Q&A: tips for breastfeeding in public discreetly

Jessica, who had her beautiful son, is back with another question:

"I would really appreciate a primer on discreet public breastfeeding.  By this I mean the best bras and outer clothing to wear, what to do with your Lilypadz, best way to cover yourself, best way to get everything snapped back up and into place nicely, best way to prevent your grabby child from accidently exposing you, best way to deal with your toddler that wants to "help" you with this process, etc.  In particular I feel like I am very awkward about getting the baby to latch on without completely exposing myself first.  In addition, I have trouble with the finishing up procress of getting everything all snapped back up and my Lilypadz back into place. Finally, I frequently make the baby upset because I have covered up his head too much. (Usually I throw a receiving blanket over my shoulder covering both him and my boob.)  This not only makes him cry, but it also results in me having get him latched back on without showing everyone around us my entire boob!

Since I breastfed my daughter for about a year, you would think I wouldn't be having such trouble with my second one.  But M was great about accepting a bottle too, so I almost never nursed in public.  Now I have a child who is both constantly hungry and also completely opposed to a bottle, especially one offered by me.  Also, my lifestyle and work situation are completely different now, so I have many more opportunities to be out and about with both children during prime feeding times.  I am not shy or embarrased about the need to feed my child, but I am a modest and conservative person by nature and I feel like there has to be a smoother way of doing this that would make both the baby and I, as well as anyone who happens to have us in their sight lines, more comfortable.

Thank you! Any advice/instructions you could offer would be so helpful!"

Congratulations on your son!

I know people think using a blanket to cover up will make nursing more discreet, but I think it often backfires. There must be some kids who allow their heads to be covered up while they nurse, but I haven't encountered many of them. Which means that it takes longer to latch them on and get them settled down after fighting over the blanket placement. Even if you luck out with a child who will permit one over his or her head while nursing, you're still advertising to the world "There's something interesting going on here! Look this way!" with a blanket. Since it doesn't seem like your son likes it over his head, you might as well just give up on the blanket.

For truly discreet nursing, you're probably going to be better off with some good nursing shirts. There are plenty of companies that sell nursing shirts (and dresses). My favorite is Expressiva.com, but tons of women love Motherwear.com and OneHotMama.com. Another option is to buy nursing tanks (either from Glamourmom.com, Motherwear.com, or Target) and wear them underneath another shirt to turn it into a nursing shirt. If you have a sewing machine, you could take a plain white T-shirt and use the buttonhole attachment to sew long buttonholes for nursing openings, then use a seam ripper to open up the slits, and wear this shirt under another shirt or sweater to cover your stomach while you nurse. (If anyone markets my buttonhole-opening undershirts, you'd better give me a royalty.)

Once you have a few nursing shirts (or have juryrigged your regular shirts into nursing shirts with nursing tanks or DIY nursing undershirts) you need to have easy-to-open and -close bras. If you're wearing a nursing tank, your problem is already solved. (I find that the tanks I have give adequate, but not stellar, support for my DDs. I think they'd be great for a C cup and under, and not so hot for anything above a DD.) If you need a bra, look for a model with plastic closure hardware that clicks. Hook and eye closures are extremely hard to do with one hand or with any hope of being discreet. Stretchy straps or cups are also going to make it harder for you to close the bra one-handed. I find stretchy cups more comfortable to wear, so I have bras for in the house (the comfy stretchy ones) and bras for wearing outside (they may not be quite as comfortable, but they're easy to open and close with one hand).

My opening technique is this: I hold the baby in the general direction of my breast to kind of shield my breast from view with the baby's head. I use the hand not holding the baby to quickly worm up through the nursing opening, unhook the strap, pull down the cup, and then latch the baby on. Once the baby's safely on, I adjust the fabric of the nursing shirt so that it covers my breast but not the baby's face or head. When (never if, unfortunately) the baby tries to yank up the shirt, I gently but firmly pull it back down and hold it where I want it. If I were smart I'd probably have some little toy to put into the baby's hand to distract him.

My closing technique is similar: When the baby comes off, I quickly yank down the nursing shirt so it covers my breast. Then I go down the neck of my shirt with one hand and pull up the cup of the bra and rehook it. I find it easier almost all the time to refasten from the top than from the bottom. Then I do a little shimmy so that everything falls back into place the way it's supposed to.

The Lilypadz are a sticky wicket. I love how well they work and how they don't show under clothes (and how all I have to do is rinse them off once a day), but they're tough to deal with when you're nursing in public. Where do you put them? (I'll tell you where you don't put them--on the park bench next to you in Central Park in the autumn. Because then when you accidentally knock them onto the ground they get dried leaf bits all stuck to them.) I try to remember to put the one that's not on me on my same knee (curving over the cap of the knee so it doesn't fall off) or tucked into my other bra cup until I'm ready to put it back on.

The reapplying it can be tricky, too. You can either put your finger in the middle of the Lilypad and push it onto your nipple, then flip the rest of the pad on the breast, and then pull up your bra. Or you can refasten your bra, then reach down from the top and put the Lilypad on from the inside while the bra's already closed again.

The only idea I have to help your daughter help you nurse is to have her bring along her doll and nurse while you do. My older son liked to nurse his doll while I was nursing his younger brother in the early days, and I've seen lots of older siblings do the same thing. I'm sure the readers will have other good ideas for you to keep your daughter occupied (aside from the normal things like reading her books while you're nursing or having a special toy she only gets to play with while you're nursing the baby).

I'm a real proponent of nursing in public (I think the more people see women nursing their babies out in public the more normal it will become and the less stressful it will be for women who need to feed their babies while they're outside) but I try to do it as discreetly as possible. IME, you get better with practice (even if you're wearing a bra that's hard to close), and it gets a lot easier once your baby is old enough to latch on quickly. So keep practicing, and in a month or two you'll feel like it's no big deal.

Anyone have any other tips for Jessica about nursing discreetly in public?