I remember the first time I tried pumping and breastfeeding in public. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t really a situation I was comfortable with, but it needed to be done.
Elijah was only six months old when we flew half way across the country to attend the graduation of several of our college friends, and then spend a few days with my parents. We lived two hours from the airport in Texas, and were unable to get a direct flight. Between the driving time to the airport, the layover in New York City, and the actual flight times to get to Boston, it set us up to be traveling all day long.
At that time, Elijah was still exclusively breastfeeding. Which meant that I would inevitably need to pump or nurse (or both) multiple times over the course of our trip. I wasn’t particularly comfortable with the idea–I prefer to pump and nurse in private. That’s just me and what I’m comfortable with (plus I was still a new breastfeeding mom!).
But obviously my preferred setting wasn’t going to happen on our trip across the country. What ended up happening was a mixture of finding and using private settings when available, and at one point, awkwardly pumping in public right at our gate while waiting for our next flight.
While it wasn’t an ideal experience for me, I learned a lot from the experience. And now I know exactly what to do and how to handle the situation when I find the need to breastfeed in public with any future children. Let’s talk about some things that make pumping and breastfeeding in public way easier.
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Tips for Pumping and Breastfeeding in Public
Know your rights
First off, know your rights when it comes to pumping and breastfeeding in public areas.
It is legal in all fifty states to breastfeed in any public location (source). You have the right to breastfeed your baby anywhere, anytime, regardless of how others may feel about it. Knowing this can help you to legally exercise your right, especially if you run into people or businesses who are not well informed when it comes to breastfeeding.
On the flip side, there are no specific laws giving you the right to pump breast milk in public. If you do choose or need to pump in public, be sure to stay well covered while you do so. This will help prevent you from being cited with any public indecency laws. Also be aware that if you are asked to stop, there are no specific laws that give you the right to continue anyway.
That said, do your best to be considerate of others. While it is your right to breastfeed in public, with or without a covering, be aware that it does make some people uncomfortable. If you know you are making someone uncomfortable, there’s no need to make an effort to make them as uncomfortable as possible for the sake of exercising your right.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to stop, either. Just because someone is uncomfortable with what you are doing, doesn’t mean you have to necessarily stop or leave. Although, if there is somewhere more private in the vicinity, you might consider moving there for the sake of others. But it’s not necessary if you don’t want to move.
The point is, try to be considerate of those around you as you exercise your legal rights.
When you do breastfeed in public, one of the best things you can do to make it a good experience is to be confident in what you are doing. Be confident that it is your legal right, and be confident that it is okay for you to do.
Remember that breastfeeding is a natural thing for a mom to do. Although some have made it feel taboo, it is a perfectly fine thing for you to do. Be confident in your choice.
Confidence also smooths over a good bit of any discomfort others may feel about it. If you are unsure of yourself and the situation, you are far more likely to draw attention to yourself and what you are doing. When you have an air of confidence while breastfeeding in public, far fewer people tend to even notice.
Have a plan
If you haven’t breastfed or pumped in public before, be sure to have a plan before you attempt it. This will help you to be more confident and have a better experience.
Know ahead of time what you will need to bring or wear, and have a good idea of how you will go about it. Having a plan ahead of time will help prevent you from stumbling through it, and from putting you in a position you are not comfortable with.
When we planned our trip from Texas to Boston, I sat down ahead of time and made a plan of how I would handle breastfeeding Elijah while we traveled. I made a list on my phone of all the private areas we would have access to where I could nurse him in private, as well as places where I would have access to an outlet to pump.
Ultimately it made the trip much, much smoother. There was only one feeding session where we weren’t able to get to a private location. For that one instance, I opted to pump because I was confident that I could keep myself sufficiently covered while doing so, whereas I wasn’t confident that I could keep Elijah from being too distracted to nurse.
On that note, whatever you choose to do, practice, practice, practice!
If you plan to pump in public, practice pumping at home. Use a mirror to ensure you are keeping yourself covered so that you don’t get into legal trouble.
If you plan to breastfeed in public, practice at home as well. Again, using a mirror can help you to see how exposed you are so that you can adjust to a level you are comfortable with. This is especially useful if you are uncomfortable with the idea of nursing in public.
The more you practice, the more confident you will become.
Tips for Breastfeeding in Public
Wear nursing friendly clothing
If you plan to breastfeed in public, be sure to wear nursing friendly clothing for an easy and comfortable experience. Be sure to wear a nursing bra. You can wear clothes specifically made to nurse in, which typically have some sort of flat or layer that can be lifted or lowered to allow you to nurse. Many of these outfits are cute and well made so that others likely won’t even know that it is made for nursing.
Or, you can wear loose and layered clothing. When I traveled with Elijah while he was breastfeeding, I always made sure to wear a loose shirt with a cami under it. This allowed me to easily nurse him while still staying covered, which made me more comfortable.
Use a breastfeeding cover
You can also get special covers designed for breastfeeding use. These covers act as a shield to keep curious eyes away, as well as to make you more comfortable.
Breastfeeding covers can also be very useful for babies who are easily distracted by their surroundings while attempting to nurse. If you don’t have a breastfeeding cover, you can also try using a swaddling cloth or blanket for the same purpose.
Use a wrap
Another way to shield yourself and your baby while breastfeeding in public is to use a wrap. This is a trick that I actually learned from another mom on one of our flights.
Using a Baby K’tan wrap (or a similar wrap), position your baby so that he can easily latch. Use the wrap as a sort of sling to support your baby while he nurses. You can also use the extra fabric to cover the area. In all likelihood, anyone around will just think you are holding your baby in a baby wrap.
Tips for Pumping in Public
Use a portable pump
One thing I wish I had owned back when we first flew with Elijah was a portable pump. And by that, I mean one that could use batteries. It would have made it much easier, and would have opened up more options for us when it came time to feed Elijah.
For example, I could have easily pumped on the plane while we were in the air. Or it would have opened up the opportunity to find a more private space to sit and pump without needing to be near an outlet. I suppose I could have used a manual pump, but realistically manually pumps always took way too long anytime I tried to use one.
So if you’re looking to pump in a public setting, definitely try to get either a portable pump, or use a manual one to free you from the outlets.
Use a quiet pump
If you do opt for a electric/battery operated pump, definitely try to get one that is quiet!
The one I used while breastfeeding Elijah was a Medela Pump-in-Style. It wasn’t the quietest pump on the market, but it’s the one I had and we made it work. Luckily for me the only time I used it in public it was too noisy for anyone to notice the sound!
The other solution to this is to use a manual pump, which are typically quieter than powered ones.
Wear loose, layered clothing
Again, wearing loose, layered clothing will help to make your pumping session less conspicuous. Also be sure to wear either a pumping or nursing bra as well.
You should also consider using a breastfeeding cover to ensure that you will not end up in legal trouble by going this route. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it can help to alleviate that possibility. Especially if you haven’t done it before!
Have you ever tried breastfeeding in public, or are you an old pro? Share with in the comments below–I’d love to hear about your experiences!