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Study Finds Moms Are Still Anxious About Breastfeeding in Public

Though the push to normalize breastfeeding is gaining momentum, a new survey found that lots of moms still feel anxious about nursing in public.

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Over the weekend, I saw a friend of mine who gave birth about a month ago. After covering the usual new baby stuff—sleeping, diapers, first smiles—our talk turned breastfeeding. She's one of the fortunate mamas whose child latched on right away, whose milk supply is plentiful, and whose partner is unfailingly supportive. Her sole issue? Feeding in public. She's so hesitant about it that she'd rather be tied to her apartment every three hours than venture out during baby's mealtime.

I totally get it. While the push to normalize breastfeeding has been gaining momentum (and high-profile supporters), lots of moms, including my friend, are still shy about nursing in public. It may be natural, but that doesn't mean doing it out in the open, among hundreds of perfect strangers, comes easily to many of us.

Apparently, we're not the only ones anxious about feeding al fresco. A new survey conducted by Public Health England found that one-third of breastfeeding moms in the UK feel uncomfortable nursing outside of the home, and the potential for public scorn was a major reason why. According to the survey, one in five moms believes other people don't want them to nurse outside the home, which might explain why 60 percent of women take some measures to hide their feeding sessions. For some moms, anxiety over public nursing was part of the reason they chose not to breastfeed at all.

But that doesn't mean women there aren't supportive of those who do want to nurse in public. An overwhelming majority (72 percent) of the 2,393 women surveyed said they were all for public breastfeeding, yet support dropped off significantly depending on location. More than half (57 percent) were OK with moms nursing in a restaurant, while only 51 percent said they supported women feeding on public transportation.

The numbers send a mixed message: You're welcome to breastfeed outside of your home, so long as it's not while you're eating or commuting (two things we all do every single day). Is it any wonder so many moms here and in the UK are nervous about unlatching their nursing bras in broad daylight? Though breastfeeding in public is protected by law in nearly every state, confusion still exists and women continue to be booted off of planes shuttled into bathrooms, and shamed online for simply feeding their babies in public.

Still, if survey results like these indicate anything, it's that change is (slowly) coming. The more mamas who decide to nurse out in the open—whether on social media, magazine covers, or park benches—the more we'll all come to embrace breastfeeding for what it is: normal.

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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.