Nursing in Public

A few days ago, I read this funny article about nursing in public. I know that acceptance over nursing in public varies so much from family to family, town to town, state to state etc…, but I am wondering what all of your experiences have been with nursing around other people. Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject:

  • My mom nursed each of her 6 kids for at least a year, and long before I became a mother, I saw my sister Heather openly nurse around all of us. I didn’t give it a lot of thought at the time, but I suppose that I assumed that I would just do the same.
  • I have occasionally used a nursing cover or blanket when nursing, but I soon learned that it is pretty easy to nurse without a blanket and without exposing my breast(s) (or at least very much of them at least). Also, by the time a baby is around 5months old, they do not like having a blanket on their head when nursing (or at least mine didn’t). When I do choose to go and nurse in a quiet place, it is more because I want my baby to focus on nursing and not be distracted and not so much because I am worried about what other people will think.
  • I feel very lucky to live in a place where nursing is very accepted. I would feel comfortable nursing in the library, parks etc…
  • There have been very few times when I have felt like someone around me was uncomfortable with me nursing in public. A few months ago when I was in Portland at an Olive Garden, I just got the vibe that the guy across from us was not comfortable… but I continued to nurse (as modestly as possible), because I cared more about my baby crying and being hungry than I did about that guy. Maybe some of you have been uncomfortable but have just done a really good job hiding it? Are you the guy in the Olive Garden?
  • I can only name one time when I was a bit uncomfortable with a mom nursing in front of me. I was in Klamath Falls at a swimming pool at the Running Y. I made conversation with a mom from Portland who was down visiting. Every 10 minutes or so, her child who was over the age of two would come over and she would on demand nurse her for about 3o seconds. This continued a few times. Portland mama would full on pull her whole swimming suit top down to nurse. I’m not sure exactly what about it made me feel uncomfortable, but I am totally owning that it was a little awkward.
  • I am totally fine with the concept of trying to nurse as modestly as possible, but I ultimately am going to get that baby/toddler fed, whether someone around me is uncomfortable or not.
  • I wonder what I would say if someone told me that they were uncomfortable. Hmmm…. anyone ┬áhave any good ideas??

So my questions for all of you:

-Has anyone ever commented on your nursing in public or even around family members?

-How did you handle it?

-How do you feel when you see women nursing openly in public?

-Do you live an area where it is socially acceptable?

I may sound more hard core in this post than I actually am. I actually don’t spend a lot of my time worrying or stressing about this, because well… I am too busy taking care of kids and possibly nursing a baby (maybe even in public).


Wendy M. - January 4, 2012 - 6:35 am

I nursed both my kids and never really felt judged by anyone…I feel fortunate to be in Corvallis. I felt uncomfortable at first with my oldest…it was ME worrying, though…not anyone around me. I always made an effort to be modest about it. I do have issues with women who half-undress in public and sit exposed while their child runs around and comes back to snack. I’m sure it’s easier for them, but I think it’s the reason some people object to public nursing.
(My mom nursed me in the early ’70′s when it was still not really socially acceptable where we lived…she had no support from family, either. I’m so happy I didn’t have to face that and feel for anyone who lives in an area where they feel judged!)

Jennifer Hunt - January 4, 2012 - 7:12 am

Love your thoughtful post, Kara. I nursed my son for 15 months and am currently nursing my daughter (18 months). Sometimes I do it in public (almost always when she was younger), but I generally leave the room because she can hardly concentrate. I respect the right to nurse in public, but I still have mixed feelings.

I grew up in a family that was very closed about body topics. Not just nursing, but the body in general. I don’t think that’s a totally foreign thing. We live in a society where body is such a loaded concept. I have not always been comfortable with my own body, and therefore, uncomfortable with others’ bodies.

I think the problem with nursing has a lot less to do with someone using their breasts as nourishment vs. sex, and a lot more to do with self-love. There are many people who can’t face the concept of their own bodies. They have underlying beliefs instilled in them by society that they are totally unaware of. Those beliefs have very little to do with the proper function of a body. It’s difficult to have a sense of who you are and what your body truly is when you don’t realize your beliefs are based on misconceptions.

The whole of society won’t reach the same level of body-love, and it most assuredly won’t happen at the same time; therefore it’s hard to expect everyone to appreciate the beautiful power and nature of breastfeeding. So while I will breastfeed in public, I also have empathy for those who are still weeding through their own understanding.

Leah - January 4, 2012 - 8:29 am

Great topic Kara! I am still nursing my 14 month old. It is usually now only at bedtime, though I did nurse on a plane just the other day (for ear pressure during take-off/landing).
I have always made an effort to keep things covered. This was partly for my own modesty, but also because my breasts were so HUGE that there was really no way to be discreet without a cover.
Like Wendy, I really only have an issue when people are exposed or otherwise unnecessarily drawing attention to it. Or if it gets to the point where the kid can say “Mommy I’m hungry” and then the boob comes out… but that is a whole different discussion : )

juliette - January 4, 2012 - 8:45 am

The article is HILARIOUS! I especially like the part about pumping a gallon of milk.

Adrienne W - January 4, 2012 - 8:57 am

I think that is your baby is hungry, you should feed him/her. I nursed all 4 of my babies for at least a year, which was tough for me because I had a lot of problems with it at the beginning with each. When I nursed my babies in public, I usually went somewhere out of the way for various reasons. When my babies are newborns, the milk flow is sheer insanity for me. So I would draw a lot of attention if I were to do it out in the open. And some poor bystander would probably get sprayed! Plus, I found it less distracting for myself and my baby to be somewhere quiet. I think that nursing in public is your right and shouldn’t be an issue. But I also think that just because you can, doesn’t mean you need to be obvious about it. A little discretion goes a long way. And just because someone is uncomfortable seeing a women breast feed doesn’t mean that they think you shouldn’t be doing it. My dad and one of my brothers are clearly not comfortable when I breastfeed in front of them, but they realize that it’s their issue, not mine. They know that it’s normal and healthy, but I can tell they feel awkward. So I think that is courteous to reasonably try and cover up. There are a lot of factors that go into how people feel about breastfeeding and I think we should take that into consideration to some degree. but the bottom line is, baby’s needs come first. I do get a little annoyed by people who say that it’s such a special bonding time with baby and then go and make a show out of it, by posting pictures of it on Facebook and such or intentionally being indiscreet, because it is their right. Yes, it can be a bonding experience, but we don’t all need to be included in it. My opinion is that it shuldn’t be done to make a point. It should be about you and your baby. It doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks, positive or negative. P.S. In Canada, it is against the law to ask a woman to leave or cover up while breastfeeding. Is that the case in the US?

Elizabeth - January 4, 2012 - 9:02 am

I’m not a big fan of nursing in public because I know how uncomfortable it makes the majority of men. I’ve even talked to women (who don’t have kids) who get uncomfortable with it.

When I nurse in public, I almost always use a cover but that’s more for me than anyone else. I am overly-modest and I blame my mom (who is extremely modest) for that! =)

Shannon - January 4, 2012 - 3:33 pm

When my son was very young I nursed him in public, mostly in parks or outdoor locations. Like your kids, at about 5-6 months he became so distractable that it was nearly impossible to nurse him anywhere but in a quiet, out-of-the-way place and even then it could be a struggle to finish a session. I could never really get the hang of nursing with a cover, it was so awkward, and I just ended up wearing a cami under a tshirt (tshirt up and cami down) and doing my best to not show too much. I always think it’s great when women are breastfeeding, and I’ve never seen anyone do it in a graphic way or a way that didn’t mostly appear to be a mom cuddling her child. I kind of feel like people should just turn away if a mother nursing her child is bothering them, it isn’t as if they are being forced to look in that one small area where they might catch a glimpse of a boob. I’m still nursing my 18 month old, and I would never do it in public now. I already feel pressure to stop from those close to me (oddly the same people who were so supportive when I started out), I can’t imagine the response from nursing a toddler in public. My son does ask for milk (with words and signing), but it is pretty much just a nap/bedtime/morning thing for us now and when he asks at other times I’ll offer him cow milk, water or food or just give him cuddles if it seems he wants to do it just for comfort.

Michelle - January 4, 2012 - 4:06 pm

Love the article, especially when it pointed out that we see breasts all the time, but when they are being used their true purpose, then it is somehow offensive or rude.
I think each situation is probably unique, depending on the location and people present. But will generally nurse a child under 9 months most anywhere, if I can be discrete. (Thank you booth seats!)

Michelle - January 5, 2012 - 8:42 am

I feel exactly like you. I don’t really care if people are uncomfortable with me feeding my child. No one has ever said anything to me (although Elly is still only 11 weeks old, so I haven’t been out THAT much to places where people might feel uncomfortable). I would definitely have something witty or snide to say back to make them feel even more uncomfortable about their uncomfortableness. That’s probably childish, but in this case, I don’t care! :)

kara - January 5, 2012 - 9:58 pm

Love all of your comments!

Annalise - January 6, 2012 - 2:22 pm

I’ve nursed in public tons, and what’s funny is I have never received any negative reaction. And yet I imagine it, and I feel insecure. There is so much in the media about negative reactions that we go out expecting it. Reality is, the general public by and large will just ignore you!

Elisabeth@SimpleGreenishLiving - January 9, 2012 - 3:45 pm

I once nursed in an Olive Garden too, lol. Our server may have been a little uncomfortable but I didn’t really have a choice (other than to not go out to eat at a restaurant I guess, but we were out of town at dinnertime and I’d been wanting to eat an Olive Garden for about a year!). The craziest place I have ever nursed would have to be on a plane, or at Disneyland, or in a Banana Republic fitting room. The plane wasn’t bad, just a little uncomfortable, and no one knew what I was doing in the fitting room (except that I was in there for a LONG time). Disneyland was definitely the most awkward. Judah was almost one, it was HOT, and trying to keep us both covered was miserable…but Disneyland is probably the last place I’d go around flashing a boob so it had to be done! Definitely got some “looks,” though. Even though I’m still nursing Judah (at almost 18 months), I don’t really nurse him in public anymore – and I get the impression that the older a child gets, the more uncomfortable people tend to be. I’m curious how common extended breastfeeding is. I told a woman the other day that I was still nursing Judah and her reaction was priceless. Is it really that uncommon??