Breastfeeding in Public

Every day hundreds of babies are being breastfed outside the home – it is a bit like being pregnant, you don’t notice that anyone else is until it happens to you and then suddenly it seems like everyone is expecting a baby!

So even though babies are feeding when out and about, most of the time we just don’t notice and neither does anyone else. And even when they do realise, most people rarely comment.

If someone stares at you it doesn’t mean they disapprove. We heard from one mum who was feeding her baby and an elderly couple were watching her. When they got up and began making their way over to her she wondered what they were going to say. It was only to comment on how lovely it was to see a breastfeeding baby. The woman had breastfed her own children and it had brought back fond memories.

But, sadly, very rarely, someone, somewhere decides to make a fuss, which may get a lot of publicity and make mothers think that it happens all the time. This just isn’t the case – babies are being fed out and about every day but we don’t see them all in the newspaper so we know that, almost all of the time, breastfeeding goes on without any fuss or bother at all.

If you have been unlucky enough to have someone make you feel uncomfortable or they have tried to stop you feeding your baby then it can be useful to know what your rights are.

In England and Wales the Equality Act 2010 states that it is sex discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.

In Scotland breastfeeding is protected by the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 under which it is an offence to stop someone in a public place from feeding their child, if under two, with milk. The legislation allows for fines for preventing breastfeeding in public places.

There is more information on Citizens’ Advice Website.

Clothing Tips

You shouldn’t feel you have to cover up if you don’t want to (remember that feeding a child is what breasts are actually for!), or if it makes feeding more difficult – you may find that your baby isn’t happy being under a cover, or that you find it really difficult to get a decent latch when you can’t see what you’re doing past swathes of fabric.

Of course if you would rather stay covered, there are various options, including purpose-made nursing covers, draping a muslin or scarf over yourself and/or your baby, or choosing breastfeeding-friendly clothes. There are a range of specifically designed breastfeeding clothes available, or you may be able to use clothes you already have.

  • When choosing clothes, look for garments that have buttons down the front or layers that can be pulled up/pulled aside to allow access.
  • The one-up-one-down method (sometimes abbreviated to OUOD on breastfeeding forums): layer a stretchy vest under a slightly looser t-shirt or top. You then lift the loose top and pull down the vest to reveal a sliver of breast and nothing else. This is a good way to keep your tummy covered if you want to.
  • Wear a button-up shirt with a bandeau/croptop/bralette (this might be a cheap vest cut in half!) underneath – you can then unbutton the top few buttons and lift the bandeau up to access your nipple whilst keeping the top part of your chest covered. This is good for warmer weather as you’re wrapped up in fewer layers.
  • Many V-neck or low cut tops or dresses have enough stretch to be able to pull them to the side and access your breast. If this feels too exposed, you could wear a bandeau underneath and pull it up, as above.
  • If you’re handy with a needle, you may be able to make or alter clothes to allow access – for example, putting poppers or buttons into a shoulder seam so you can flap a top down, adding invisible zips into the side seams under the arms, or putting slits in fabric which is then covered by an outer layer. Experimentation is key!

Can I Breastfeed In It is a helpful resource, compiling info on breastfeeding friendly clothes available online or on the high street*. There is also a spin-off Facebook group for sewists, Sew I Can Breastfeed In It, where members share tips on making and altering breastfeeding clothing.

Further Information

The NHS have a webpage about breastfeeding in public, which includes videos and useful suggestions.

The Equality Act 2010 is the law which bans unfair treatment and helps achieve equal opportunities in the workplace and in wider society.

The Breastfeeding etc (Scotland)Act 2005 gives the letter of the law.

The Scottish government booklet Advice for Employers gives accessible advice for employees and employers.

Maternity Action (a national charity working to end inequality) have an information sheet available to download on Breastfeeding in public places.

It may also be useful to contact the Government equalities office if you have been unfairly treated.

External websites also have some ideas and tips on breastfeeding in public:

*N.B. BfN does not accept sponsorship and does not profit in any way from any of the brands featured on the Can I Breastfeed In It pages. You can read more about this policy here.