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Tips for breastfeeding in public if you feel self-conscious

Firstly please remember a lot of mums feel daunted the first few times they breastfeed in public.  As discussed in my "Let's do breastfeeding covers" entry, even those who are confident now may well have felt a little nervous at first - particularly if you live in an area where you don't see lots of mums feeding.

In all honesty even non breastfeeding mums can feel apprehensive too!  Previous discussions here and on Facebook have shown bottle feeding mums are concerned people are judging them over not breastfeeding - so it seems a lot of mums are sensitive to how other perceive them either way.  It's nice to remember this and always smile at a mum with a baby, regardless of how she is feeding.

Public breastfeeding really is one of those things that quickly becomes "normal", the more you do it the easier it becomes - the more you put it off or build it up, the worse it can seem (bit like many things). So I thought I would share some tips and alternatives to covers if you feel self conscious (and kudos if you don't!); feel free to reply with yours.

Hints & Tips
  • Don't panic in the early days:  Some mums express concern at how "obvious" feeding their newborn is when concentrating on getting baby latched well;  wondering if they will ever be "discreet enough" to feel comfortable doing it in public.  Take each day as it comes, even if you feel you need to cover up more now, this may well change as you both gain confidence and baby develops.
  • Practice feeding at home in front of a full length mirror:  When you are looking down on baby feeding, you can see much more than someone opposite you.  Feeding in front of a mirror gives a better idea of the view others get whilst feeding.
Angelina Jolie
  • Start small:  Often you will hear people say "I can't even feed in front of family", but actually family can more daunting than strangers for some mums!  It can be a good idea to practice a few times in a place you feel comfortable - perhaps a local quiet park or friendly village library or cafe.
  • Lean back slightly when you feed: If you have a baby that "pops off" frequently, this can be more obvious in typical supine positions such as the cradle or cross cradle hold.  As demonstrated on the left by Angelina Jolie, leaning back slightly makes baby more prone, so if they pop off their head still blocks the view.  It can also reduce the amount of coming off and reattaching babies as gravity is on their side!
"V" Clutch Hold
  • Try different positions: Mums sometimes express feeling more exposed if they use a hold such as the clutch/ruby/football hold, because their breast is not shielded by baby's head in the same way.  If this position works for you and baby, modifying it to an upright "V clutch hold" can work even better for some mums.  
You begin holding baby as you would for a typical clutch hold, then move baby upright until he forms a "V" shape with his body (as per the picture on the right).  Your breast size/shape and the length of baby will determine where baby's legs and feet end up.  When supporting baby in this hold, use your wrist and palm to provide firm support to baby's shoulder and upper back, with the thumb and first finger holding under baby's ears.  You should avoid placing your hands higher than the ears and onto baby's head as feeding nerves run through this area.  Pressure can therefore cause baby to pull backwards from the breast or stop rooting/latching behaviours.
  • Experiment with different clothing.  Some mums find specific breastfeeding clothes are great, others find them tricky - with holes or slits in the wrong places depending upon your shape!  If you have small to medium breasts, wearing a stretchy vest top that can be pulled down at one side to feed, with an open shirt/cardigan over the top can feel very covered.  Alternatively you can also buy breastfeeding vest tops that can work well for this such as the Glamourmom Tank, or the Breast Vest you can layer.  A normal shirt can work well too, as when opened slightly it creates a "flap" for cover - without having to be opened all the way down if you feel sensitive about your tummy area.  Alternatively you can cover tummy using a "boob tube" pulled down to around your middle, or again buy something made for the job such as a band (just covers tummy area) or a BelleBelly which covers from underbust to hips.
Some mums say breastfeeding clothes are "boring" or "obvious" ie a zip or flap under the breast area, and they want to get back into stylish clothes.   If this is you check out Bella Mama who have a wide range of modern nursing clothes with different opening options.  There are lots of modern ranges available now - feel free to recommend any you love!
Alternative to Nursing Covers
Perhaps the most obvious alternative to a nursing cover is a baby carrier or sling.  These have the added bonus over a cover in that you can also carry baby in them, give yourself some hands free time, and are often fab for soothing an unsettled infant  You can pick a carrier based on what positions work well for you.  My favourite carriers for breastfeeding, in no particular order...

Ring Sling: Suitable from newborn through to toddlerhood.

With a ring sling it's easy to pull the sling higher up baby's head, which provides even more cover whilst still giving you a clear view of baby.

If feeding sitting down you can loosen the ring to allow the top rail to pull looser and provide as much fabric as you need, again giving lots of play to use as a "fixed in place cover" even if you want to move baby to a more upright/tummy to tummy position from a different carry.  With a bit of practice you may also be able to master adjusting the sling to allow you to walk around breastfeeding hands free, with the sling supporting baby.
Reach into the sling and arrange your clothing. Turn your baby so they are tummy to tummy with their head in the correct position to reach the breast for latch on. Once they are happy feeding you can tighten the sling to fully support your baby so that your hands are free. This may take practise but is worth persevering, then you can breastfeed anywhere. (
A sling also covers the tummy area for those that prefer and ring slings with a tail (as per the picture on the right) provide another swathe of fabric for the super conscious to pull over the top.

Cradle hold
Upright hold
Pouch Sling - Best for mums who like a quick on and off with little learning curve.

As they are a fixed size, they have slightly less flexibility than a ring sling - however their simple on off design make them popular with many mums.  For a young infant they work well for breastfeeding in a cradle or more upright hold, however for an older infant you may need to sit down to pull sufficient fabric up around the back of their head (ie fabric that is normally positioned further down) to use an upright position.

Home made Mei Tai
Kozy Carrier
Mei Tai- Great for upright/underarm nursing positions.

Mei Tais are great for mums that prefer a two shoulder hold.  With a newborn or young baby, you should fold their legs froggie style, rather than splayed either side of the carrier hanging down.

To feed you can sit down and loosen the straps, which allows you to move baby into a different position whilst still being covered from the front.  Some also have a sleep hood, you can see the brown satin hood on the carrier to the right.  As baby gets taller this can be pulled up and secured to the straps, providing extra coverage if required.

Again you can wear a jacket, cardigan or open shirt over your carrier to provide more coverage at the sides if you have a slimmer carrier and feel more exposed there.  Some carriers have a wide enough body to "close any gaps".  With practice some mums can master feeding walking round breastfeeding in an upright hold too.

Wrap: More of a learning curve but excellent weight distribution and often very soothing for unsettled infants.

Ellaroo woven wrap
Kari-me stretchy wrap
A wrap can look a bit daunting at first, but I liken it to tying a shoelace - once you know how, it takes seconds and you could do it with your eyes closed.   There are a few typical carry positions for a very young infant that work well with breastfeeding.  For infants that prefer being in a cradle hold, this can be created as per the picture on the left.  To breastfeed you can move the inner layer aside and turn baby onto their side (you may need to sit down and loosen the wrap slightly, especially whilst still getting the hang) pulling the fabric up behind them.  For infants who prefer being more upright, you can use  it as per the picture on the right.  Again you can loosen the straps and pull the centre panel up as a cover.

The strategic blanket:

If you don't fancy a carrier, a strategic blanket can work well - particularly so if you just want a little extra coverage whilst baby is latching, but feel more comfortable once they're settled.  Not very practical if you have a wiggly baby who arches away from the breast, or one prone to flailing arms and legs; otherwise you can soon find you don't have enough hands to untangle baby and hold the blanket in place.  Alternatively some babies will tolerate something lighter like a muslin better, so they don't feel something heavy over their head.  Nell demonstrated this at the launch of one of our groups in the image on the right (there were a lot of cameras and a couple of TV teams vying for a shot!)

As a final note - remember you are simply giving your baby milk of his own species.  If someone is offended at you choosing not to give your baby an alternative which carries risks - who really has the problem?  Eyes have a handy avert function we can use if we would rather look somewhere else - where would the list end if we asked everyone to cover up everything that anyone could ever perceive as something they would rather not look at?

Related Posts:
Let's do breastfeeding covers
Breastfeeding in public is offensive - see for yourself


    1. Great post - will share! If I'd seen your instructions for breastfeeding in a sling, I might have actually managed it!

      I found nursing clothes effective, but usually either frumpy or expensive and often designed for a pregnant shape, which is a bit depressing for those women who have actually lost some of the weight (not me...). I got so fed up with the lack of choice that I set up MilkChic, which concentrates on high street clothes that work rather than proper nursing tops.

      I think that whether you aims for complete coverage, or simply easy access you need something that makes you feel good. If you're feeling good about yourself, you feel more confident about feeding and baby usually cooperates.

    2. What a great website! Love the idea of knowing where easy bfing clothes are, this is half the battle! Will share on Facebook :)

    3. Great article. I enjoyed reading and reminiscing about the ten plus years that I spent nursing my three children (back to back, as well as tandem and pregnant). I definitely agree with your statement that breastfeeding in public gets easier with practice.

    4. I was very nervous about breastfeeding in public with my first. I try hard to be modest. I got used to it so quickly, though! With my second I was once breastfeeding and forgot to pull my shirt back down after. At town meeting.

    5. Thank you--I shared this on my babywearing facebook page. I have photos of nursing in the upright position in a woven wrap at the bottom of this page: and I have videos to help learn to nurse in a wrap too. Hope it helps someone!

    6. I found that waterfall cardigans were invaluable: I stitched a popper to the bottom of one side and the shoulder of the other. I could then push back one side of the front between my breast and armpit, put bubba on the boob and fix up the other side of the front across her body. Because the side was fixed at the top of the shoulder, it covered my upper beast and collarbone, whilst enabling me to tuck it discreetly round bubba without completely covering her head :-)

    7. Fantastic - I wish I'd found something like this to read when I was establishing a breastfeeding relationship and convinced that everyone was staring at me! I remember sitting in the back seat of my car in a car park, tucking blankets into all the windows so that nobody could see in, before carefully revealing about half an inch of nipple and wondering why I couldn't get my baby latched on.

      I'm now an ardent babywearer but I *wish* I'd known about slings back then, it would have made life so much easier.

      Lovely post :D

    8. I could never figure out how to feed while baby was in the wrap carrier. But it was winter, and I was always wearing scarves to keep my neck warm, which I found worked similarly to your "strategic blanket", but didn't fall to the floor when I had to wrangle with baby! Great post :)

    9. There were some places I felt comfortable about breastfeeding in public, but not in a pub. We did not stay long when we went to one, and I would take a bottle of expressed milk. (I am not suggesting this is the "correct" thing - just how I felt at the time 1987-88) I ended up feeling more self-conscious, when giving the EBM. I din't want people to think I was giving formula.

    10. Great post! Another alternative to the "strategic blanket" is the strategic scarf and cardigan... I always made sure I had a scarf with me in the early days (a lighter one in summer) and used to keep my cardigan open and wrap it around DD a bit to cover any 'side boob', with those two allies nobody could see a thing!
      Nowadays I don't care and just whip them out as and when needed ;)

    11. The more I did it, the less self conscious I was.I bf'd at my son's all boy middle school hundreds of times and not one kid cared. I don't condemn them that use them, but those covers seem to draw more attention to what your doing. And a screaming babe REALLY does.

    12. My tip: read up about breastfeeding and breastmilk. I found that the more I read about public opinions on breastfeeding, the benefits of breastfeeding and the amazing qualities of breastmilk, the more passionate I became about breastfeeding and the less scared I was about feeding in public.

      With my first daughter I expressed whenever I thought I'd have to feed outside the house unless in a strict mums only setting so that I wouldn't have to worry about faffing about with a muslin over both our heads while I got her latched and relatched over and over again. (She was an extremely windy baby and feeds were a very long and arduous affair). Now with my second I'm so much more relaxed because I know so much more about it all. In fact it's entirely due to devouring your entries here over the past few days (and gaining a more specific knowledge of things I'd only heard vaguely about before) that I had the courage to breastfeed in the middle of a crowded cafe yesterday without feeling even a slight discomfort. Despite the fact that I'm a meticulous planner who worries if I'm unsure of even the slightest detail of an outing I realise now I hadn't even thought about 'will she need feeding while we're out' let alone 'WHAT IF she needs feeding while we're out'. She got hungry, I fed her and that was that. I now almost hope someone will say something so I can tell them about how breastmilk KILLS CANCER. Beat that with your modified cows milk!

      I just hope that the more I am able to feed confidently in public the more I might be encouraging and inspiring other breastfeeding mums in their journeys. And all thanks to you, AA. :)

    13. I can tie a wrap but not my I some kind of freak? (And the only time my baby has fallen out of the wrap was when I was bending down to tie my shoelaces...don't worry, I caught her!)

      Where was I? Oh yeah, great post...I am just writing a post about NIP and will link to you :)


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