After giving birth to your baby, you may prefer to be close to home. Rest, along with frequent will help you regain your strength and build up a good milk supply while getting to know your baby. When you feel ready to go out, a short walk or drive to your local shops or to visit a friend or relative may be enough.
Going out can prevent you from feeling isolated and give structure to your day. Breastfed babies are very portable—with your baby in a sling or carrier, you may only need a nappy or two and away you go. Babies will often sleep contentedly when carried close to their mothers, so you may even get there and back while your baby is asleep.
Mothers often worry about breastfeeding in public spaces such as shops and cafés. But the law protects you when you breastfeed in a public place and on premises. It is against the law to discriminate against a breastfeeding mother throughout the UK, although protection varies slightly depending on location.
In England and Wales
A woman cannot be prosecuted for breastfeeding under public decency laws. A mother can ignore people who ask her to stop feeding and she can just carry on. Unfortunately though, she has no specific legal protection against their actual comments objecting to breastfeeding. If, however, the remarks become aggressive or abusive then women have a right to report this as with any other form of abuse.
Under Scottish legislation, it is an offence to deliberately prevent or stop a woman from breastfeeding in a public place. If a mother is approached by anyone, anywhere, and asked to stop breastfeeding, she has the right to phone the police who will attend, discuss with the person involved, and warn them that they are committing an offence liable to a fine of up to £2,500.
In Northern Ireland
Breastfeeding mothers are protected by sex discrimination laws that prohibit anyone from treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding and the Government intends to introduce specific legislation to support and protect breastfeeding infants and their mothers in public places.
A crying baby will guarantee an audience so watch for early feeding cues so you have time to find a suitable place. Other people probably won’t notice you’re breastfeeding if you’re relaxed and confident—especially if you continue chatting or reading the menu and avoid eye contact with passers-by.
If you prefer to keep covered then lifting your top from the waist means your baby hides your tummy and you remain covered on top. Layering can help – depending on the weather try an open blouse, shirt or cardigan over a t-shirt. A breastfeeding vest can cover your tummy. Some baby slings and carriers can also hide a feeding baby and a baby sun hat can work well too. If you feel self-conscious, try practising in front of your partner, a friend or a mirror.
With time, you’ll learn what you’re likely to need while out with your baby. Include nappies, baby wipes and a change of baby clothes. It’s also worth taking a favourite toy for older babies. Don’t forget a bottle of water for yourself— breastfeeding can make you thirsty. A baby sling or carrier can be easier than a pram or buggy where there are steps or uneven surfaces. It also keeps your baby close. If you have shopping to carry, a pushchair can be helpful—you can still take a sling to carry your baby if they get restless!
If you leak milk between feeds you can use breast pads inside your bra to provide protection. Some breast pads made of silicon, use gentle pressure to completely prevent leaking. If you feel the tingling of your milk beginning to flow, pressing hard on your nipples for several seconds can prevent leaking. You can do this by crossing your arms tightly across your chest and pressing firmly on your nipples with the palms of your hands. Hold for a few seconds before releasing and all should be well. If it doesn’t work first time, try again for a little longer. If your breasts feel full, this is a sign to take the time to nurse your baby. Patterned fabrics, layered clothing and scarves can all hide evidence of leaks.
Where to breastfeed
Mothers breastfeed in many public places with seating areas: shopping, leisure and visitor centres, libraries, museums and more. Look out for quiet spots with fewer distractions as some babies insist on looking around instead of feeding when there’s a lot of hustle and bustle! A town garden or park may be an option when the weather is good. Or visit a café or the family room of a pub. You can also breastfeed while walking with your baby in a sling.
If you prefer privacy, many public places have mother and baby rooms where you can sit to nurse and change your baby’s nappy. Some clothes shops will make a changing room available to a nursing mother at quiet times.
Rather than thinking of nursing as a major event around which to structure the day, it can help to treat it as you would a coffee break—something that happens along with the other events of the day. If you nurse your baby at fixed intervals, they may need to nurse for an hour or more to take sufficient milk. It can be hard to get out and about with a baby who is feeding for long periods of time. While a baby nursing little and often is more likely to need to breastfeed while you are out, it can be easier to fit in shorter nursing sessions. Many babies become very efficient at breastfeeding by the age of three months and feeds can be accomplished very quickly.
Keeping some flexibility in feeding and sleeping rhythms can also make life easier when travelling, on holiday, visiting family etc as strict routines can be difficult to follow in those situations. When you follow your baby’s natural feeding and sleeping rhythms such problems are less likely and you may feel more relaxed about visiting relatives or taking a family holiday.
Breastfeeding becomes much easier when you spend time with others who are breastfeeding. Local LLL groups are a good starting point—offering mother-to-mother support and the chance to socialise. You’ll also be able to see how other mothers handle breastfeeding in a public place, and gather ideas. You may well develop good friendships to support you in your new mothering role.
Breastmilk is the ultimate travel food. There’s no need to carry any feeding equipment and your baby’s favourite food will always be on hand, even if your journey is delayed.
- When hopping on and off buses and trains a carrier or sling is a real boon, with or without a pushchair.
- If you take a pushchair, modern train doors are usually wide enough and many buses have low floors for easy access.
- A backpack can be a useful handbag, leaving your hands free for your baby.
In the car
- Plan to stop frequently and give your baby breaks from their car seat. It can help to time long journeys for when they usually sleep. Avoid rush hour if you can.
- Place your car seat where you can safely see your baby as you drive. An extra mirror can be useful if your baby travels in the back.
- Bear in mind that if your baby gets upset this can distract you while driving. Letting someone else drive when possible leaves you free to calm your baby.
- Babies are usually happier in the car if they can see you or another adult. You could talk or sing to your baby to reassure them you are there. If your baby doesn’t like the car it may be easier to take public transport so you can hold and nurse them as you travel.
- A sling or soft carrier can be really convenient at the airport. It can also give you privacy as you nurse during the flight.
- It can be useful to request a bulkhead seat to give you more space. Alternatively having an aisle seat allows you to get up easily if your baby is restless without disturbing other passengers.
- Take a few of your baby’s favourite toys and, if possible, familiar snacks if they have started eating solid food.
- Breastfeeding during take off and landing can help equalize the pressure in your baby’s ears, keeping them comfortable. However, to comply with seat belt regulations you may need to nurse in an unusual position. If seat belts make breastfeeding too awkward, offering your baby a finger or suitable toy to suck on may do the trick. When the seat belt light goes out, you can nurse them as normal.
- There are specific airline regulations for carrying expressed breastmilk in flight hand luggage. For latest information see Expressed Milk and Airlines or check with your airline.
Written by Karen Butler, Sue Upstone & mothers of La Leche League Great Britain
You can buy this information in printed form from the LLLGB Shop
Updated March 2022