We often spend time in an antenatal class discussing the perceived horrors of ‘getting them out’ in public places. With varying degrees of support from partners, other family members, and complete strangers, I can see why it is such a huge barrier, adding to the breastfeeding-related anxiety for mums-to-be.
Recently I asked a group ‘who are the first people you are likely to breastfeed in front of?’ and the answers that came back were: your partner, the midwives, your close family. One dad objected strongly: that’s not true, he said. You don’t have to do it in front of any of those people. He was profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of any kind of ‘public’ feeding.
But if the WHO guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, an inability to leave the house must have a serious impact on the new mother’s life.
That doesn’t mean you have to be completely brazen and bare all, on a bench outside the town hall, the very first time you do it, hence my question. By the time you are ready to go out for long enough that you are likely to have to feed your baby, the chances are that other people will have seen you do it already. But here are a few ideas to consider, that might make it a less daunting prospect:
Consider making your first outing to somewhere you know will be safe, non-judgemental, and with lots of other mums and babies. At NCT Bumps and Babies you will meet mums with babies of all ages, and a whole variety of different feeding experiences behind them. Or find a local breastfeeding support group. Or if you did antenatal classes and have a group of friends, organise a coffee morning at someone’s house. If the wallpaper is different, you might feel less isolated.
Getting Them Out
If you’ve been schlepping about at home wearing just a nightie for the first week or so, you might not have thought about the impact of wearing or not wearing the right clothing.
There are countless beautiful and expensive nursing tops available, with mysterious openings and clever tucks and folds. All you really need is a loose shirt, perhaps two layers (vest and t-shirt works well), that you can pull up; and the one essential piece of kit is a nursing bra, ideally the sort with a drop-down cup. You pull the top layer up, the bottom layer down, drop the cup and attach the baby, who then covers up most of the exposed flesh.
Things to avoid: bras that are not designed for this kind of easy access, tight tops, dresses, lots of buttons.
I am by no means saying that a nursing mother needs to cover herself as though ashamed of what she is doing, but if it makes you feel more comfortable, you could use a light scarf or a muslin square to disguise the fact that you are breastfeeding. I am skeptical about ‘nursing aprons’ and other devices that are designed to be worn while breastfeeding, because they don’t make the process any less discreet.
Get to know the places you know you can go, where you will feel safe and comfortable. Large stores often have a baby feeding area; smaller stores might have a changing room with a plastic chair next to the nappy bin. Coffee shops are a haven for mums, especially during the working week; just don’t sit in the window!
In England, the Equality Act 2010. specifically prohibits discrimination against breastfeeding mothers. Nobody can ask you to leave a public place on the grounds that you are breastfeeding.
This is another one of those concepts that is difficult to get your head around before you baby comes along; and then after a few days of focusing on breastfeeding, may well seem like much less of an issue. But don’t forget that there is a lot of support available from other mums and from groups where mums and babies meet; you don’t have to be stuck in the house.