When you’re at home and your baby is hungry, you probably don’t think twice about unhooking your nursing bra and exposing your breasts so that your little one can eat. That feeling of freedom can change, though, when you’re outside or around other people who might not be as comfortable with the idea of you nursing your newborn as you are. And it can be particularly challenging when it comes to breastfeeding in front of family members. However you feel is valid, but the most important thing to remember is that it’s all about your comfort level.
So let’s get the legal stuff out of the way first. It is absolutely legal for breastfeeding parents to nurse their children in public in all 50 states. Even in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, you can breastfeed in any location, be it public or private. In fact, 31 states take it one step further and protect public breastfeeding from any sort of public indecency laws. But even though you might have protections under law (and you’re not doing anything wrong by breastfeeding in public), that might not necessarily convince Uncle Craig or Grandma Sophie when you need to nurse in front of them.
“There will be stares and unsolicited comments when you latch and/or pump around others,” agrees Porsche Holland-Otunba, Certified Lactation Consultant, founder and lead consultant of Reclaim Black Motherhood LLC in Philadelphia, PA. “It's inevitable and in a society that doesn't generally understand or value lactation, it unfortunately happens often.” Still, if you’re nursing on demand, there are going to be times when you have to breastfeed in public — and in front of family members, too. Here’s what to say in case you get stares or snide comments.
Embrace your own feelings about breastfeeding
Before you can even tackle talking to someone about the benefits of breastfeeding your baby, it’s important to assess your own comfort level when it comes to nursing around others. After all, just because you want to breastfeed your little one doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re OK with the potential exposure that can come with it — or the comments. So if you do prefer some privacy, look for a separate space (such as a bedroom or empty room) where you can nurse privately, Andrea Blindt, RN tells Romper. “If you are at someone else’s house, you can proactively ask them if there is a room for you to nurse the baby and keep your diaper bag in to use if needed,” she says. “By planning ahead, you can move into that space calmly instead of rushing around with a crying infant and frazzled mind.”
If there isn’t a private space, you can use a nursing cover or lightweight baby blanket. If you don’t have a cover, slip your baby into their sling, and wear your little one while they feed. But if there’s simply no place to go, you can always angle your body away from others to gain some sort of privacy while breastfeeding.
“While there is nothing wrong about breastfeeding around family members, you may prefer privacy for different reasons and ask for a quiet room to sit in,” Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC and Motif Medical Lactation Director explains to Romper. “This will eliminate distractions in the baby, so they can focus on the feeding and finish, and do so comfortably. Remember, it is OK to step away for a few minutes to feed your baby, and it can be a great way to have some downtime in between all of the social events.”
Assemble your allies
As much as you might love them, being around family can certainly be challenging. And that’s even more so when you’re bringing a beautiful new baby into the mix, where everyone will happily share their opinions on how to do things from getting Baby to sleep to, yes, how to feed your infant. That’s why you should find your breastfeeding buddy (no, not your baby) to be on your side, LaShanda Dandrich, IBCLC, an international board certified lactation consultant and co-founder of Uptown Village Cooperative tells Romper. “It may be your partner, friend or other family member, but this person can literally run interference for you,” she says. “When someone is asking questions or having opinions about your feeding decisions, your champion is going to step in and shut it down before the discussion gets too involved.”
Blindt agrees. “If anyone disrespects you or causes any discomfort, look for assistance. You are not doing anything wrong in feeding your baby, and sometimes people need a gentle reminder of that fact.”
Tips for breastfeeding in front of grandparents and older relatives
You’re breastfeeding on demand, which means that wherever you go, your little one does, too. So it makes sense that at some point during an outing with family that your baby is going to want to eat. The key is to communicate ahead of time with older relatives who might prefer you feed your baby with a bottle instead of your breast, because your comfort (and not theirs) is key. “The breastfeeding journey isn't always an easy one, so cutting out stressors is important to maintain everyone's quality of life,” Ashera DeRosa, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Buffalo, NY says. “In order to minimize discomfort, communicating with your family members before a family gathering can help them know how to support you.”
But what do you say? Well, it’s going to depend based on your family, their own beliefs, and your own comfort level during the conversation. “Grandparents and other older relatives might benefit from hearing about what you've learned about breastfeeding and why it is important to you,” DeRosa adds. “It can be helpful to ask them how this was treated when they were growing up.” They might not have been exposed to much information, after all, so you can update them on the changes. During the conversation, it’s critical to validate their experiences so that they don’t feel defensive and recognize that by listening and understanding, they’ve become a critical component of your support system. Just keep in mind that whatever you decide in that moment is just fine and you don’t owe anyone — not even family members — an explanation (or an apology) for how you feed your baby.
Tips for breastfeeding in front of male relatives
Your baby starts fussing and wants to be fed now… right in the middle of your cousin’s birthday party. Instead of feeling frazzled and flustered, try to keep calm while you take control of the situation. “If a Mom doesn't feel comfortable in front a male relative, the advice I give is to tell them outwardly what is happening,” Jenna Katt, a lactation specialist and childbirth educator explains to Romper. "You can say, ‘The baby looks hungry. I am going to feed her.’ If he doesn't feel comfortable, he can look away or go into a separate room.” That way, your male relative (be it your dad, uncle, cousin, or even grandfather) can understand what’s happening at that moment and leave the room if they so choose.
Thing is, it’s hard to get a really good look at your breasts when you’re breastfeeding a baby, and that’s something that relatives (especially males) need to realize. “Unless people are staring and looking really closely, there is not much to see when it comes to exposure while baby is feeding,” Georgakopoulos points out. “Even with a breast completely out of the nursing bra with no cover, the baby’s head and body will cover so much while eating, and you see more from your vantage point versus what people looking at you see.” So you shouldn’t worry about a male relative getting an eyeful while you’re nursing.
Tips for breastfeeding around older siblings
Having an older child question why their younger sibling is eating your boob isn’t as offensive as, say, an uncle telling you that nursing is disgusting. And your pregnancy can be a perfect time to start educating your child in a fun way about all things breastfeeding, too. “Children are often fascinated with the growing belly and tend to ask a ton of questions so introducing your plans to breastfeed is a plus,” advises Holland-Otunba. “Consider tools to help explain the power of breast milk and how breastfeeding works, like showing them video clips or even children’s books on breastfeeding.”
“Depending on the age gap, breastfeeding in front of an older sibling may not be much of an issue,” DeRosa adds. “If the older sibling is a toddler, gently explaining that this is how their sibling gets their nourishment and that they were nourished similarly may be helpful, so that they understand why it’s so important.” When baby arrives, appoint your older child as Helper #1 and give them age-appropriate tasks, such as grabbing water or snacks or helping to clean pump parts. Not only will it make them not feel involved and understand that nursing is totally normal, but it can also help to squash any potential feelings of jealousy.
Here are some actual things you can say if you’re breastfeeding in front of family members
When you’re trying to get your baby to latch and a relative lashes out at your decision to nurse, you’ll need to have something to say to shut it down. These are some ways a mother might choose to feed her baby while out and about, or in the company of others depending on her comfort level. “These can be practiced beforehand in the comfort of your home so that when you are in a public setting you know exactly what to do or where to go,” advises Blindt.
"This is how I feed my baby.”
"I don't eat with a cover over my head so why should my baby?"
Example: “There’s a bathroom in the back you know!”
Reply: “Thanks, I’ll head that way if my bladder gets full.”
Example: “I feel uncomfortable with you nursing in front of me.”
Reply: “I’m sorry you feel uncomfortable, she/he should be done in 30 minutes if you want to wait in the other room until we are done.”
Example: “You’re going to feed the baby right here, in front of everyone?”
Reply: “Yes! How cool is it that I don’t need to cook or do dishes in order to serve a warm meal!”
Example: “People are watching you and it’s embarrassing! Can’t you do it somewhere else?”
Reply: “I’m not embarrassed at all, and eyelids have the ability to shut anytime.”
Example: “How much does the baby eat?”
Reply: “About a boob or two!”
Example: “Can’t you feed your baby in the bathroom?”
Reply: “Do you normally eat lunch in the bathroom?”
Breastfeeding is a beautiful way to feed your baby, and no one has the right to make you feel wrong about doing so. So take the steps necessary (whether it’s having conversations or bringing a cover if you want) to feed your baby the way that works best for both of you.
Porsche Holland-Otunba, CLC, C-CBE, founder and lead consultant of Reclaim Black Motherhood LLC in Philadelphia
Andrea Blindt, RN
LaShanda Dandrich, IBCLC, an international board certified lactation consultant and co-founder of Uptown Village Cooperative
Ashera DeRosa, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Buffalo, NY
Jenna Katt, Jenna Katt, MS, IBCLC, FNP-C, MNN-RNC, a lactation specialist and childbirth educator
Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC and Motif Medical Lactation Director