ProMoM Inc. - Promoting the awareness and acceptance of breastfeeding.

Have a NIP

  by Mary Beth Voelker

The idea of nursing in public often scares new mothers. They worry about "exposing themselves" and they worry about what people will say. The truth is that nursing in public is as easy as nursing at home. When you nurse away from home you need carry nothing but your baby and a few diapers. You can stay out as long as you please and never worry about what to do when the baby gets hungry.

Here are some tips:

  • Choose clothing you can nurse in. You can choose loose T-shirts that can be lifted and draped around the babies face, button-front shirts that can be unbuttoned from the bottom, or specially designed nursing shirts or dresses with concealed access slits. Try a few options at home to see what best suits your personal style.
  • Find a good place. Some women will hide in the bathroom to nurse but many others consider it unsanitary, even disgusting. Learn to spot benches and chairs any time you are out in public so that you will know where to go before the need occurs. Many women learn to nurse while standing and even walking around but as a beginning NIPer you’ll probably be more comfortable seated in a quiet corner.
  • Cover up ... or not? Decide whether or not to cover up with a blanket or scarf. Pro -- no skin can ever show; con -- people will know that you are doing something under there. Some people are bothered by exposing skin, others are bothered if people know that they are breastfeeding. It’s your call.
  • Practice in front of a mirror. Practice at home until you can latch-on discreetly. If your husband is the worried one practice in front of him until he is more comfortable.° Nurse at the first sign of hunger. A screaming baby draws attention.
  • Latch-on, then look up and away from the baby. Look people in the eye and smile. They will meet your eyes instead of following them down to your breast.
  • Consider a sling. Its easier on your back and baby can sleep or nurse comfortably and discreetly. Also it lasts much longer than most baby carriers.
  • Baby popping on and off? Consider keeping a scarf, shawl, or burpcloth draped over your shoulder so that you can quickly twitch it over your nipple if the baby unlatches. You could also shield your nipple with your free hand or keep a thumb hooked in the hem of your T-shirt for quick cover. Older babies who like to play with Mom’s clothes can play with the scarf instead or with a necklace of chunky, baby-safe beads. Bonus -- this also draws eyes away from your breasts and back toward your face.
  • Have confidence. A confident attitude shows. If you know that you are doing what is best for your baby and that you have the right to breastfeed wherever you happen to be when the baby gets hungry your positive attitude will rub off on everyone around you. Think "This is normal, this is natural, this is right." Your self-assurance will deter the rare neb-nose who has a problem.

Though you might feel a little self-conscious during your first NIPing sessions you will soon realize that most people couldn’t care less. They are absorbed in their own little worlds and are content to leave you alone. The only people who are likely to notice you nursing your baby are other nursing mothers and small children. The other nursing mothers will smile and tell you about their own nursing experiences. The small children will not care.

If Someone is Rude

Rudeness is not common. You will probably never have a negative experience but, now and then, a stranger with a problem will decide to inflict it on you by objecting to your breastfeeding. A confident attitude can help fend this off. Bullies look for timid victims, not self-assured people who know that they are in the right. If you look someone in the eye and smile they will know that you are confident that you are doing what is best for your baby and that you are not a victim in waiting.

Ideally, you will become so good at discreet nursing that no one will even know that you are doing it. If they don’t know they have no reason to object. However, once in a while a breastfeeding mother might encounter a neb-nose looking for trouble.

The first thing is to realize that it is not your problem. It is the objector’s problem. The second is to realize that you are on safe legal ground. You have the right to breastfeed your baby any place you are legally entitled to be -- so you're generally ok, unless you're touring the CIA and spotted a chair in the classified documents storage area. ;-). In fact, many States have codified that right in legislation.

If you are normally shy and easily intimidated it might help to role-play some responses with a friend. The simplest is a frigid "Excuse me?" which reflects stunned disbelief that any person could be so nosy and rude. More specifically you can ask "Do you eat in the bathroom?" or exclaim "Nonsense! The World Health Organization recommends nursing for at least 2 years." These should take care of simple neb-noses. You might want to rehearse some informative answers to honest questions as well. If you are asked to leave by someone with some shade of official standing know your state laws. Ask to speak to a manager and inform them that their employee is harassing you, their customer. If the busybody hasn’t the guts to face you and is just making meant to be overheard comments ignore him/her. Life is too short to waste energy on idiots.

Remember that your baby has the right to eat when he or she is hungry, you have the right to nurse even if you happen to show a few square inches of skin in the process, and you have no obligation to be polite to someone who has already been rude to you. Chances are this is a problem you will never encounter. I personally have nursed 3 babies for a combined total of 4.5 years without ever hearing a negative comment -- unless you count my mother telling me to cover up as I sat in my own living room. :-)

Affordable Nursing Clothing

Nursing clothes are wonderful, but they can also be expensive. Fortunately you have options. You can adapt regular clothing for nursing wear, or you can get nursing clothes from alternate sources. Try these ideas:

  • Wal-Mart. Many of these stores carry a limited selection of simple nursing shirts. They aren’t in the women’s department though. They are back in the baby section along with the baby books, slings, etc.
  • Consignment stores and thrift stores. Most often these will be hung with the maternity clothes. They may even be stuck in a storage area out of the way. Ask the staff if they have any. Some owners/managers will take your name, dress size, and number and will call you when they get some in stock.
  • Garage/Yard/Tag sales. If the sale is full of baby stuff some of the clothes on the rack might be nursing clothes or they may have a box in the house that they didn’t think they could sell. Ask.
  • Classified ads. You might find them advertised or you might advertise that you want them.
  • eBay. Just like everything else they may be there or they may not. It doesn’t hurt to take a look.
  • Pass-alongs. Don’t be proud. If someone offers you their nursing shirts now that they’ve weaned say "Thank you". Sort out what you like and pass the rest to someone else.
  • Gift occasions. If family and friends ask what you want ask for a gift certificate or even a particular outfit you admire but can’t afford.
  • Sew your own. Elizabeth Lee Designs ( is known for classic, easy to sew patterns for making nursing clothes. If you don’t sew you can probably find someone who does. Your mother? Grandmother? Friend? Fellow churchgoer? The teen down the street who took home-ec last year? Learning to sew is not hard and very basic machines are available for under $150 new. If you give it a try you might even discover a new hobby to feed your soul while you are preparing to ease feeding your baby.