Thank You For Breastfeeding in Public, I Know It Can Be Scary

Is the scary thing actually about being outside of the house with a new baby? I think for many people the nightmare is not the pitchforks or a weird shouting person but it’s that you will have a crying screaming loud baby and you won’t be able to sort it out.

Choose places to go where you know you could escape if you really needed to. Go with people who offer you emotional support.

Who you have with you when you breastfeed outside the home in the early days is really important.

Go to a café with your partner or your mum to practise. Meet your NCT group in a friendly library space and tell them if you are worried. The test of a great post-natal group is the one where you don’t have to pretend you are sailing through this parenting experience and you are allowed to say when you need help. See if you can find some friends that don’t always meet outside the home.

Being a new parent can feel like a constant cocktail party. Just when you feel least up to it, you are trying to develop new friendships and work out what place these new people will have in your lives. And your house is a complete heap too. Here’s another test of a post-natal group: people are OK to come to each other’s houses and sit on piles of washing and not care. It doesn’t always have to be Starbucks.

If you are in Starbucks, it’s not just who you are with, the way you breastfeed helps too.

I’ve met mums who say that they don’t want to use a cushion at home because they won’t have one when they are out and about. Sod that. If you want to use a cushion, use a cushion! Be as comfortable as you can for each breastfeed that you do. There’s no point in making strict rules about these things.

Babies change shape really quickly – all over their bodies. They get heavier and their heads move differently for starters. But WE change shape too. I’ve supported mums who find breastfeeding is getting trickier after a couple of weeks and it turns out that they were previously resting baby on their arms and THEN their arms were resting on their baby belly. When their belly started to go, their arms were doing more work and they started to get more tired.

If you find yourself loving your cushion at home, the idea of breastfeeding without it seems terrifying. Well, if you want to put in a plastic bag under the pram and take it out with you, who cares? Do it!

But you may find that other chair is a different height anyway? Perhaps it doesn’t work quite the same with your cushion? You may want to rethink. You could improvise with a rolled up jacket or even your change bag but I would try and develop a position where the baby’s weight is supported by your torso and not a cushion nor just your arms.

Have a look at Nancy Mohrbacher’s resources on Natural Breastfeeding. If you lean back a bit, a baby can be supported securely against your body and cushions and all the rest of it doesn’t matter. You don’t even need to do it in a sofa (though coffee shops are good at those). You can slouch in quite an upright chair but scooting your bottom forward and putting your leg out in front of you to support you.

Truthfully, the position you use in the corner café might not be super perfect. It might just be good enough.

It might seem tempting to take a bottle when you go out. Now that we have super dooper breast pumps and the bottles that ALL claim to be just like breastfeeding, that might seem appealing but it’s not quite so straightforward.

First off, if you are getting to grips with breastfeeding, let’s not give a baby a masterclass in bad latching. That bottle may claim to be like breastfeeding but which bit of breastfeeding did they pick? The tongue position? The need to elicit a letdown before milk starts to really flow? The way the milk gets gradually thicker and the letdowns come and go? The wide gape? Two of those if you are lucky. Some babies transfer between breast and bottle just fine but if you haven’t yet sorted your latch, it might be wise to hold off.

It might seem tempting to take a bottle when you go out. Now that we have super dooper breast pumps and the bottles that ALL claim to be just like breastfeeding, that might seem appealing but it’s not quite so straightforward.

The other crucial thing is that even if your baby’s latch is fine and a bottle is less of a risk, even if you can easily transport breastmilk outside the home (and it is easy), what’s going to happen to your breasts if you don’t use them? In the early days, we’re going to be more sensitive to signals that reduce our milk supply if we go for several hours without removing milk. When our breasts become full and engorged, that sends messages to reduce production. We’re also vulnerable to getting blocked ducts and even developing mastitis. So realistically, you might have to pump around the same time you give your baby a bottle. I have yet to find someone who considers pumping milk in public to be easier (though plenty of exclusively pumping mums find a way to make it work).

We also need to bear in mind that for a breastfeeding baby, breastfeeding isn’t just about the milk. When you are out in the big wide world and you are very small and everything else seems very loud and big (and smells of coffee) being attached to mummy also brings calm and contentment.

And all of this is about your baby. They can’t  stand up for themselves. They can’t write a rude comment on that article when someone makes a stupid comment about public breastfeeding. They can’t shout at the television when a daft celebrity makes a lazy statement. What would they say to you? What would they say when you were feeling nervous?

I doubt they would want you to feel stuck at home. They want to see the world too. They would want you to leave the house whenever you wanted to. But also not to feel that you HAD to.

And they might thank you for helping to create a world where other women feel able to breastfeed in public. Every time you breastfeed outside the home, you make someone else feel that little bit better and normalise it for the next generation – for the little girl who may not have her own baby until 2040 and might not even remember that she saw you but it’s in her subconscious somewhere. For her partner who will support her. For the woman who is now going to breastfeed outside her home next week.


After a career as a Deputy Headteacher in central London, Emma initially trained with UK charity Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (, qualifying as a breastfeeding counsellor with them in 2007. She is currently their chair. She qualified as a Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in 2011 and combines a small private practice with volunteering at two groups a week and answering calls on the National Breastfeeding Helpline. You can find her on Twitter as @makesmilk. She spoke at the UNICEF Baby Friendly UK conference in November this year on the theme of responsive feeding. Her book, “You’ve Got It In You: a positive guide to breastfeeding” can be found on Amazon and from other retailers:

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