Breastfeeding away from home

Nearly everyone had something to say about breastfeeding while visiting family or friends, while out and about in public places or while away on holiday.

Most of the women said that they felt apprehensive and self-conscious at first but soon gained confidence, especially when they reasoned that their baby's needs came before anyone else's and that they had a right to breastfeed when necessary. They all said that they tried to be discreet in their breastfeeding by wearing appropriate clothing (such as loose, stretchy tops without buttons and nursing bras) and draping a shawl, scarf or muslin square over their shoulder and baby. Their concern was not only for themselves and their own shyness or embarrassment but also for the comfort of other people and not wanting to cause offence. Many women said that they first breastfed away from home in an environment where they felt safe, such as with other women at a breastfeeding support group or drop-in centre. This gave them confidence to then breastfeed in more public places. Several women said that they liked seeing other women breastfeeding in public places. Many women commented on the convenience of breastfeeding when going out as all they needed to take was themselves, their baby and a spare nappy.

Some women were comfortable breastfeeding anywhere while others preferred to go to special mother and baby rooms if they were available. Finding the right place to breastfeed was an important issue and several women were critical of rooms that were provided in conjunction with public toilets and the way in which they were furnished. Several women said that they breastfed their baby in the car before and/or after doing their shopping. A few women said that they had asked permission to feed their baby in a café or restaurant and the attendant had assumed that they wanted a bottle warmed.

A few women were not at all comfortable feeding away from home and made a point of feeding the baby before venturing out and being back before the next feed, especially when their baby was very young. Some did not go out for the first forty days after the birth (see 'Cultural aspects of breastfeeding'). Others expressed breast milk to feed to their baby via a bottle when they were in public. Conversely, one woman said that she would have felt guiltier giving a bottle than breastfeeding in public. Some were uncomfortable breastfeeding in front of their fathers or fathers-in-law. Several women, especially those from non-English backgrounds, said that they would never breastfeed in front of men even at home within their own extended family (see 'Cultural aspects of breastfeeding').

Attitudes towards breastfeeding in public varied in different parts of the country and amongst different groups of people. Several people spoke of society having come a long way towards developing a truly breastfeeding culture but also said that there was still a long way to go (see 'Thinking about the breastfeeding environment' and 'Cultural aspects of breastfeeding'). One woman said that she was proud of the Scottish Law banning discrimination against breastfeeding women*1. Another said that she breastfeeds in public because if people don't see it, then the culture will never change. On one hand, many women received positive comments about breastfeeding. On the other hand, many women spoke of receiving disapproving looks, usually from older more conservative people who had not seen women breastfeeding in previous decades, but only a few people actually received negative comments. A couple of people were surprised that the most criticism seemed to come from other, usually older, women.

A few women said that their husbands/partners were uncomfortable when they first breastfed in a public place. One man said that he actually cringed but has since become very comfortable with his wife breastfeeding in public. One woman said that her “husband had the vapours”! Several people said that they thought their partner/husband had a role to play in finding suitable places for breastfeeding in public and in shielding them from adverse reactions (see 'Changing family relationships with a breastfed baby').

Many women talked about the convenience of breastfeeding when they were away on holiday (see 'What daily life is like with a breastfed baby'). Some noted the change in their baby's feeding pattern in hot weather saying that their baby wanted more frequent but shorter breastfeeds which, one woman said, increased her milk supply (see 'Dealing with difficult times'). Another woman thought that this was a sign that her baby required solid foods*2.

*Footnote 1: Although Scotland has a law prohibiting discrimination against women feeding their babies in public places, there is as yet no equivalent elsewhere in the UK. The Equality Act 2010 has made it illegal for anyone to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public place such as a cafe, shop or public transport in England and Wales yet there are still instances of people being asked not to breastfeed in public, leading to demands from mothers, politicians and support groups for a law to end this type of discrimination.

*Footnote 2: It is normal for a breastfed baby to want to feed more frequently, but for a lesser time at each feed, during hot weather. This is not usually a sign that the baby is ready for solid foods.

Last reviewed November 2018.
Last updated August 2013.


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