Public Breastfeeding in America: Preparation is Everything, Develop your Game Plan

Do you want to breastfeed your baby but you're unsure about breastfeeding in public? What should you do if someone tells you to cover up, move, leave, or makes lewd remarks? In part three of our series on public breastfeeding, we present a game plan for moms so you can head into public prepared.

Part Three: The Public Breastfeeding Game Plan

Are you ready to head into the world to introduce your baby to friends, make new mom friends, enjoy the outdoors, the stores, the cafes, the restaurants, and the theatre or anywhere else you like to go with your baby? If so, then have a read of part three of our public breastfeeding blog series - How to develop a public breastfeeding "game plan" as we tackle the big question: What to do if I’m harassed while breastfeeding in public?

As we continue to keep breastfeeding at the forefront of our minds during national breastfeeding month, join us for part three of our series on public breastfeeding. In this part of the series, we are exploring how to prepare for, and react if someone discriminates against you when you have the need to breastfeed your baby in public. Breastfeeding your baby is a natural act, during which you feed him/her and you bond together. Women should be free to breastfeed when they need to and want to, without having to face problems or harassment.

Didn't catch part one yet? Part one discusses the benefits of breastfeeding, and explores the challenges moms can face, in particular in relation to breastfeeding in public.

Did you know that it is now legal to breastfeed in all 50 states (after Utah and Idaho legalized it recently)? Want to learn more about the laws in relation to public breastfeeding? Then, check out part two, as we explore the differences between the state laws across America.

Stage One: Before Going Public

1. Know your rights

Firstly make sure you are crystal clear on your rights relevant to the state you live in.

You can find a complete list of the laws for each state on the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) website. We've explored the state laws in part two of this series. But before you head out with your baby, check the exact wording used in your home state law.

Notice how long the law has been in place because if the laws are very new there is a greater chance you are going to come across people who are not aware of (or disagree with) the law.

Write the law clearly on an index card, and keep this with you when you are out with your baby. Sometimes showing someone the law in writing can diffuse an awkward situation.

2. Take a supportive buddy

When you first venture into the public eye with your baby, why not take a buddy with you. This might be your partner, husband or a supportive family member or it would be a good friend. People are far more likely to speak up negatively if you are alone with your baby. When you are two or more, they will feel less confident approaching you in the first place.

Furthermore, if someone does try to harass you or otherwise try to deny you the right to breastfeed your baby, you will feel more confident responding with a buddy by your side.

Once you build up your confidence and feel better about breastfeeding in public spaces, you can start to go out as a mom and baby team without needing a buddy as well.

Everyone is different so don't think this suggestion is a "must". Rather this is an idea to consider if you do feel nervous or daunted about public breastfeeding. Like the saying goes…”behind every mom, there is a village of moms supporting her.” :-)

3. Discuss "What if" Scenarios before going out

Talk over possible scenarios you might face with your partner or a buddy, and how you would want to respond before it happens. Think about what you would do, if for example, you are sitting in a corner of a dressing room and a store employee asks you to move. Or what if you are in a café with more people around? What then?

Think about how you might feel? Will you feel angry, humiliated, neither, or something different?

Talking through "what ifs" can help you feel better prepared, and will help your buddy know how best to support you in case something does happen when you are out.

Don't think if someone does start to harass you, you are obliged to challenge the person.

If you feel at risk, then put the needs of you and your baby first. You can always complain later (if the incident happens in an establishment.) We talk about this in a little more detail in stage four of our public breastfeeding game plan.

The San Diego Breastfeeding Center has set up a task force to specifically help women empower themselves by preparing advice on how to react to harassment incidences. Wherever you are based in the USA, it is worth taking the time to read their advice. Doing so will help you head out into public feeling prepared.

Stage Two: Going into the Public Domain

4. Don't forget to take a written copy of your home state law

When you do go out to the store or anywhere else with your baby, remember to take the index card from step #1 in your wallet or bag. Keep this index card in an easy to access place. You can also take a picture of the law and keep it in your phone.

Then, if someone challenges you, at an appropriate moment, you can show it to them.

Often, once someone sees the law in writing they will back down.


Stage Three: When You are Told to "Cover Up", Leave, or Move

5. Ask the person a question to clarify

You are sitting at your table in the café, your baby is hungry, and naturally, you begin to feed him or her.

Then, an employee approaches you and says "can you move to the bathroom, ma’am?"

The best thing to do at this point is to first clarify with them what they are asking and why. Mirror back what they have said to you as a question.

"Are you asking me to go to the bathroom because I am breastfeeding my baby?"

Whatever the scenario, you can change the wording to suit the situation.

Try to stay calm, and speak calmly at all times. Even if your heart is pounding!

"Are you refusing to serve me because I am breastfeeding my baby?"

"Are you asking me to leave because I am breastfeeding my baby?"

At this point, they will then have to say yes or no.

If they say no you can say "I'm more comfortable here thank you." Perhaps, they will drop the request or they will choose to change their stance and admit the request is because you are breastfeeding.

If they say yes, this is the moment you can say something like:

"My right to breastfeed my baby in public is protected by the law, and by asking me to cover up/ leave/ move you are denying me this right."

Then, show them the index card.

6. Consider recording the exchange

If you have your partner or buddy with you, they can video the exchange or record what is being said.

You don't necessarily have to use the footage and blast your experience out onto the worldwide web (this should be a carefully considered move.) But recording the scene can put someone off getting too aggressive.

Furthermore, you then have the evidence of the experience should you need it further down the line.

7. If things get heated

If things get too intense, don't think you have to stay. You can leave, and that doesn't mean you have failed or you should feel ashamed. The most important thing is to keep you and your baby safe.

If your problem has been with an employee at a store or business, then you can always complain later (we will go into more details about how to do this in stage four of our public breastfeeding game plan.)

If you are having a problem with an individual, and you feel physically threatened, then look around to see if there is an Officer of the Law nearby whose attention you can attract. Unless you are in one of the three states (see part two of this series on U.S. public breastfeeding laws) who have a provision for women to take action, the officer cannot take action against them for discriminating. BUT if they are being very aggressive and you feel physically threatened the officer can take action on this basis.

If you don’t see anyone who can assist you, seek to remove yourself from this person to a safe place, where there are other witnesses to what is taking place.

We hope they will call it quits at that point, and you can wait until you feel calm and safe, before continuing your day.

Keep the number of your breastfeeding support group with you, just in case. Sometimes, you might want to call someone who can talk to you while you are in the situation, and they will help you to cope. Also, by sharing your experience with your support group you can increase awareness between moms, and help them prepare just in case something similar happens to them.

8. Call the Best for Babes Hotline

During an incident, you can call the Best for Babes hotline. Since 2012 they have been trying to log discrimination incidents as they happen. At the moment no one else collects this data. Meaning there is no way to measure or prove the scale of the problem. In order to put pressure on states to improve their existing laws or to argue for the government to introduce a Federal law, we need to demonstrate the scale of the problem with statistics.

When you call the number you initially leave a message giving information about the situation you are caught up in, then one of the volunteers manning the phones will call you back.

They log the incident you report to them, but your personal information always remains private.

Keep the hotline number to hand at all times or add it to your speed dial: 844-NIP-FREE

9. What if I'm being harassed sexually

Sometimes, breastfeeding moms don't have a problem being told to leave. Rather, someone gets a little too interested in what you are doing. This can leave moms feeling extremely uncomfortable, and as if you are being violated.

Again, this is best handled by speaking in a loud, clear, and calm voice say:

"Sir/ Ma'am I am feeding my child here and I would appreciate if you would stop lurking around/ staring/ etc."

In most cases, calling the person out is enough to put them off. If they still don’t leave or stop staring you should call a support contact or the Babes hotline from step #8.

Stage Four: Complaining After the Fact

10. Write a letter/ e-mail

If you have had a problem with an employee at a business, then you can send a letter or e-mail to the management to officially complain.

Ideally, you are aiming to get an apology, this can also act as a spark which prompts the business to do better in the future. Maybe as a result of what they put you through they can train their staff to improve. Perhaps, they will take the initiative to train their staff in relation to breastfeeding, or find other ways to make their business more breastfeeding mom friendly.

If they do apologies, don’t criticize them even if they didn’t do the apology very well. But do use the apology as an opportunity to ask them what they plan to do to prevent the same thing happening in future.

If you don't receive any response from them, consider taking your complaint further up the ladder.

The Best of Babes website has an excellent point by point guide for moms who want to formally complain, and are even considering taking action beyond (such as sharing on the internet, or staging a nurse-in.) They have written their suggestions based on their own experiences and involvement advocating for breastfeeding in the United States.

If you do want to push your complaint, and possibly even share what happened on the internet we would always recommend seeking support from a local support group of your choice (see our resources list at the end of this article for ideas.). Trying to take action alone can feel daunting, so it can be helpful to reach out to other moms who have had similar experiences and taken action themselves. Having said this we all need to keep in mind, support groups are made up of moms just like you and me. This means even in these forums we may find people with whom we disagree. Ideally you will find a support group which aligns with your views before you even have your baby. Then, we hope you can avoid any potential negative experiences arising from support group dynamics.

Sharing your experience online can also attract negative comments which can feel awful. You should only do this if you are prepared to receive both supportive, and potentially some very negative responses.

11. You are not alone

Don't think you have to do all this alone. There are lots of support groups across the country, and they have a lot of experience with what to do in harassment situations. Furthermore, they are invested in helping moms like you to nourish your baby when you need to.

Check out our list of support groups and breastfeeding resources at the end of this article.

Yes, We Can!

Many of us moms dearly want to nourish our babies by breastfeeding them in the most natural and healthy way we can. Sadly despite support written into our laws, and clear recommendations from our medical institutions, obstacles remain in the way of breastfeeding.

Keep our "game plan" in mind, and we are sure you can meet your breastfeeding goals whatever they may be. And we hope you can achieve them without having to feel like you have to restrict your daily life to avoid being in public with your baby.

We support you breastfeeding moms! You can do it!

Have you ever been harassed when out in public with your baby? What did you do? Did it put you off going out again? Let us know what you think in the comments. We hope through discussion and considered actions, together we can overcome the obstacles involved with public breastfeeding.

If you didn't already read part one of this series where we discuss the benefits of breastfeeding and some of the challenges moms face when they try to breastfeed, why not have a look now.

Don't miss part two as we explore the breastfeeding laws across the USA, and discuss what they mean in real terms.

Alphabetical List - Support Groups & Resources for Breastfeeding Moms:

August 23, 2019 — Mitera Collection