Whether it’s nutrition, bonding, or convenience, breastfeeding ticks all the boxes. And while your baby and you may have settled into a happy rhythm at home, what if you need to step out or travel with your baby? Breastfeeding seamlessly through the first year also means that your baby and you are a team when it comes to running errands or socializing. But is it ok to breastfeed in public? Are there any social norms you should follow? Isn’t it better to opt for a bottle when you’re out? If you are daunted by the thought of offering your baby a feed in a public space, here are some things to consider.
Regular breastfeeding is good for the mom, too – it might help you recover more quickly from pregnancy and childbirth, lose pregnancy weight, and lower your risk for ovarian and breast cancer.1
Breastfeeding is the purest form of nutrition for your baby and has a range of benefits linked to growth, development, and immunity. Not only does it contain the nutrients they require, it also has antibodies and hormones which protect your baby from diseases. In fact, breastfed babies are less likely to get ear infections, diarrhea, asthma, eczema, and respiratory infections. They also have a lower risk of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.2 And it’s in your baby’s best interests to make sure you feed them as much of this “liquid gold” as seamlessly as possible. But just as importantly, breaking the rhythm of your breastfeeding routine may not be optimal for your child. Here’s why you should continue to breastfeed while you are out in a public space:
Breast Milk Composition Changes Through The Day And Your Baby Needs All Variations
Breast milk is a wonderful cocktail of nutrients and beneficial components. But did you know that the composition of breastmilk itself varies through the day? Yes, in fact, there’s a distinct difference between the breast milk produced during the day and at night! Ingredients such as nucleotides in breastmilk play a part in exciting or relaxing your baby’s central nervous system. So essentially the breastmilk has day- and night-specific variations that, respectively, stimulate activity during the day and have a hypnotic effect during the night.3 Why should your baby miss out on any of these variations when you need to step out?
A Regular Breastfeeding Routine Helps Your Baby Sleep Better
The subtle alterations in the composition of breast milk help train your baby’s body clock and help them settle down to a healthy sleep-wake cycle. For instance, levels of the amino acid tryptophan which is used by the body to manufacture melatonin – a hormone that regulates sleep – peaks at night and promotes nocturnal sleep. It might also account for why breastfed babies sleep better than formula-fed babies. And better sleep proves to be an advantage when it comes to your baby’s brain development.4 5 Again, an uninterrupted breastfeeding routine across the day and night keeps your baby’s body clock well-tuned, so it’s best not to hinder this process.
Regular Feeding Helps Customize Your Milk For Your Baby’s Growth
Your breast milk alters to meet your baby’s changing needs as they grow older. Research even suggests that chemicals from your baby’s saliva which get transferred to your body during breastfeeding helps you produce milk that is suited to your baby’s needs.6
Breastfeeding Helps You Bond Better With Your Baby
The process of breastfeeding helps you bond better with your baby. The skin to skin contact that occurs during breastfeeding boosts your levels of oxytocin, a hormone that has a calming effect and promotes the flow of breast milk. Physical contact is also important for babies – it helps them feel secure and comforted. There’s no reason to miss out on or put a wrench in this delicate relationship just because you need to get on with other perfectly normal things in life!7 8
Breastfeeding Means Less Work When You’re Out!
No bottle to sterilize, fewer supplies to pack, and a steady supply of milk that’s always at the right temperature! Breastfeeding can cut down on work and make life much easier for you, especially when you step out.9
For proper nutrition and growth, your baby needs regular feeding and all variations of breast milk that your body produces across the day. So breastfeeding in public is often a necessity than a choice. Don’t shy away from it.
Now that we’ve established your baby will do much better if you just continue to breastfeed whether you’re at home or out, here are some tips on how you can breastfeed in public so you have a hassle-free experience.10 11
Know You Have A Right To Breastfeed In Public
While the odd stories about breastfeeding moms being shamed can be discomfiting, know that breastfeeding is nothing to be embarrassed about. You cannot stay at home at all times and your baby needs to be fed – it’s as simple as that! No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public. In fact, in many countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada, the law protects your right to breastfeed in public. Learn about your rights and find out about the legal protection afforded to you. Just knowing what your rights are will help you relax in public.12 13 Smile, stay relaxed, and be confident. Both your baby and people around you will recognize and respond to these cues!
Practice At Home In The Initial Days
It’s perfectly natural to be anxious about breastfeeding in public when you’re yet to get the hang of it. Figuring out the logistics and practicing at home can help you gear up for baby’s day out. Try out different seating position, noise levels, and environments even within the house, so both you and your baby get a taste of what the outside world is likely to be. And don’t worry about the early jitters. With time, it’ll become second nature for you and your baby to just slip into the routine.
While you have the right to breastfeed anywhere, it still pays to do a bit of brainstorming and mentally map out breastfeeding-friendly spots in the area you are visiting. Remember, this is basically to find a place where you will be comfortable.
You can’t stay cooped up at home all through your baby’s breastfeeding phase, neither can your baby go hungry. Breastfeeding your baby is a commitment you should be proud of. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
For instance, if you are headed to a park, chalk a route that includes a relatively quieter patch of green or a bench where your baby can feed with minimum distractions. Malls and supermarkets usually offer baby rooms where you can change and feed your baby peacefully. A dressing room or women’s lounge in a store can also double up as a quiet and private space for you to feed your baby. Don’t ever force yourself into a space such as a public loo that’s not right for feeding your baby, though. Your baby has every right to be fed anywhere – internalize that and you should be fine!
Travel light when you move around with your baby, carrying nothing more than a compact bag. The last thing you’d want is to be hassled by extra baggage as you try to breastfeed.
Wear comfortable clothes that can be buttoned down or pulled up at the waist in a jiffy . Some moms prefer loose tops that can easily be lifted up. Others dress up in two stretchy tops so the tummy stays covered as you pull down the bottom layer and lift up the top layer. Wear a soft bra without an underwire that can easily be pulled down or up.
Use A Blanket Or Scarf To Cover Up If Need Be
Whether or not you want cover up while breastfeeding is entirely up to you. If you’re uncomfortable about exposing skin in public, use a blanket or scarf. Lay it across your breast or around your shoulders and feed your baby. Just do a couple of dry runs at home as well so your baby gets used to it.14 Nursing tops and covers that are specifically designed for breastfeeding are also available in the market. Experiment and see what works best for you.
Some baby slings are also ergonomically designed so you can feed the baby even while they are in the sling. This options works once your baby is able to hold their head up.
Recognize Early Hunger Cues And Feed Before Baby Is Cranky
If your baby is allowed to get too hungry, they can get fussy or start crying. And the last thing you’d want on a ride out is a hungry baby having a meltdown while you frantically try to feed them!
Learn to recognize early signs that your baby is hungry and gear up to feed them by then. For instance, your baby may open their mouth or turn their head as though they’re seeking your breast.15 Find a spot quickly and settle down before they get restless.
Take A Non-Confrontational Approach To Criticism
Nobody has the right to criticize you for breastfeeding in public. But if someone does, remember that you’re not required to respond. If you feel threatened, move away from whoever is criticizing and look for people who can offer support. And if you’re asked to leave a public place for breastfeeding, do keep in mind that you do have the right to challenge this. And if it gets too uncomfortable and you wish to leave, remember that in many countries the law may allow you to file a claim for discrimination.16
In many places, people may have a positive response to moms breastfeeding in public. In fact, one survey done in the United Kingdom found that 72% of people support women breastfeeding in public.17
Incidentally, you are also likely to come across well-meaning passers-by who’d want a chance to admire the baby! Politely point out that the baby is in the middle of a feed (and not sleeping as they’d have imagined) and they should move along.
Reach Out To Friends For Support
Reach out to friends who have older babies, your midwife, or local support groups. They can provide valuable insights about breastfeeding-friendly places, keep you plied with handy tips, and also advise you about things like handling criticism based on their own experience. Also, in the initial days, have a friend or family member tag along so you can ease into the process with a friendly face around.
|↑1, ↑7||Incredible facts about babies, breast milk, and breastfeeding. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑2, ↑6, ↑8||Making the decision to breastfeed. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑3||Sánchez, Cristina L., Javier Cubero, Javier Sánchez, Belén Chanclón, Montserrat Rivero, Ana B. Rodríguez, and Carmen Barriga. “The possible role of human milk nucleotides as sleep inducers.” Nutritional neuroscience 12, no. 1 (2009): 2-8.|
|↑4||Breast Milk, the Synchronizer. International Milk Genomics Consortium.|
|↑5||Cubero, J., V. Valero, J. Sánchez, M. Rivero, H. Parvez, A. B. Rodríguez, and C. Barriga. “The circadian rhythm of tryptophan in breast milk affects the rhythms of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin and sleep in newborn.” Neuroendocrinology Letters 26, no. 6 (2005): 657-662.|
|↑9||Making the decision to breastfeed. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑10, ↑12||Breastfeeding in public. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑11||Breastfeeding in public. National Health Service.|
|↑13||Breastfeeding It’s Your Right. INFACT.|
|↑14||Breastfeeding in public. Start4Life.|
|↑15||Baby Feeding Cues (signs). Government of Western Australia.|
|↑16, ↑17||Breastfeeding in public. Start4Life.|