Last week, the Pope made headlines when he encouraged mothers to breastfeed in the Sistine Chapel.
Many women want to nurse their babies, but are uncertain about whether they will feel comfortable doing so in public. According to Lauren Reyes, IBCLC, of UpSpring Lactation, without nursing in public, it would be nearly impossible to meet the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life and the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommendation breastfeed up to age 2 or beyond.
1. Nursing Cover
One of the simplest solutions to discreet nursing is a nursing cover with a wire top. Put the cover on apron-style, and the opening at the top enables you to see your baby without covering her head. Bebe Au Lait makes adorable covers, including some in lightweight muslin to help keep baby comfy while feeding. If you prefer a cover that looks more like clothing, Serephine makes a pretty nursing shawl with side snaps that allows nursing to be fashionable. Both covers can also work overtime as blankets or infant seat covers.
2. Double Your Shirt
Many moms are sheepish about pulling up their top to nurse in public and revealing their post-partum "mummy tummy." The easiest solution to hiding your fourth-trimester flab is to wear a nursing tank under your regular shirt. There are plenty of options available in tons of colors. Most have a built-in nursing bra as well. Even for those Moms completely comfortable with the state of their tummies, this is a great option for staying warm while nursing in winter. The Cami Sutra by Milk Nursingwear is a great option that has a full bra included (rather than a shelf bra) and Milk Nursingwear has lots of nursing-friendly dresses and tops as well. For mothers who might need a little more support, Undercover Mama is a tank that attaches directly to a nursing bra.
3. Specialized Wardrobe
There are tons of truly adorable clothing designed just for nursing that help you stay discreet. Many of these options are also great for discreetly pumping at work or even for nursing at formal affairs. There are several different options and styles so every Mom can find something she loves. For example, Japanese Weekend has nice dresses that can be discretely opened from the side to allow nursing without the need to lift up your shirt. Other Japanese Weekend dresses have flexible collars that allow them to be lowered for easy nursing access. Serephine (as worn by Princess Kate) has flattering shirts with snaps and zippers on the shoulder that allow one-handed access. Boob Designs makes shirts with a panel that lifts up to provide easy access for nursing while keeping your tummy covered.
4. A Simple Scarf
A simple option that provides some coverage without covering your baby's head is an infinity scarf. The scarf is worn around the mother's neck and part falls over the top of the breast covering anything that might otherwise show. Au Fait Mama takes a nice approach to this method, because their scarf can also be pulled over one shoulder to use as a more full-coverage nursing cover. It's also large enough to double as a small blanket.
5. Use Your Carrier
Most new moms discover the benefits of using a baby carrier early on. While many newborns will have difficulty nursing in a baby carrier, many babies even a month or two old can do this with ease. A favorite carrier for nursing is a ring sling, such as Maya Wrap Ring Sling. The Maya Comfortfit is easily adjustable so you can move the fabric to a position that is comfortable for you and your baby while nursing without covering your baby's head. Some Mamas nurse slightly older babies in soft-structured carriers, such as the Liliebaby, with or without a light blanket, such as muslin blankets by aden + anais, covering their carrier.
6. Stop Distractions
Many babies begin to be easily distracted while nursing around four months or so. This can potentially cause issues with unwanted exposure if baby pops on and off the breast. One solution that works well for highly distractible babies is for Mom to wear a nursing necklace, such as Chew Beads, that not just look cute, but are made from baby-safe silicone.
7. Just Go For It
Mothers have been nursing their babies with no special gadgets since the beginning of time. Lauren Reyes, IBCLC, says that "Some moms go for it and bare all while others have find ways to cover up entirely. Babies don't seem to mind either way as long as they are being fed making this more of a cultural concern." There is nothing at all wrong with lifting whatever shirt you happen to have on and just feeding your baby.
8. Know the Law
Although it shouldn't happen, you may find yourself being challenged about the right to nurse your baby in public. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws protecting the right to breastfeed anywhere you and your baby are allowed to be and many of these laws specific that the mother does not need to cover up. It is knowledge you public shouldn't need to use, but it's good to be familiar with the law in your state in case you need to educate others who might challenge your right to feed your baby in public.
9. Practice Makes Perfect
If you are uncertain about nursing in public, Lauren Reyes, IBCLC recommends practicing latching your baby at home in front of a mirror, your partner or a friend. Knowing exactly what everyone can see (or not see) ahead of time may make you more comfortable nursing in public. If you need a bit of advice, UpSpring Lactation consultants are available via Doctors on Demand to address any breastfeeding questions or concerns that nursing mothers have, including breastfeeding in public.
10. Have confidence!
Believe that you can do it! Check out these gorgeous images of moms confidentially nursing in public and know that you can do this too. After all, you are doing nothing more than feeding a hungry baby and we should strive to live in a society where there is absolutely no shame in performing this basic and necessary task. If you need some encouragement, look at all of these beautiful photos from Paulina Splechta Photography and Sarah Perry Photography.
Lauren Reyes, IBCLC, sums it up well when she says, "No matter how you do it, each time someone sees you breastfeed in public it makes it more normal for everyone." Whether you opt to go bare or cover up as much as possible nursing in public you are not just providing your baby with great nutrition and strong bonding time, but you just may encourage another Mom to have the courage to do so as well.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly called the 'The Maya Wrap Sling' the 'Moby Wrap Ring Sling.' It also misspelled photographer Paulina Splechta's name.