Nursing in a room full of people you know

June 14, 2009

Welcome Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! This month we are writing about Nursing in Public. Please read more of the posts, found at the bottom of this post. More links will be added until Monday

When I decided to breastfeed, I didn’t realize it would be so hard. I didn’t realize it would hurt. I didn’t realize that nursing my daughter in public would require an advanced degree in acrobatics to keep from showing a little skin. I didn’t realize that our civilization is shall we say… less than civilized?

Long before Adam ever thought about groping Eve, breasts were created to pass sustenance on to our offspring, thereby keeping them alive and perpetuating our species.

With this in mind, I have been trying from the day of my daughter’s birth to comfortably nurse her in public. To me, public means anywhere other than the privacy of my own home. And even that sanctuary is breeched at times by people I don’t feel right nursing in front of.

I have progressed, admirably in my mind, but I still have a long way to go. I can nurse Penny in a purely public place (say that 3 times fast), where I know no one, and could care less what they think. Recently, I’ve been able to add nursing her without a cover. Any cover I do use is mostly to cover my bare tummy (or I wear my maternity pants with the armpit-high elastics to cover it). Some women stay home for fear of nursing in public. I don’t give in to the justifiable fear but instead, I try to time it so that I feed her and then leave the house. But if I get stuck out, it’s fine. I admit, I’ve sat on the back seat of the car to feed her, but to save my back and arms, it works in a pinch.

Filling Penny's belly before the start of the MS Walk

Filling Penny's belly before the start of the MS Walk

What is still a problem for me, and apparently my friends and family, is nursing Penny in front of them. Oddly enough, I feel completely comfortable with my in-laws. I’m also fine in front of the females in my family, and obviously with my very supportive husband. But the rest of the males? Ha! They are so unbelievably (ok, very believably) uncomfortable with me nursing Penny in front of them. The few times I’ve tried with men in the room, they quickly make excuses to be elsewhere as soon as it becomes evident that I am going to breastfeed. Or pointedly look anywhere that’s not in my direction – including peripheral vision. I’ve even had them stand in another room and carry on a conversation with people in the same room as me. I hate having to leave the room to nurse Penny. I feel like we’re being shut out and excluded from the festivities, just because my little girl has an empty belly. Thankfully, no one’s even suggested bottle-feeding, but still…

The newest problem I am facing, and one that some of you pros can maybe help with, is an easily distractable baby. Penny has taken to feeding for 10 seconds or so, then looking around for 30 seconds. It has resulted in some nursing sessions being cut short because I don’t particularly like flashing my nipple around that much. I know the first step is to feed her in a darkened area with no distractions. But when we’re out in public, that’s not an option. What do you suggest doing to help limit the wandering eyeball syndrome?

Other Carnival of Breastfeeding posts:



  1. I don’t have a lot of experience with the easily distractable nurseling yet, but I’ve heard nursing in a sling or wrap can help. I find the sling helps keep my baby’s body and head still so she can’t easily pop off.

    I commend you for working to overcome the complexities of nursing in public. I’m a somewhat modest person, but I’ve made an effort to nurse in public whenever my daughter needs it. I think the more people see it being done the more comfortable and supportive they will be on breastfeeding. And, who knows, you may just give the woman who isn’t sure she wants to b.f. the confidence to do so.

  2. Thanks Olivia! That’s exactly what I want to do – expose other people to breastfeeding. The men – to get over it, and the women – to encourage. I hope that I can influence even one person, not that I’d ever know I did.

  3. Yes, I agree that slings work great as well as nursing wear to some extent. However, aside from these I also tend to like to keep my hand right by my breast so when she pulls off without any notice my hand is there to shield my nipple from view either until she wants to nurse again or I can just pull my shirt over.

  4. That’s a good idea, Melodie! That sounds exactly like Penny too – pop off, look around, come back again. We play that game quite a few times until she’s finally off for good. It’s hard to know when she’s done.

  5. Yep, Peeper’s trick is to look around until I decide she’s not in the mood to nurse, and start hooking my bra back up.

    Then she panics and starts rooting like she’s going to starve if she doesn’t get some milk right that second!

  6. When my daughter was a bit younger and in that distractible phase and popping off all the time to look around, I’d just do up the old bra again and forget about it. I found if she was REALLYHUNGRYFEEDMENOW hungry, she’d eat no problem, but being outside was just too much distraction for just a little snack :) Now she’s better. I think the novelty of the distractions has worn off and it’s easier for her to focus when she nurses!

  7. Haha! That describes Penny perfectly too! I love that panic-mode and get a chuckle every time.

  8. I’ve started doing that if we’re out for an extended period. Try feeding her, and cut it short if she’s not focusing on nursing. She might bug to nurse again in a short while, but it only last a few minutes.

  9. I think its so interesting to see who we’re comfortable in front of and who we aren’t. At first I was uncomfortable around my family but not around DH’s friends. For me, I got over the discomfort because I’m lazy. I don’t want to use the time or energy to figure out how to dance around the fact that my baby is hungry. Recently I did ask a friend if she minded if I nursed in front of her kids, I didn’t want to lead her into a discussion she didn’t want to have (she’s a bottle mamma with a 7 year old boy, a 5 year old boy and a 16 month old girl)She had no problem with it and it was pretty interesting having a sixteen month old literally poke at my breast and ask “what doing?” while I was feeding the Birdie. I told her I was feeding the baby. Baby P looked confused and held up her bottle. I wish I had the exchange on video. . .

  10. When my babies get to the distracted phase, I tend to become an expert at the “quick nipple cover” move. I nurse the baby in the crook of my arm (cradle hold), and the opposite hand is constantly holding the edge of my shirt. As soon as I feel baby pop off the breast, my hand quickly pulls the shirt down over the nipple. After I do this for awhile, it quickly becomes automatic. I can hold a conversation in public while holding my shirt, and I can zip it down lickety-split with no interruption of conversation and very little exposure. Try practicing it at home first!

  11. That would have been funny to see! I did manage to nurse Penny in front of 2 of the men that I don’t usually nurse in front of last night. I still felt the need to cover up, even though I am getting better at positioning and hiding my skin. Having to try and maneuver a blanket and her and my shirt is hard though, and one of the men left so that I could feed her more comfortably. The other one was straight across from me, so wasn’t exposed to as much. I’m working on it though…

  12. That’s sort of what I do, Trish. I just have to wait and see if she’s going to feed again or not. Goofy babies!

  13. with my distractable toddler, nursing wears have become my best friends and investments. Naima hates all covers. a good nursing wear covers what needs to be covered but allows her to breathe and look around. when she pops off, i immediately use my arm to cover the “essentials” while i try to fix the bra and shirt. –> practice makes perfect :D

  14. I was rather shy about breastfeeding in public for the first few weeks. I was horrified at the thought of offending anybody and didn’t want men to see my breasts as a sexual object. It took me a little while to realise that men didn’t see my in a sexual way when I was feeding and often looked away for fear of offending me!

    I have breastfeed everywhere from the men’s change room in an upmarket department store to a cave in the national park. I have had conversations with strangers whilst breastfeeding without a cover and felt no embarrassment.

    When my baby (an excitable and distracted feeder since 4 months) pulls off the breast to look around I simply allow my top to cover the nipple and remove it again when he is ready to feed. I could not count the people who have seen my naked nipple now and I have never been made to feel bad about it.

    Try focusing solely on your baby and not the people around. Pretend as though nothing is happening, relax and the poeple around you will relax too.

  15. That’s really good advice, Rachel. I think I spent so much time panicking and trying to cover up that it made others in the room uncomfortable to see me frazzled like that.

  16. I can’t nurse in front of my family. My mom lectured me about it, and my brothers all have wives with children and their wives all go off and hide to breastfeed, so I KNOW that they must be uncomfortable with it. I hate it, but I’ve resorted to hiding when at my parent’s house. Good for you for being brave!

    My son gets distracted, too, so I have to wait for a clear signal from him that he is really ready to nurse. He also does better if he has had time to take in his surroundings.

  17. I have had a few male family members from my first husband act negatively but I frankly ignored them. My next husbands family was very supportive and a few even verbalized that they wished their OWN kids had been bf… My family–always fine. All 5 of us were bf and all our kids (the grandchildren) were bf. My SIL had trouble with her own family and loved visiting our home because of the comfort level.. [It may be important to mention that all we…4 sisters… asked this girl if she would marry us before my brother ever got around to it!!]

  18. The pop-on-pop-off game is fun, isn’t it? lol

    What you can do when you are in public and want to prevent the baby from being distracted and popping off is to get a nursing necklace, or just string an interesting toy around your neck. Your baby can play with the interesting necklace or toy while nursing and is less likely to pop off at those inopportune moments.

  19. Great tip, Jessica! I actually just got a teething necklace about a week and a half ago, and she loves it, so we’ll definitely try that. Thanks!

  20. For a hilarious breast-feeding in public story, please check out
    It gives a great account of some of our experiences while my wife was breastfeeding our children.

    Hope you enjoy.

  21. “nursing necklace, or just string an interesting toy around your neck”
    i like that idea. will give it a go.

  22. Nursing necklace, genius! (And, hopefully, stylish!) My baby boy is not quite at the distraction stage… but maybe I’ll get out my beading kit and make something cool for him when he is.

    The only people I don’t nurse coverless in front of are my old-fashioned in-laws. They are older, from a diff generation, have never said anything against it, but they tend to not know how to react to my outgoing, TMI-style (which I’m fine with, I adore them), so I also figure they don’t want to see my boobs. :) Although, if baby freaked, I’d of course nurse him “discreetly” coverless.

    When baby was first born, and people would ask to come visit, I’d say, “Sure, as long as you don’t mind seeing my boobs.” Nursing my baby, not pleasing acquaintances, was my goal, because I realized that in the hospital my baby had been giving me hunger signals… and I’d ignored them because my husband’s guy friends had been visiting. My milk took a while to come in, and I wondered if I’d nursed more often in the hospital if that might not have happened. Ever since then, I put the baby first (not saying you didn’t, but for me that’s how I think of it) and everyone else can screw off.

    It also helps that I’m totally comfortable with my body- I never liked my boobs before breastfeeding, but after seeing so many other moms’ boobs at my playdates, I realize my boobs look just fine! :)

  23. I actually blog too and I’m authoring a thing very similar to this particular posting,
    “Nursing in a room full of people you know GrudgeMom”.

    Do you really care if I personallywork with a lot of of
    your own tips? Thanks ,Hong

  24. Thanks for writing so honestly! I, too, want to try to become bolder on the breastfeeding front. And I know it’s not me that is uncomfortable, but the fear of making others uncomfortable. Snaps to you for feeding your sweet baby even when people don’t want to offer the decency of eye contact. American society needs to get over BOOBS!!!

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