TL;DR

  • Breastfeeding in public is not only sometimes very necessary, it’s also federally protected and, in addition, 25 states have specific laws allowing nursing even without a cover.
  • The ACA requires employers allow time for breastfeeding, and for businesses with >50 employees to have dedicated spaces available for breastfeeding.
  • Being prepared to breastfeed in public means having a nursing cover always on hand and dressing to make it easier for both you and the baby. It doesn’t hurt to practice beforehand in the comfort of your home, too!
  • Scope out potential nursing locations beforehand and avoid breastfeeding in public restrooms at all costs. Don’t be afraid to ask a clerk or employee where they think the best place to nurse would be.
  • Avoid places where your baby might get distracted or worked up and try to choose locations where you can be inconspicuous and efficient.  
  • If a stranger approaches, don’t get defensive; explain what you are doing and politely turn away.

Even if you perfectly planned your weekly grocery trip to fall in-between your little one’s feedings, there’s always a chance that he or she will get hungry while you are in the middle of shopping. Rather than leave your cart and rush home, you may decide to feed your little one in public. The first few times can be a little tricky, but you will soon be a pro at nursing your little one whenever he or she gets hungry with these tips and tricks.

Legal Issues for Breastfeeding in Public

With so many stories in the media about mothers being asked not to breastfeed in certain stores or locations, many people wonder whether it’s legal to nurse in public. The short answer is that, yes, it’s legal to nurse in public. There isn’t a single law in any state that prohibits a mother from breastfeeding in public, and 49 states (every state but Idaho) have laws that specify that women have the right to breastfeed in both private and public locations.

Additionally, 25 states have laws that specify that nursing without a cover can not be considered indecent exposure. Breastfeeding in public is also federally protected; in 1999, federal laws were passed that specified nursing is always allowed on federal property. Other states have additional laws that offer other protections for breastfeeding moms. So, yes, you have every right to nurse your little one whenever he or she gets hungry.

Where Can (and Can’t) You Nurse in Public

That said, your little one always has to be restrained in a moving vehicle, so nursing your baby while driving is against the law. Additionally, most laws specify that the mother must have the right to be in the location and that it must be safe in order to nurse your little one there. For example, you aren’t allowed to nurse in places that emit high levels of radiation or toxic airborne chemicals.

If you are a pumping mom with a baby under 12 months of age, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that your employer must allow you to have time to pump with no limits as to the length or the number of times you need to pump. The ACA also requires that companies who employ more than 50 individuals provide a private space for pumping. This space cannot be a restroom.

How to Prepare for Breastfeeding in Public

You never know when your new baby will suddenly get hungry or if he or she will suddenly need to be comforted with nursing. Prepare ahead of time so that when your baby begins to make hunger cues, you will be ready to nurse.

  • Always keep a lightweight blanket and/or an extra nursing cover tucked in your diaper bag. A good carry-all tote will help keep everything organized.
  • Dress in a manner to make nursing easier. Button-down blouses, 2-piece outfits or shirts that have enough stretch to be easily lifted or pulled to the side work best.
  • Practice ahead of time. Nurse your baby in front of the mirror and see how much of your breast is exposed when you nurse. If you aren’t comfortable, try a different position, practice draping a blanket over your shoulder or re-arrange your clothing to make yourself more comfortable. If you use a nursing pillow at home, practice without one or try using a rolled-up blanket to help hold up your little one.
  • Print out a copy of the breastfeeding laws for your state. Most moms never have to face being asked to stop nursing, but if you are, you can calmly pull out your copy of your rights. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a succinct listing of all of the breastfeeding laws for each state.

Tips and Tricks to Make Breastfeeding in Public Easier

  • If you know you will probably have to nurse while you are out, scout possible nursing locations ahead of time. Choose a corner booth at a restaurant, look for a quiet bench in the shade of a tree at the park or look for a comfortable chair in the library or bookstore.
  • Don’t resort to feeding your little one in the restroom. You wouldn’t want to eat in the restroom, so it’s not a good idea to feed your baby there. Don’t be afraid to ask a clerk or salesperson if there’s a place you can nurse your baby if you don’t feel comfortable in front of others. Many department stores, airports and malls have special rooms for nursing mothers.
  • Try to minimize distractions. You will probably want to nurse your baby as quickly as possible so you can return to your activity. A little one who continually pulls off the breast because he or she is so distracted can make nursing frustrating.
  • Carefully drape a lightweight blanket over your shoulder to cover yourself while nursing. Make sure that the baby doesn’t become overheated by occasionally peeking under the blanket and checking on him or her.
  • Try using a nursing cover that has a rigid neckline. This will allow your little one to see you while he or she nurses while still keeping you covered.
  • Feed your little one before he or she gets too worked up. A screaming baby is stressful for you and those around you. Pay attention to your baby’s cues and feed him or her before the crying begins.
  • If you are approached by a curious stranger, don’t get too defensive. Politely explain you are feeding your baby and turn away. Focus on taking care of you and your baby and avoid creating a scene.

Nursing your baby away from home for the first time may seem a little daunting. With practice and confidence, you will soon be able to breastfeed your baby whenever he or she gets hungry and will be able to take much-needed trips out of your home.

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