a problem with it, but it's my way of being considerate.
This post came about from an experience I had at an ECFE class. You can read about it here.
If you have any suggestions, additions, or feedback on my list above, I'd love to hear it!