Unless a mother is going to confine herself to her home for the six months, a year or even longer when she is breastfeeding her baby, at some point there is going to come the time where the baby needs fed in public.
Many mothers are nervous and self-conscious about feeding their baby in front of other people, and what scares them most is the reaction of others. It is a good idea for breastfeeding mothers to think about scenarios which might occur when feeding their babies, and try some tips and tricks which might help make it a little easier.
The Legal Position
In Australia, the government recognises that breastfeeding is natural, normal and the best way to feed a baby. The Federal Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 makes it illegal to discriminate against a breastfeeding mother. Restaurants cannot refuse to serve a breastfeeding mother, and women who are working have rights over expressing during their working day. There is also legislation which varies from state to state and can protect a mother from behaviour which “humiliates or intimidates”, such as a café owner asking a mother to move into the toilet to feed her baby. The Australian law goes further to protect a mother’s right than many other countries and reading up on what is illegal may give mothers more confidence.
What isn’t protected by law
Unfortunately, the law cannot legislate for the attitudes of the public and someone who confronts a breastfeeding mother in public cannot be prosecuted. Thankfully, these sorts of incidents are very rare and many mothers feed regularly in public without any negative comments whatsoever.
Hooter-hiders, shawls and other wraps
In some countries, notably America where it seems to be fine to have topless waitress’ in restaurants but not fine for a mother to feed her baby in public, there is a booming trade in nursing wraps, shawls, or “hooter-hiders” which enshroud mother and baby in yards of fabric. Although these wraps undeniably hide the breast and the baby, they are guaranteed to draw even more attention than a baby latched on under clothing. Also, in hot weather it can be very uncomfortable and hot for both the mother and the baby. Some mothers, especially those who are new to breastfeeding find it reassuring to have a muslin square, towel or small blanket to hold their baby in while breastfeeding and this may help with confidence.
Mothers who are breastfeeding quickly learn which sorts of clothes are best for breastfeeding with. A tshirt style top may be easier than a tightly fitted blouse which requires unbuttoning to latch the baby on. Many mothers wear a light, loose vest underneath their blouse or top so that when feeding the bottom layer can be pulled down under the breast and the upper layer can be pulled over the top. This is especially reassuring for women who are conscious about showing their belly inadvertently when latching their baby on. There are companies marketing specific breastfeeding tops with flaps and zips, but they are expensive and not really necessary.
Practice makes perfect
Breastfeeding is a learned skill, and latching a baby on takes practice to perfect the technique. After the initial few weeks of difficulty, most mothers find that they are able to latch their babies quickly and with the minimum of fuss. For mothers who are more nervous about feeding in public for the first time, there is always strength in numbers, so going to a café with a couple of other new mothers makes the whole situation less threatening. Experienced breastfeeders can often feed their babies without anyone ever realizing what is happening.
Coping with negative remarks
Despite the knowledge that breastfeeding is best for a baby, there are still a lot of negative attitudes to feeding in public, especially from the older generation. If a comment is made, the best tactic is to ignore it completely and carry right on with the feed, or say something short like “How rude!” to get the message over that you will not be drawn into conversation on the topic. For breastfeeding mothers who are stared at or made to feel uncomfortable, the best strategy is to meet the other person’s gaze and not back down, secure in the knowledge that they are the crazy ones and you are doing what comes naturally to all mums and bubs