Breastfeeding in Public: 5 Ways to Get it Right

Virginia is the latest state to legally allow nursing in public. Celebrate the fact that more moms can feed their baby wherever with these public breastfeeding tips

The Best Comebacks for Breastfeeding in Public Valua Vitaly/Shutterstock

After our first daughter was born, my inaugural nursing in public (NIP) attempt took place in the private booth of a darkly lit restaurant, under a nursing cover. By the time daughter number two came around, I was using that nursing cover as a burp cloth and breastfeeding brazenly in public. At four weeks postpartum, I ventured to Ikea for toy storage, babysitter in tow to help wrangle Big while I carried Little. At one point the baby needed to eat, so I just unclicked my nursing tank right in Aisle 34 of Furniture Pick-up, mid-conversation with the guy helping me load my TROFASTs and DRí–NAs. (I asked him if he minded first; he smiled and said not at all. And yes, he successfully averted his eyes from my SNí–IGs.)

Thankfully, no one approached me and asked me to cover my lingonberries – I say thankfully because I was sleep-starved, unshowered and teetering perilously close to The Edge. I didn't know, though, that my home state of Illinois had protections in place to ensure that us breastfeeding moms can feed our children wherever we please. Apparently we were ahead of the curve because a few states still lack such laws.

Virginia, for example, has only now passed a bill in its state Senate and House of Delegates that will make it the 48th state to legally protect women's right to nurse on public as well as private property this July. (Current VA law allows women to breastfeed in any Commonwealth of Virginia-owned spaces, but fails to protect their right to nurse in cafes, malls or other privately owned public locales.) That means crazy-eyed, leaky-nippled Virginians can now rove the aisles of Ikea just as I did, babies splayed vertically across their chests as they push their shopping carts full of futon slipcovers and paper lampshades with their one free hand.

Now we just need Idaho and South Dakota to get their acts together and moms in all 50 states will be covered. In the meantime, celebrate VA's victory with these five NIP pointers:

Dress the part. Do yourself a favor and plan your wardrobe according to whether you think you'll need to NIP. Nursing tanks, button-downs, V-necks and zip-up hoodies = GOOD. Racerbacks, turtlenecks and adult onesies = BAD.

Find a mentor. As any nursing baby will tell you, everything's better in pairs. Find a friend with NIP experience and venture out together. She can show you the ropes and help you feel less self-conscious. Start with a kid-friendly spot, like an indoor play space or the children's section of your local library – you'll probably be in good company.

You don't have to cover up. Have you ever been under a Hooter Hider? I have (long story): It's hot. And stuffy. And hard to see and breathe. If your kiddo is anti-cover, you could try a light, gauzy scarf draped over one shoulder. Some moms are able to nurse while their little one is in a front-facing carrier, which offers coverage, too. Otherwise, rest assured that you can simply unclick your nursing tank or unbutton your top and offer your breast without showing much skin at all.

Have a comeback. If someone approaches you with a negative comment, be armed with a response. It needn't be snarky – a simple, "It's my legal right to nurse here" will suffice. If you're feeling like enlightening them, you can tell them that breastfed infants have higher IQs, enjoy a reduced risk for asthma, childhood obesity and even some childhood cancers, and, according to new research, have stronger immune systems.

Deflect those stares. Realize that for many non-lactating folks, your chest is like a solar eclipse: They know they're not supposed to look, but they have a hard time averting their eyes. Just remember, you'll have less on show than J. Lo at the Oscars and you'll have a well-fed baby.