Congratulations on your beautiful breastfeeding relationship! Learning how to breastfeed can be a steep learning curve, for both you and your child. That’s right, breastfeeding is a learned skill. Shock! Horror! “Whaaaaaat???”, I hear you exclaim. It’s true! We don’t just magically know how to breastfeed our children. We learn by seeing other people breastfeed, receiving good support and by experiencing it, together with our babies.
Breastfeeding in public can be quite a shock. You’ve finally laid eyes on this small person for the very first time, but you’ve known them their whole life. You go through first feeds and the eye-twitching sensation of having a baby latch to your breast for the first time. You go through any number of ups and downs and the shock of being screamed awake by a tiny person for the very first time. Finally, it all begins to settle. Then, it’s your first trip to the supermarket post-birth. Baby is hungry. Oh, lawd. You’ve just ironed out the rough patches at home, but sitting there in public, about to pull your boob out in to the icy air conditioning, it hits you... this is not your lounge room.
Never fear! You are not the first person with a hungry baby in a public place, feeling like a deer in headlights. Here are my tips and tricks for breastfeeding in public!
- You’ve got this. Take some deep breaths. Your child is hungry; they need to be fed. Breastfeeding in public, whilst it can be nerve-wracking, is simply a child eating. Like any other human being does on a visit to the food court, or during perusal of shops, messily jamming a burrito in their mouth. No? Me neither...
- Find some comfortable, accessible clothes to breastfeed in. This doesn’t mean that breastfeeding in public is only acceptable if it is covered. It means that clothing you feel confident and comfortable in; can manoeuvre easily; that makes you feel like the superstar beauty you are, is going to help make feed times less stressful. No removing six layers while your newborn goes from fussing to howling heard from Mars in 0.2 seconds. No trying to find an entry-point (or boob exit-point, really) in that high-neck playsuit for your beyond tired toddler with a booboo on their knee. Pro tip: Mama Clothing ticks all of these boxes! http://www.mamaclothing.com.au
- Have a good support network, especially in the early days. Whether this is a partner, a parent, a sibling, or a friend, call on sources of solid, unconditional and positive support so you know you’re not alone. If life has made it so friends and family are not around or close by, perhaps look in to joining the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) and attending your local group meetings and events. Not only are ABA groups a fabulous source of information and support, they also enable us to see other people breastfeeding and this is such an important element of learning to breastfeed, often missing from our society. The more we see it, the more common breastfeeding becomes, which creates less hesitancy around breastfeeding in public and in general. Which leads us to point #4...
- Do it with others! Take your partner out for lunch, get your friends together for a cuppa, take your neighbour out for a piece of cake and breastfeed your child. If you’re a single parent (high five!), a defence spouse (props!), or have recently moved to a new area and don’t know anyone, sit next to another breastfeeding person. You can strike up a chat or just do the silent and stoic solidarity nod. Some of the hesitancy and fear surrounding breastfeeding in public can be due to shame. We don’t want to shame other parents, we don’t want to feel exposed, we don’t want people to berate or criticise us for choosing to breastfeed. Shame is such a difficult emotion. It can make the most confident person question their abilities and the most extroverted person shy away. A wise person once said “you can fix ‘shame’ by changing one letter... ‘share’!”. Share the experience of breastfeeding in public with people who are close to you and people who aren’t (yet). A stranger is just a friend you don’t know yet. Finally...
- I’m cheating because point #5 is really just point #1 all over again. However, it’s super important, so that’s why it begins and ends this list. You’ve got this. You really do. Not only do you have the right to be out in public, you and your child also have the right to breastfeed, which is protected under Australian law (Sex Discrimination Act 1984, section 7AA, if anyone gets up in your grill!). You are feeding your child and that is that. Breastfeeding, feeding, nursing... whatever you call it, it's normal and natural. Walk tall, stand proud; you’re doing an amazing job.
Go forth and breastfeed; it’s time to conquer the supermarket. May seats always be available and the air-conditioning always be temperate. Congratulations on every feed. Boob on!
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Mai is a Mum who would love to roll down hills, if it wasn't for a grass allergy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Sociology and is currently undertaking a postgraduate degree in counselling. Passionate about all things birth and breastfeeding, Mai has a special interest in: debriefing parenting experiences; birth trauma; grief; and loss. She is an advocate for tongue and lip tie support; breastfeeding rights; and feeding choices, including breastfeeding to term. She believes everyone deserves to tell their story and truly be heard.