Breastfeeding Etiquette

Breastfeeding is controversial. One of the biggest divides is not over its importance but over its propriety. When, where, and how is it proper and appropriate to breastfeed?

Legally, the answer is fairly clear. In 43 states, indecent exposure laws either exempt nursing mothers or do not require a woman to cover her breasts under any circumstances. So while it’s polite to be discreet, it’s not required by law; in most places, you have a legal right to openly breastfeed in public.

In public places it’s normally fine to discreetly feed your child. You should never let anyone send you to the bathroom for it. If you wouldn’t eat in there, your child shouldn’t have to either. However, if you’re at a place which provides breastfeeding facilities you might as well take advantage of them, particularly if you’re more comfortable with a little privacy. Indeed, a quiet area may be better for your newborn, who will be less overwhelmed and stressed and so better able to nurse. In restaurants, if there’s no designated area, take a booth and have another adult sit on the aisle.

Try to be minimally disruptive in a public place. That means feeding when your baby first shows signs of hunger, rather than letting it go so long that crying starts. A very young newborn can be covered with a blanket or shawl, and if your child is a little older you might find a sling convenient.

There are nursing blouses available, complete with flaps and panels, but if you don’t want to get a whole new wardrobe, you have some other options. Wear shirts and blouses that lift or unbutton from the bottom, where the baby will cover you. Alternatively, you can make your own nursing wear by cutting slits in an old t-shirt and wearing a sweater over it. This provides both cover and access.

You’re obviously unlikely to bring your baby to work, but you might choose to pump there. If you’re not comfortable pumping in the bathroom, discuss—ideally, before your maternity leave starts—with your boss and co-workers the best place to pump discreetly and conveniently, or, if you’re unable to leave your spot, work out a way to do it there.

National Breastfeeding Week continues through August 7

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