Breastfeeding in Public

I’m not a very big fan of breastfeeding in public and I feel really self concious about it. I feel like people are staring and judging me even when they probably aren’t. Stories like the ones in the news this week play a big part in making me feel like this. From the woman in Claridges who was told to cover up with a napkin to avoid making other customers feel uncomfortable (?) to MP Nigel Farage saying that a woman should sit in a corner to avoid being ‘ostentatious’ about it. His comments and the actions of the restaurant reinforce the idea that breastfeeding is somehow wrong or offensive and should be hidden away.

You are judged whatever you do as a parent and I know formula feeding mothers experience judgement too for the fact they are not breastfeeding so I know you can’t really win… But if you are bottle feeding, I’m sure no-one tells you to go and sit in a corner, or a toilet (as one mum was in another story I read) to feed your child. I don’t think anyone should be judged for how they choose to feed their child to be honest as everyone has their own reasons for doing things. But it seems so crazy that in a world where breastfeeding is rammed down the throats of every parent with the “breast is best” slogan, there is the flipside where actually you are judged for doing it in public. We should all breastfeed, but sit in a corner quietly, or hide ourselves away at home to avoid offending anyone! Barmy.

I’m sure as with many things that people who feel this way are the few rather than the many. It makes the news which makes it feel more widespread than it actually is. At least I hope that is the case and that most people do not have an aversion to seeing a mother breastfeed her child in public. Having said that I know of quite a few friends who struggle with feeding even in front of family, sometimes being asked to sit in a separate room to feed, to avoid fathers, brothers, etc. feeling uncomfortable about it. I guess you could say there is a generational aspect at play in those situations. Some of our parents and grandparents did live in a slightly different world, where childcare was more the woman’s domain and fathers didn’t generally take part in the messier aspects of feeding or changing babies. Making them more uncomfortable with the openness there is these days. I’m not sure that makes it right though!

I don’t enjoy feeding in public for fear of being judged but also because I don’t actually enjoy whipping my breast out in public, as I am sure most women don’t. I wear breastfeeding bras and breastfeeding tops and this time have invested in the “breastvest” and “Bellebelly” which you wear under your clothes helping to make breastfeeding more discreet. As helpful as all of these products are the truth is that at some point in order to get your nipple in your baby’s mouth, you have to get it out of your clothes.  If baby is feeding well of course then it is possible to be discreet and, as with the lady who fed her baby in claridges this week, you cannot see anything. In fact there are many women’s clothes that reveal more breast than is visible when a mother is breastfeeding. However if baby is fussy or needs to burp part way through the feed, you then have to try and rearrange yourself while also soothing a crying or unhappy baby. This isn’t an aspect of breastfeeding that I remotely enjoy because I don’t really want strangers seeing my breast and nipples.

Before Monkey was born we attended a breastfeeding workshop and I had a slight disagreement with the breastfeeding “expert.” We were playing a sort of word association game where we had to say whether a word applied to breast feeding or formula feeding. The word in question was convenient and this was moved to the breastfeeding side, which I disputed. Now I am sure there are times that being able to put baby on the boob rather than make formula (like the middle of the night for example) is more convenient. But I actually don’t think that word is particularly useful at describing breastfeeding. I’m not sure it is a particularly good word  to use to describe anything to do with babies actually, especially newborns. Anyway my reasons for disputing this term included concerns over breastfeeding in public. I was shot down and made to feel ridiculous for even suggesting that there was anything potentially negative about breastfeeding, but I won’t go into my feelings about the breastfeeding propaganda brigade. Yet I stand by my concerns as I do feel that there are times when baby feeding from a bottle is more convenient than feeding from your breast. Though I wish it wasn’t so.

There are of course many, many positives to breastfeeding. It has lots of health benefits for babies, which is why so many of us try to do it. For some women it is an easier journey than others. For some of us it is challenging and exhausting yet we persevere for as long as we can. Regardless of how easy or difficult you find it, no mother should have to feel judged for breast feeding in public. No mother should be made to feel uncomfortable or that what she is doing is wrong or offensive. Nigel Farage, the Claridges restaurant, and any other place that make a woman feel like this should be ashamed of themselves.  She probably feels uncomfortable and conspicuous enough as it is.

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39 thoughts on “Breastfeeding in Public

  1. Really interested post because you’re putting across the dilemma that society is making for mums. Do breastfeed but do it quietly; be proud of breastfeeding but hide yourself away whilst doing it! I agree with everything you say, it’s not easy breastfeeding so for timid who do want to do it in public they should supported not vilified xx

  2. This is a great, honest post. You make a good point about ‘convenient’ – yes, very handy to always have warm milk available and no bottles to clean, but being the only one who can do it doesn’t always feel convenient! I was fortunate in that my wider family had no issues with me feeding in front of them, so by the time I had my second child I was pretty comfortable feeding in public. But there definitely are people frowning upon it which is so frustrating xx

  3. I breastfed Gwenn until she was 10 months old but I never felt comfortable feeding in public. I had to use nipple shields for the first 6 months which made the whole thing farcical at times, plus I’m a 32HH so there’s no way of getting these bad boys out in a discreet fashion!!!

    I think BF is convenient sometimes (I’m thinking middle of the night feeds especially) but leaky boobs, nipples that feel like shards of glass when you’ve missed a feed, messing on with frigging awful nursing bras … these things are not convenient!



  4. I enjoyed breastfeeding but NOT in public. You really are made to feel uncomfortable in our society. I had a black breastfeeding cover the second time. It’s like a big bib that goes round your neck. For me, this really helped!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this. I adored breast feeding my son, but when I was out and about I really did feel terribly uncomfortable about the whole thing due to a few incidents I faced whilst doing so. I will always believe it’s natural and wonderful and of course cheaper and fabulous for baby, but I think it’s also ok for some of us to feel a little self conscious too. We’re all different. I was never ashamed of it, but it just reinforced to me that there are a lot of idiots in the world xxx

  6. Great post. I’m way past this now but breast fed my second child after bottle feeding my first – due to huge issues, mastitis etc etc. I loved breast feeding and did it in public but not particularly well. I completely agree with you over the convenience thing – when I did BF I leaked and leaked and leaked so not convenient at all!! I had mixed views – from lovely old ladies telling me how brilliant it was I was BFing in a cafe to my FIL suggesting I move elsewhere when BFing at an outside table with barely a soul around.clearly he had the issue. I was livid! You are so right, we will never win on this. Do what is best for you but we should not be made to feel uncomfortable doing whichever one we choose. Apologies for the waffle!

  7. Very thought-provoking and honest post. I have always been quite confident about my right to breastfeed my babies when and where they wanted to feed and am very comfortable about feeding in public but it makes me very sad that we live in a society where a minority are so judgmental about it that many breastfeeding mums feel very uncomfortable and self-conscious about doing so. I agree with your comment about the label ‘convenient’ being applicable to both breast and bottle feeding. My eldest daughter had both breast and bottle – as she got older, it was easier for me to give her a bottle when out and about but with my second baby, I find breastfeeding a lot more convenient – possibly because she has always been better at feeding directly from the breast.

    All mums should have the right to feed their babies in public however they choose without feeling judged or being made to feel humiliated. I wish society could just see it as a baby being fed and nothing more.

  8. What a great read! I remember feeling so self-conscious about nursing in public…or even in my own home if we had visitors! It’s uncomfortable to worry about exposing yourself and hearing all the horror stories about people being shamed for it just makes it worse! In fact, I’d venture to guess that this is the very reason we ended the nursing relationship earlier than I had intended. I began supplementing with formula, just so I wouldn’t have to deal with breastfeeding in uncomfortable situations. It’s silly really, the disconnect between “breast is best” and “hide your boobs at all costs”, not to mention the apparent acceptance of breasts in any other context!

    Thank you for sharing! Coming to you from the #thetruthabout linky

  9. Really interesting and honest post Caroline. I rarely felt self conscious in public in the UK, I was lucky that my three all fed reasonably easily, and perhaps I was just good at ignoring any disapproving looks (although I don’t remember ever seeing any…)! I did often feel uncomfortable here in the US though, because I saw so few women breast feeding, whereas in the UK I always felt it was fairly commonplace. So much so that I rarely fed in public here; I did when I needed to, but mainly I worked around it. I completely agree with you on the convenience thing, that all depends on where you are, what time it is and what else you are trying to do! #thetruthabout

  10. You’ve written a brilliant post here hon. One of my good friends is banished to another room to feed her baby when she goes to her in-laws. I personally just wouldn’t go. Horrible situation, as you said no mother should be made to feel bad about how they feed their baby. Really hope things are getting easier for you lovely xxx

  11. Sorry to read you don’t feel comfortable feeding in public, breastvests sure are amazing aren’t they! Imuch prefer to pull a top up rather than down and for that reason I can’t live without my breastvest! I agree with you that Claridges etc. ought to be ashamed of themselves. I feed my 9 month old anywhere and everywhere, although I am slightly more self conscious now she’s getting older and I always said I’d be armed and ready with some Equality Act shizzle but I bet if someone actually said something to me id burst into tears! #AllAboutYou

  12. I was one of those people who were either sent to another room or abandoned for up to an hour at a time (or however long it took) at my in-laws house. My husband was fine with me doing it – he didn’t seem to mind which choice I made one way or the other, but he had a huge problem with me doing it in front of my brother in law – or any man to be honest! I agree the convenience factor was not there for me because I found it so isolating and depressing and tiring – the alternative, to have to have a few ready prepared sterilised bottles made up in advance and ready to have a batch of powder added when needed was no hardship in comparison. I think I’ve said before that I breast fed JJ for 20 weeks and EJ for just five days. There were mental and psychological issues. I do resent it a tiny bit when people say “oh I only breastfed because I was too lazy to do anything else” because it kind of implies that to formula feed you must be some crazy idiot who just loves adding extra faff into your life! Any hoo great post hon and well argued. Thanks for linking up to The Truth about… #thetruthabout

  13. I was very keen on breastfeeding, but did find it difficult to do it in public for the first month or so. It is a big deal to get your breasts out in public and it takes a good few weeks to feel like you can get both of you comfortable quickly without flashing everything to the world. Eventually I managed it , and I always chose to be as discrete as possible, but this was for my comfort, not for the comfort of others – which I think is key. Great post lovely to hear your thoughts.

  14. I breast fed three children for a period of three years. I too felt conscious about feeding them in public. If I were at the mall I would go to a fitting room, if I was out I would go to my car. I just felt like it was more uncomfortable for me and the baby to be positioned properly with the public eye gazing at me. There are so many ways to cover yourself while breast-feeding I don’t really understand all the hype that everyone is making about breast-feeding in public if you’re covered in doing it then who really cares! Great post:)

  15. You know what I bottle fed both of mine due to various reasons. And weirdly I felt horrible too. I felt horrible in baby groups and baby classes. And with friends that breastfed. I felt shame. I think that we all have hang ups about different things. I think the best thing is just to sod everyone and do what makes YOU happy. Sigh. Being a Mummy is tough x

  16. Great post. This is the second baby I have successfully breastfed past two weeks. My first I gave up due up lack of support and embarrassment of feeding in public. I had a tricky situation the other week coming back from a day out in London on a packed out train someone offered me a seat, an isle seat. Ava was crying with hunger so I either had to feed her infront of all the people or leave her crying in hunger for the train journey. I ended up feeding her but was embarrassed and cross that I felt that way! The recent media comments are shocking and don’t help mums feel confident in public! X

  17. This is such an interesting and balanced post.
    I didn’t breastfeed either of my girl’s (15 hours in the hospital with my first barely counts and issues before my second was even born meant it was off the table). Bottle feeding is not without it’s issues, shame being one of them – I actually ended up explaining my medical problems to a complete stranger when challenged in a coffee shop one day (I know, I should have just told them to go away!!).
    One thing that surprised me though was one day when out with my husband and his brother a woman was breastfeeding, discreetly, in a cafe and they both made a comment about how it was a bit ‘weird’ to do so in public. I was livid and gave them both a piece of my mind. I’d like to think they listened and have changed their attitude. My husband certainly hasn’t made any more comments regarding women breastfeeding.
    Mum’s need to be supported regardless of how they are feeding.
    Great post!

  18. I think the problem is that we can’t win either way – either we’re breastfeeding in public and apparently exposing ourselves all over the place and causing great offence or bottle feeding and therefore failing our children. Once of my NCT class mates needed to bottle feed and I remember her saying “now watch for the stink eyes” as she pulled out a bottle – and sure enough there they were – it’s crazy isn’t it!!

  19. I’m on baby number 3 and only now feel comfortable feeding in public, although I’m still descret, more for my companions than myself. I’ve found wearing breastfeeding friendly clothes really helped but I do agree there are times when a bottle would have been more convenient (i.e. in a car!)

  20. I agree with you. I always think people are casting disapproving looks my way when I am breastfeeding in public, but most of the time, it’s probably all in my head. I wish I had the convenience of a bottle to take to my little girl’s nativity this afternoon, because if baby starts crying, there is no way I’m getting my boobs out whilst sitting on a pre-school chair in front of all the parents… #BrillBlogPosts

  21. I completely agree about it not being ‘convenient’. Evening cluster feeds that went on for about 6 weeks was not ‘convenient’, my inability to ask my husband to do a night feed was not ‘convenient’ and trying to publicly feed without dropping a breast pad or flashing a nipple certainly isn’t ‘convenient’ either! Nice post #brillblogposts x

  22. I had a horrid experience this morning.I was breastfeeding my youngest sat in my car at a shopping centre.I was using a cover and a woman in her 50s came and banged on my window and said if I didn’t stop she was reporting me for indecent exposure!

  23. When I had my eldest, I was terribly self concious about breastfeeding in public. I would go to great lengths to find somewhere private to do it and found her refusing a bottle so upsetting! My next baby had a bottle at 1 week old and so when we were out I used to give him expressed milk to save the fuss. The only thing was that I became self concious of bottle feeding him! I felt people were judging me for NOT breastfeeding, public or otherwise. I used to tell people that it was expressed milk but one day i realised that what the hell does it matter??! How I feed my baby is irrelevant. We should actually be judging the women who don’t feed their kids at all. Ha! I don’t care now. I don’t want to flash my boobs but if I have to for a second or so to get my baby fed then I will x x x x

  24. I agree with you, you can’t win either way. I was very nervous about breastfeeding in public before Lottie was born I thought it would be where I would struggle and end up giving up earlier than I wanted to again but it was easier the more I did it and now I couldn’t care less it is hard but i am discreet as its how i feel more comfortable x

  25. Great post, you’re right convenient is a word that you could use for either feeding method. I’m a breastfeeder myself and find it convenient that milk is always ready when I need it to be, but I’d also find it convenient right now if I could just ask my mum to have him for a night so I could get some much needed sleep without having to think about pumps and timing and pumping milk for days before and in the night etc etc. It’s a shame that some women don’t feel confident to feed in public and I’m sure it puts lots of mums off feeding altogether. Mummies should only feel the need to cover up if THEY want to not because other people want them to or make them feel bad.

  26. I totally agree with you. I also feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public, and prefer to just do it at home and the go out afterwards, if I have to. The problem is though, that there are no nice spaces available in public places, and if there are any, they are shoved either in or next to toilets. I currently combination feed my son, and as some of the other comments above have stated, I also feel a bit funny giving him a bottle in public. This is really silly, and we just have to let any concerns go and do what we feel is right. At the end of the day, feeding a baby, whichever way, is a beautiful thing and should not be judged by anyone. I wrote about the very subject a few days, ago. If you’re interested, have a look at 🙂 x

  27. I completely agree I fed in public both my kids but I fed already nervous and exposed as ever so I can’t imagine a restaurant or someone making me feel worse about doing something so beneficial for my babies. Great post. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me Happy Holidays! #sharewithme

  28. What an honest and open post – which makes some very good points. I totally agree with you about the word ‘convenient’ in describing breastfeeding… that completely doesn’t sit right with me… I wasn’t able to breastfeed and was made to feel very guilty about it. However, I would sit on your side of the fence if I did, I feel uncomfortable getting anything out, even on holiday – so I don’t think I would have taken too well to it in public for fear of judgment. But at the end of the day women shouldn’t have to feel like that in the first place, and that’s down to the British stiff upper lip and the way our society views things. In Europe, it’s not frowned upon in any way shape or form. Perhaps attitudes need to move with the times a bit more, and Farage’s comments only help to acknowledge that old-fashioned attitude. #SundayStars

    • Thank you and I’m sorry to hear you were made to feel guilty about not breastfeeding, I think that’s the daftest thing about it at the moment,you get judged whichever way you choose! Xx

  29. Such a brave, balanced post but it did make me a little sad, that you feel this way and that society and many people in it are MAKING you feel this way. 🙁

    Breastfeeding IS the most natural thing in the world to do, if you can manage it and want to do it, and no-one should ever make anyone feel uncomfortable but of course they do.

    I breastfed my daughter Elsie when she was little and did feel a little embarrassed at first but soon got used to it. Now if I ever see a mum breastfeeding and looking a tad uncomfortable, I always make sure I give her a big smile. Great post and thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts!

    • Thanks Katie and it is sad that at a time when we are already vulnerable and trying to do our best, we get judged and made to feel uncomfortable. I wish I knew what could be done to stop other mums feeling like it. I am with you though with offering reassuring smiles to other mums, we are all in it together! Xx

  30. Such an honest post and it’s sad that mothers are judged whatever their choices, whether they breastfeed or not. There really needs to be a cultural shift so breastfeeding becomes naturalised for those who want to and can. Bottle feeding shouldn’t be vilified either. Today at my youngest’s 2 year review, a wonderful health visitor said that to her, all that matters is the mother’s well being and they don’t want any mother to feel pressured when it comes to breastfeeding. I wish the health visitor I had with my first felt the same. I felt so pressured and although breastfeeding came easy to me, after a traumatic birth I wish someone had held my hand and said, ‘go ahead combine feed, get rest, look after you’. I combined from the off with my second, it was the right thing for me. Thanks so much for linking up to #brilliantblogposts

    • Wow that is a lovely health visitor and what a great attitude, I wish more people could be like that and atop judging mums whichever way they choose! Xx

  31. Such a lovely, honest post. I couldn’t breast feed my little man long enough to get used to feeding in public, but I still felt self conscious at home if we had guests as you could tell they were trying not to look etc. My eldest son who was 11 at the time asked me to stop getting my boobs out until I explained that that’s what they were for, women only have boobs in order to feed babies then he was ‘oh ok, that makes sense’ and he wasn’t bothered any more. I wish it was this easy to convince others!

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