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Breastfeeding FAQs: Out and About

Whether you're a new mom or a seasoned parenting pro, breastfeeding often comes with its fair share of questions. Here are answers to some common inquiries that mothers — new and veteran — may have.

Your Questions Answered

How can I be discreet when nursing in public?

Nursing in front of others can be downright intimidating and even embarrassing, especially at first. But with a little confidence, the right place, and the appropriate clothes, it can seem like no big deal in no time.

Some women prefer to drape a small blanket or shawl over their shoulder and their breast to make the public process a little more private. Others may opt to simply pull up their shirts or sweaters then cover the baby's head with a blanket. You can also use a baby sling, in the cradle position, to nurse your baby. Whether you use a blanket, shawl, or sling, just make sure that your baby's mouth and nose aren't blocked and that the baby has room to breathe.

When out and about, you may want to ask for an isolated booth when dining in restaurants so you have a sort of privacy barrier and can face away from other patrons. If you're shopping at the local mall, ask if they have a "lactation room" or "lactation lounge." You'd be surprised how quick many people are to accommodate a nursing mom.

What clothes are best for "easy access"?

As with breastfeeding anywhere, it's important to don clothes that make nursing simple. The less fuss, the better — especially when you're having to hold a hungry baby with one hand and adjust your bra and shirt with the other.

A variety of nursing bras are available — there are those with snaps, clasps, and flaps that open and are attached in either the middle (between the breasts) or on the bra straps. Which kind of bra you end up using is up to you and what you find most comfortable. You may want to buy (or register for) a few types of each just to figure out what's best for you. If you buy them before you deliver, just remember that your breast size will likely increase as your breasts fill with milk, and then change again as your body adjusts to breastfeeding.

You also can invest in special nursing wear or simply sport button-down shirts (although these can be cumbersome if the buttons are finicky), a zip-front sweatshirt, or a comfortable shirt or sweater (V-necks are good) that you can simply pull down or pull up to allow your baby to feed.

Here's a helpful tip from the breastfeeding advocacy organization La Leche League International: Cut slits in an old T-shirt and wear it underneath an oversized shirt or sweater. That way, your midriff and most of your breast won't be exposed when you pull up the shirt or sweater on top to nurse.

Keep in mind that whatever type of clothes you decide to wear, they'll probably need to be slightly larger than your pre-pregnancy size since your breasts are likely to be bigger than usual while you're nursing.

Is it normal to leak?

Absolutely. As many breastfeeding women everywhere will attest, milk leakage always seems to happen at the most inopportune times — during a staff meeting, as you're talking to your boss, while you're out shopping, when you're hugging an old friend. Wherever it occurs, it is normal.

Leaking may happen when you see a baby, see a picture of your own baby, hear a baby cry, or even so much as think of your baby. It's your maternal instinct to feed your child kicking in.

One breast also may leak while you're nursing on the other. In that case, it may help to put a towel, burp cloth, or cotton diaper over the other one.

You can buy disposable or washable cotton nursing pads to wear discreetly in your bra to help combat embarrassing messes and protect your wardrobe. Some women wear pads all the time while nursing, others wear the pads only when out in public. If needed, it's a good idea to keep extras with you, just in case.

If you don't want to spend money on tons of nursing pads, you can use clean folded handkerchief squares inside your bra. It's better to avoid using plastic-lined pads, which can make it hard for your nipples to get enough air.

If you're caught in a leakage situation and aren't wearing or carrying any nursing pads, try discreetly crossing your arms over your chest and applying a little pressure. Wearing patterned tops also can help reduce the embarrassment of sudden leaks.

Reviewed by: Joseph DiSanto, MD, and Karin Y. DiSanto, IBCLC
Date reviewed: January 2012