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Feeding in public

Many new mothers worry about breastfeeding in public. A survey in 2015 showed that more than a third of mothers felt anxious about breastfeeding in public. Mothers often worry that someone will comment about their breastfeeding, or ask them to leave. It is easy to believe that this is likely, because we see news headlines and high profile stories when this does happen.

The reality is that the majority of people in the UK support breastfeeding. The same survey showed that over 70% of people are supportive of breastfeeding in public. And only a minority of mothers (1 in 10) had actually experienced someone commenting or approaching them about breastfeeding.

It is easy to read the papers and think otherwise, but most mothers who breastfeed in public do so without anyone approaching or confronting them. Here are some facts to support you:

It is illegal to prevent someone from breastfeeding...


… anywhere a baby is allowed to be, in the UK. So you can feel secure in the knowledge that the law is on your side. This came into force as part of the Equality Act 2010 (earlier in Scotland).

You can breastfeed anywhere


Many public places such as department stores and shopping centres offer breastfeeding or mother and baby areas. These are intended to allow you to breastfeed in private if you would like to. You don’t have to use these spaces, you can breastfeed anywhere.

There are several schemes in the UK...


… to encourage businesses to commit to supporting breastfeeding. Using these services may help you to feel more confident in the early days of public breastfeeding.

Start gradually


Find somewhere you feel safe and go there with supportive family or friends for your first few feeds. As you gain confidence you might like to try to feed in other places as you need to.

There is also a smartphone app...


…‘feed finder’ which allows users to rate business for their level of breastfeeding friendly-ness. Identifying a place where you feel secure may help you with your first few public breastfeeds.

By breastfeeding in public...


…you can help to change the social norm and encourage other mums to do the same.

You can breastfeed anywhere!

Advice from mums about breastfeeding away from home.

Breastfeeding ‘discreetly’

When talking about breastfeeding we often talk about doing so ‘discreetly’. This seems to mean breastfeeding in such a way that no one gets a glimpse of any breast and may not be able to tell that you are breastfeeding. When well practised at breastfeeding, it often can be very discreet indeed. But when you have a hungry new baby and you are both getting the hang of breastfeeding, or if you have an older baby who knows what they want, this is not always so easy!

The problem with talking about ‘discreet’ breastfeeding is that it still seems to imply that there is something wrong in breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a totally normal activity, and with a newborn it needs to happen frequently. So if sometimes you need to show a bit of the breast, or even a glimpse of nipple when you feed, then that is OK!

Having said that, we recognise that social norms in the UK seem to support discreet breastfeeding. There is lots of support out there to support you with this. 

If you see a fellow breastfeeder give them a smile, you might just make them feel more comfortable or better still thank them for breastfeeding in public!

Why is breastfeeding in public a problem, and why does it matter?

On one hand we seem to see pictures of breasts everywhere. The female body is used to advertise everything from perfume to cars! At the same time, many mothers feel concerned about exposing a small amount of their breasts when breastfeeding. This is a double standard; it’s OK to use images of breasts if they are intended to be something to look at, but it seems to not be OK to see a small amount of breast on show if it is to feed a baby (their intended use)!

This is a problem because babies do need feeding frequently, and when mothers feel worried about breastfeeding in public they may feel like they are limited about where they can go unless they bottle feed.

This also contributes to the problem; we don’t see breastfeeding in public very often so it can be more of a surprise when we do. It also contributes to a perception that bottle feeding is more ‘normal’ than breastfeeding. If you do choose to breastfeed in public, you will be helping to change the social norms and supporting other mums to do the same.

For some women breastfeeding in public is particularly difficult because of concerns about how they look. If this sounds like you, you might want to read this page.

What if someone does comment or ask you to leave because you are breastfeeding?

Your exact response to this does depend how confident you feel! You are completely within your rights to stay where you are and carry on breastfeeding. Here are some suggestions to support you should this circumstance occur:

  • Explain calmly that your baby needs feeding, and that the Equality Act 2010 supports your right to do so anywhere. If there is still resistance, ask to speak to a manager.
  • If you want to avoid confrontation – perhaps refer them to this website or suggest they consider signing up to be breastfeeding friendly.
  • Get on social media to complain or write a letter of complaint to the manager. Businesses might well take more notice of complaints on social media.
  • Always remember that breastfeeding is normal! You are not doing anything wrong.