Breastfeeding in public is one key skill that any breastfeeding mother must try to master (unless you are prepared not to step out of the house until your baby weans). Once you acquire this skill, the benefits of breastfeeding will be more obvious :
(a) You really don’t need to depend on bottles and formula milk even when going out, hence cost savings, as well as convenience since you don’t need to lug around bottles and stuff.
(b) You don’t need to restrict your outings or go through the hassle of finding nursing room while your baby is crying for food, hence the convenience aspect of breastfeeding really coming through.
(c) You will be able to soothe a fussy baby in public simply by latching your baby on to suck for comfort whereas other formula feeding mommies are in despair when bottles of formula milk are not able or not available to soothe their babies.
What you will need
Most Asian moms are shy when it comes to breastfeeding in public. A lot of people even frown at the sight of a mother nursing her baby in public. One thing you must have if you want to master the skill of breastfeeding in public, and that is a very thick skin. Thankfully this can be developed over time.
Another thing that you will need is some good nursing tops. They will help you to breastfeed discreetly. An alternative to nursing tops is simply any tee shirt (preferably a bit loose but need not be a big loose tee that makes you look like you are wearing a pillow case), or any open front blouse/shirt, and couple that with a nice shawl (e.g. stylish pashmina)/big scarf/your baby’s nice receiving blanket, etc. I used to use a muslin diaper which was meant to be Dominic’s burp cloth.
When you need to feed, simply throw your shawl or scarf over your shoulder (the side that you will be feeding from) and pull up that side of your tee shirt, or unbutton enough of your open-front shirt and pull aside, under the covering of your shawl/scarf, bring baby under the shawl/scarf and latch baby on. And yes, this does mean that you should know how to latch your baby on with your eyes closed.
Tip 1 : Try to match your shawl or whatever cover cloth you are using match with your outfit. Treat it like another piece of your clothing, an accessory you are wearing, and not just a piece of cover cloth. It looks much better and provide better camouflage. If you use a very contrasting piece of cloth, or something that will catch attention (e.g. a dirty and worn out piece of old multi-colour towel), people will certainly take notice and wonder what is that piece of thing doing over your shoulder.
One thing to note : unless it’s specially designed for nursing, one-piece dresses are definitely no-no for obvious reason.
Other than nursing tops (or other appropriate clothings), obviously, you will need to be wearing a nursing bra. Make sure you get those that you can hook/unhook with one hand.
A lot of breastfeeding mothers, including myself, find the sarong sling a very useful tool to breastfeed discreetly in public. It is not a must, but certainly highly recommended. Your baby can be positioned easily for feeding and once you have latched your baby on, you can actually continue to walk around and shop without anyone knowing that you are feeding your baby! You need to be quite good at using the sling first though, but don’t worry, it is not difficult at all to master the use of the sling.
I am writing the following as a step-by-step guide, assuming that a very, very shy first-time breastfeeding mother who has never breastfed in public is reading this. Of course, if you are gungho enough, there is no need for you to follow the steps through religiously.
Step 1 – Practise at Home
Put on appropriate clothings and simulate the situation of breastfeeding in a public nursing room. Practise latching your baby on and unlatching your baby under a covering cloth (i.e. without having to see). Practise using the sarong sling, if you are going to be using one. Practise in front of a mirror. Practise until you can do it single-handedly and quite easily. Then move on to …
Step 2 – Start breastfeeding at places (other than at home) where you can get some privacy.
E.g. Department stores or other public places with nursing rooms or baby rooms, friends’ and relatives’ homes where they can let you use one of their bedrooms.
This first step is for you to overcome the inertia of not stepping out of the house because “it’s just too much trouble to breastfeed outside”. You will need to know in advance whether nursing rooms are available in the public places that you are going to.
Check out the nursing room first, before proceeding to do whatever other things you need to do, so that you know exactly where to go when you need to feed your baby. This is to save you the panicky trouble of hunting high and low for the nursing room with a screaming hungry baby. Proceed to the nursing room to feed your baby as soon as you sense that he is going to need a feed, before he starts to cry.
Once you are comfortable with going out with the baby and breastfeed when you are out, go on to…
Step 3 – Start breastfeeding at quiet corners of public places
In other words, you have to stop going to nursing rooms but look for alternative places which are open public places, yet quiet enough to give you a certain level of privacy. E.g. a corner in a quiet cafe, some quiet corners of department stores (with benches you can sit on) where there are less traffic. You may want to start by going to these places during off-peak season so that it’s easier for you to find quiet places. Avoid weekends, public holidays and school holidays for obvious reasons.
Tip 2 : Try to feed your baby before he is really hungry. A hungry and crying baby will most certainly attract attention for you and press your panic button. Hence, for a start, you may want to go to familiar places with nursing rooms, so that you have a back up plan in case you can’t find any quiet corners when you panic.
Tip 3 : If you have friends who are good at breastfeeding in public, it will certainly be good if your first few attempts at breastfeeding in public are done with these friends around to give you moral support. Make it a long delayed (?) gathering and you can all breastfeed together. If you don’t have friends who are breastfeeding, find someone whom you think can give you the necessary moral support.
By the time you master Step 3, you should have overcome most of your shyness and become quite an expert at latching your baby on/unlatching effortlessly. You can actually continue with Step 3 but I think you should have no problem moving on to …
Step 4 – Breastfeed Anywhere!
As soon as you think you have overcome all your inhibitions and are ready to venture to breastfeed anytime, anywhere, stop looking for nursing rooms or quiet corners and well, ‘just do it’.
Tip 4 : Your body language will attract attention and ‘give you away’. If you look very conscious of what you are doing, or look very nervous, make a fuss of things, chances are, people will notice you more. If you act natural and nonchalant, passer-bys will probably not notice you or even if they do, they probably won’t think that you are feeding your baby. Do some other ‘normal’ things such as read a magazine, talk to friend, look at merchandise. By the way, I am not suggesting that breastfeeding in public is not ‘normal’.
Tip 5 : What should you do if strangers know that you are breastfeeding? Be confident and smile. You are not doing anything shameful. You may want to quickly and discreetly check to make sure that you are still well covered. However, if you have reasons to think that whoever looking at you has ill-intentions (lecherous look?), give him a stern stare back or even tell him off.
By the time you achieved Step 4, I think you should be able to breastfeed confidently anywhere in public places. You may be so expert that you don’t even need nursing wear, or cover cloth. Some of us are no longer shy about exposing a bit of our bodies.
Let me put it this way, if my baby is hungry and needs to be fed, my first priority is to feed him even if it means feeding in a crowded place, or exposing part of my body. I won’t care what other people think. After all, I probably won’t be seeing these people again ever in my life time. So who cares?
Tip 6 : If you are wearing a button-front top, unbutton from the bottom to feed. This will expose less flesh than buttoning from the top.