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A Guide to Breastfeeding in Public

I knew I wanted to breastfeed when I had my first son. I imagined I would feed him every three or four hours and it would be comfortable and I would have tons of free time. I’m a bit of a dreamer. I quickly realized that I would have this boy attached to my breast 20 hours a day and the other four hours would be spent crying in my pajamas. If I wanted to speak to another grown-up, I would have to breastfeed in public.

I tried the whole shawl blanket thing, but I am positive it is hot and stuffy for your baby, latching is a nightmare, and it draws attention to the very thing you are trying not to draw attention to. You have to do whatever feels most comfortable, but after some awkward breastfeeding moments I became a full-fledged top-down nurser (for the uninitiated, this means I pull my top down and take my whole boob out to feed rather than pull my shirt up). After feeding two boys, I decided to create a little list of awkward breastfeeding moments and how to cope.

Disclaimer: I don’t have multiples and I have no idea how to tandem feed at a coffee shop. If you have done this, feel free to school me on your awesome techniques in the comment section.

  1. “Would You Like to Go Somewhere Private?”

Sometimes this happens when you go over to your friend’s house. You start to whip out your boob and they ask if you need another room. Don’t be fazed, 90% of the time they are trying to be polite and make you feel comfortable. The other 10%, they don’t get it, and need some good exposure to a healthy breastfeeding relationship.

Some babies only feed lying down, in which case, it is easier to go to another room. My second baby had to figure out how to breastfeed while I cooked dinner, and I got so little adult time there was no way in hell I would sequester myself to someone’s bedroom for 30 minutes when I had the chance to talk about something other than Shopkins. If you are visiting and someone asks you, “Would you feel more comfortable…” just look blankly at them. You can say, “Huh” or “Hmmmm.” And continue to feed. The fun part is watching them squirm.

  1. In Front of Dad or Grandpa

Look, I get it. It’s your dad, and in some ways you kinda wish you were 8 again. But you should just get over it. My experience is fathers are usually the coolest about seeing their daughters breastfeed. The fact is your dad probably thinks you are awesome, but can’t tell you because of the way he was raised so you might always feel slightly unworthy. Whatever. Take that to your therapist. In the meantime, your baby needs to eat and I can guarantee you that your dad would rather watch you breastfeed for a million years than kiss your good-for-nothing partner.

  1. Other People’s Dads

This is a horse of a different colour. If you ever find yourself at the all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast at the Hilton (don’t ask) you can expect some hairy eyeballs from the gentlemen over 70. Maybe their wives didn’t breastfeed, or only breastfed in private, I don’t know. For some reason, I have frequently breastfed in the company of slightly lecherous septuagenarians. If you are ever in similar circumstances, this is what you do: fix your face into the most unsexy, angry glare and shoot eyeball lasers at their bald heads. When they look up briefly, they will be shocked enough to go back their poached eggs. Works every time.

  1. Going Out to Dinner with your Breastfed Baby

Everyone told you that you’d never enjoy a restaurant experience again unless you leave the kids at home. But, you think to yourself, “Hey! Those moms are uptight and don’t know anything! I can do it ALL!” And along with planning to go back to work five seconds after giving birth, you decide it will be amazing to go to a restaurant with your child. For the first couple months this works and some babies just nurse and snooze so the nipple exposure opportunity is low. When your baby starts to look around and grab sharp utensils while you have your shirt pulled down and your hands are occupied, that is when you start to wonder why you didn’t just get take-out.

Going out to dinner can be done. Take a seat in a booth or a very quiet corner to minimize distractions. Remove all cutlery and glasses from baby’s reach. If you can, walk around or play while you wait for your food so your baby is a little tired out when the food arrives. Nurse when the food arrives, with the plate pretty far away, and if you can, order food you can eat with your hands. Place a napkin over your baby’s body to stop drips and for a light upper boob cover. Try to remember this rule: dine out with close friends who have seen you breastfeed, have coffee with folks you are less comfortable with until you get the hang of it.

  1. Breastfeeding on Public Transit

I took the subway often with my first son. He hated being in the car and wanted to be constantly moving. I would pace the subway train on my way to mommy groups. I never felt comfortable breastfeeding him on public transit. There were so many random people and he loved de-latching to listen to a heated argument causing prolonged nipple exposure and fire-hose milk spray. I couldn’t imagine a way to do that gracefully on public transit, until I saw her…

One day, on the way to some baby and me thing, this woman drifted on with her son. The smell of patchouli hit me first. She was dressed in several layers of maroon and blue floaty things. Her dreadlocked hair was tied into a giant pineapple shape on the top of her head. Her voice was almost sing-songy and I heard her 4-year-old ask for milk. He sat comfortably in her lap and fed. No one blinked an eye. She was everyone’s amazing hippy mom. Since then, I have breastfed often on the subway.

If you are nervous about breastfeeding anywhere, think about my encounter with that fearless breastfeeding champion. Channel the most gracious earth mama, imagine the Birks on your feet and the organic food in your belly. You are mother.

Now take out your boob.

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