Mothers know that their baby may need feeding wherever they are and whatever they are doing, and that their baby is their first priority.
The World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the Department of Health recommend that babies are breastfed whenever they show signs of needing a feed – including when out and about.
On the plus side, breastmilk is always ready, requires no preparation or sterilization and is always at the right temperature, so makes feeding easy wherever you are - you can just sit down and feed.
However some mothers can feel daunted at first about breastfeeding in public - whether in front of a relative or friend in your own home, or in a public place such as a cafe or shopping centre.
Breastfeeding out and about happens all the time without any problems at all, but most of us don’t notice it because we’re not looking out for it and because it’s usually done so discreetly.
Occasionally, you may hear about a breastfeeding mother encountering a negative response for feeding in public – this happens very rarely though, in fact most women find it’s usually quite the opposite.
Breastfeeding is the normal and natural way to feed a baby, and breastfeeding in public can help society to develop this view gradually over time.
Tips for breastfeeding when you're out and about
The first few times you breastfeed out and about might make you feel a little nervous – just like driving a car for the first time. But the more you do it, the more confident you’ll become, so that one day it won’t take a second thought. Until then, you may find these tips for breastfeeding in public useful, shared by some of Wolverhampton’s breastfeeding mothers:
Jane says “Practice makes perfect”. Breastfeeding is a skill to be learnt and the more you do it the better at it you and baby will become, but in the early days you may feel a little awkward latching baby onto your breast whilst out of your home. Some women find practicing at home in front of a mirror is reassuring, especially if you’re concerned about showing a lot of skin.
Sarah says “Choose your location”. Breastfeeding women generally only need two things to feed their baby ‘out and about’ - a place to sit and a welcoming attitude. Some women don’t even need to sit down, and learn to breastfeed while standing up or walking about. Ideally though, a place to sit comfortably with some support for your back is helpful for feeding out of the home. Some women find that breastfeeding at a breastfeeding group or with another breastfeeding mother helps to develop their confidence at first - click here for details of breastfeeding groups in your area.
Angie says “Consider trying ‘Breastfeeding-friendly’ clothing”. Most mothers find that wearing loose tops or blouses that they can open, lift or pull down is useful, but they needn’t be special “feeding” clothing, which can be expensive. If you’re uncomfortable about exposing your tummy, but want to lift your top to feed, wearing layers can be helpful.
Laura says “Don’t forget an easy-access bra!”. If you don’t want to invest in a feeding bra, that easily and discreetly opens to feed, a soft non-underwired bra can be easily pulled up or down when you want to feed your baby.
Anna says “Why not try a baby sling or carrier?” If you wear your baby in a sling or carrier, some are adapted so you can feed your baby without lifting them out first. The ‘Babywearing UK’ website provides details on baby slings and carriers and where to find more information locally.
Steph says “At first I liked to use a scarf or light cloth”. Some women prefer to drape a cloth or scarf over their breast while they are feeding or latching baby on, until they get the hang of it. They needn’t be special feeding ‘bibs’ – a lightweight muslin or silk scarf are ideal.
Lucy says “In the summer, popping a hat on my baby was very handy”. If your baby enjoys wearing a hat, some mothers find that a wide-brimmed baby hat provides plenty of cover for their breast, whilst latching baby on or feeding.
Diane says “In the early days, it was sometimes tricky latching baby on when out and about”. Most skin is likely to be shown when baby latches onto your breast, so some women simply turn their body slightly away at this moment, before turning back again when baby starts to feed.
Gayle says “Get some moral support!” Some mothers find that taking someone with them when they go out is helpful at first, such as their mother, partner, sister or friend, who can sit next to them and chat to them while they’re feeding. In the early days, this kind of moral support from friends and family is invaluable!
Nikki says “Try smiling”. Feeling watched by someone when feeding ‘out and about’? Try smiling – you’re doing something very important for the health of you and your baby and a friendly smile works wonders.
Lisa says “Plan what you might say if approached”. If someone speaks to you about breastfeeding out and about, plan your response. Often, a calm reminder of how you are protected by law to feed in public, and how a hungry, unsettled baby disturbs many more people, is all that you’ll need.
Faye says “Reply with “no thank you” if asked to feed in the toilets”. You shouldn’t be expected to feed in a toilet, changing room or anywhere else cramped, unclean or uncomfortable. Ask a member of staff if there is a quiet, private place to breastfeed.
Rachel says “Remember that you are protected by law to breastfeed in public”. Breastfeeding mothers are protected by the Equality Act (2010), which states that it is sex discrimination to treat a woman less favourably because she is breastfeeding. If you feel that you’ve been treated unfairly you can contact the Government Equalities Office. In Scotland there is also a specific law protecting the right of a mother to breastfeed in public, entitled the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005.
Sources of more information on breastfeeding in public:
Information for businesses
For many new mothers, feeding away from the privacy of their home can be daunting at first, so having somewhere to go where they feel safe feeding their baby, and can perhaps meet up with other mothers, is very important.
Women feel reassured when businesses and establishments have a welcoming attitude to breastfeeding mothers, especially if they have a breastfeeding-friendly policy and demonstrate a welcoming attitude towards breastfeeding to all of their patrons.
It’s helpful for businesses to be aware that establishments don’t necessarily need to provide special facilities for breastfeeding women – generally all women need is a place to sit down and a welcoming attitude, to feel comfortable breastfeeding their baby ‘out and about’.
For more information see the “Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know? A quick start guide for businesses who sell goods and services”. Government Equalities Office. July 2010.