April 20, 2022
By Leila Hilal, Drexel University College of Medicine
Feeding your baby is a natural and wonderful way to not only keep baby healthy and happy, but for you to bond with your newborn. So why has breastfeeding in public become such a large issue? It comes down to discomfort – from the people who are not feeding or sustaining your baby. There have been disputes that breastfeeding in public is “indecent” when in fact it should be seen as exactly the opposite – it is a caring act between a mother and her child. Moreover, why punish a child by not feeding or comforting them because other people don’t understand the wrongful sexualization of the female body?
Breastfeeding in public comes down to what Mom is most comfortable with. If she wants to breastfeed without covering up her chest? Then she should. If she wants to only breastfeed with a cloth covering her chest? Then she should. If she doesn’t want to breastfeed in public at all? Then that is alright! The point is that it should be based on her own will, not the pressure or judgement of others. In this article, I hope to help you find ways that suit you and your comfort level best to breastfeed in public (if you so choose).
I want to breastfeed in public – but I’m scared of backlash. What do I do?
First off, know your rights! According to Pennsylvania’s Freedom to Breastfeed Act which was created in 2007, a “mother [is permitted] to nurse her child in public; … breastfeeding may not be considered a nuisance, indecent exposure, sexual conduct or obscenity” (Dept. of Health, 2007). This means that you are free to nurse when and where you choose, and whenever your baby is hungry.
In addition, Congress passed the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019, which requires public buildings to provide a lactation room that is not a restroom, is shielded from view for Mom’s privacy, is free from intrusion, and contains basic amenities like a chair, surface and electrical outlet (OLRC 2018).
These two laws mean that you are protected when you are away from home and wish to breastfeed in a variety of settings that are appropriate for you and your child. It may be beneficial to print out a copy of the laws so that you can inform someone who may be giving you a hard time.
If someone is giving you a hard time, you don’t need to engage with them. You are doing the right thing by taking care of yourself and your baby, and they are out of line. If you need to, you can involve management of the facility you are in. If you feel unsafe, remove yourself from that environment and find people who will support you.
I’ve never breastfed in public before and I’m a little bit nervous – what can I do?
You have plenty of options for support!
Surround yourself in a supportive and comfortable environment. Before you become a breastfeeding pro in public, you can look up local businesses (coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) that are very openly breastfeeding-friendly until you feel more comfortable.
Join breastfeeding support groups to see what people in your area have tried and have found helpful to them (check out @bae_hood or @latchcafephilly on Instagram if you’re in the Philadelphia area)!
You can also go on group outings with other new moms or your closest friends. That way you already have built-in support during your outing.
If you are worried about your baby having difficulty latching in public, practice good latching techniques at home, and talk to your pediatrician about getting a referral to a lactation consultant. They have phenomenal techniques to help you and your baby breastfeed the way that is best for you. Philadelphia has also partnered with an app called Pacify, which provides 24/7 lactation consultation services. You can download the app and use the code PHILLY (PDPH, 2022).
I want to breastfeed in public, but I want to be a little more covered up – what are my options?
If you choose to have your chest covered during breastfeeding in public, that is your choice and your right, just as it is your choice and right not to!
If you would like more comfortable options to help facilitate breastfeeding, you can wear clothing that allows for easier access to the breast. This includes opting for a nursing bra and/or a shirt that is not too restrictive or may zip up the front, as well as avoiding wearing several layers. You can also choose to use a nursing cover but opt for a lighter one so that your baby doesn’t become too overheated and tired during feeding. You can also buy a travel breastfeeding pillow (or make your own if you feel crafty) to help make breastfeeding on the go a more comfortable experience.
Ultimately, this is your breastfeeding journey, and you should feel safe and comfortable while feeding your child. Hopefully these tips will help empower you to choose options that you feel most comfortable with, and in turn you can help support other moms you meet in the future who shared your concerns.
- “40 USC 3318: Lactation Room in Public Buildings.” Office of the Law Revision Counsel United States Code, OLRC, 25 July 2019, https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid%3AUSC-prelim-title40-section3318&num=0&edition=prelim.
- “Breastfeeding in Public.” Breastfeeding in Public | Office on Women's Health, OASH, 11 Oct. 2018, https://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-home-work-and-public/breastfeeding-public.
- “Breastfeeding Legislation.” Department of Health, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 8 July 2007, https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/programs/Breastfeeding/Pages/Legislation.aspx.
- “Get Breastfeeding Support.” City of Philadelphia, Board of Health, Philadelphia Department of Public Health, 18 Aug. 2021, https://www.phila.gov/services/mental-physical-health/get-health-care-and-support/family-and-childrens-health-care/get-breastfeeding-support/.
- “Support That Never Sleeps.” Pacify, Philadelphia Department of Public Health, 10 Jan. 2022, https://www.pacify.com/pdph/.