You’re not alone if you have questions about breastfeeding in public. Here we explain how to do it comfortably and confidently and what your rights are.
Many mums wonder how others might respond to them breastfeeding in public. So it’s good to know that public opinion is behind you – a survey said 72% of people support breastfeeding in public (gov.uk, 2015).
And you do of course have the right to breastfeed in public. NCT spent many years campaigning to bring about the specific protection of breastfeeding in public (NCT, 2011). Specific laws now protect breastfeeding in public in England, Wales and Scotland, and other laws protect it in Northern Ireland.
But breastfeeding in public isn’t just accepted and protected, it can have a bunch of benefits. Here’s how and why you could make breastfeeding in public work for you…
Why breastfeed in public?
Breastfeeding is a convenient way of feeding your baby when you’re out and about as you don’t need any extra equipment. In fact, with a little practice it can become virtually effortless. You’ll have the great tool at your disposal of being able to feed your baby anywhere and to calm them when they‘re fretful at any time.
“I found breastfeeding useful when we were out for the day as the only ‘kit’ that was needed was me! But especially so if my baby became overstimulated with the sounds and lights of busy shops – if she started getting restless or agitated, holding her close for a feed would help to calm her down.”
How do I start breastfeeding in public?
In the early days, before going out with your baby, it can help to gain confidence with different breastfeeding positions and making sure your baby’s achieving an effective latch. That way you’ll feel more comfortable feeding in front of others. Some mums find it useful to practice in advance - either in front of the mirror or in front of someone else, such as their partner, a close family member or a friend.
If you want to keep covered up, having easily accessible clothing can help with that. You could try wearing a loose vest underneath a t-shirt – so one layer goes down and the other goes up. You could also try wearing a loose cardigan or a scarf.
“I would wear stretchy vest tops underneath so that I kept warm still while feeding. Plus, I was more concerned about flashing my mummy tummy than anything else!”
How do I get more confident about breastfeeding in public?
Some new mums worry about feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable breastfeeding in front of others (Public Health England, 2017). So it can be really helpful to look for support around you and check what groups your local NCT branch run.
You could also ask your midwife, health visitor, breastfeeding counsellor or lactation consultant about local drop-in groups. At these groups, you’re likely to meet other breastfeeding mums and this will help you gather some tips, ideas and general support.
Attending a local Baby Café or other breastfeeding drop-in provides an environment where you‘re likely to be around other parents at a similar stage of parenting and feeding. This peer support and having the support of a qualified practitioner might increase your confidence in many areas of breastfeeding, not just feeding in public (Fox et al, 2015).
It can be handy to have someone with you that first time you head out with your baby. It’s also good to look ahead for information about breastfeeding friendly places to go. You can find breastfeeding friendly places on social media, websites, and local/national initiatives where breastfeeding friendly businesses can register.
Is breastfeeding in public difficult?
It’s not difficult but there can be challenges. One challenge of breastfeeding in public is dealing with breastmilk leaks. Most mums find that breastpads provide sufficient protection from leaks should you experience them.
If you’re out and can feel a let down of milk but you’re unable to feed your baby, then applying compression to your nipples for a few seconds might help stop the leaking. You can do this by folding your arms over and using the palms of your hand to press down firmly on your nipples (La Leche League GB, 2016).
When your baby is older, feeding in public may seem more challenging as your child is mobile and vocal. So it’s good to read their body language and be ready to move if they do and if you want to keep covered up. You could also consider having some snacks or toys to offer as a distraction until you are somewhere more comfortable to breastfeed (kellymom, 2018).
What exactly are my rights about breastfeeding in public?
A mum has a right to breastfeed her child across the UK, but the area of the UK you live in will govern which legislation covers this right:
- England and Wales – the Equality Act 2010 (British Chambers of Commerce, 2010) states that ‘a business cannot discriminate against mums who are breastfeeding a child of any age.’ This means that anybody providing a service, and their employees, cannot ask a mum to stop breastfeeding or to leave their premises.
- Scotland – the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 states that ‘it is an offence deliberately to prevent or stop a person in charge of a child from feeding milk to that child in a public place or on licensed premises.’ (The age of the child is determined as up to the age of two years and feeding is determined as breast or bottle feeding.) This means that any person feeding a child milk cannot be asked to stop or leave the area or premises.
- Northern Ireland – there is no specific legislation currently in Northern Ireland covering rights to breastfeed. But there is some protection within the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 for women who have been treated unfavourably while pregnant and for the duration of their maternity leave. In January 2017 a potential Breastfeeding Bill was announced but progress on passing this Bill was on hold at the time of writing (Department of Health, 2018).
Are there any circumstances where I can’t breastfeed in public?
Across the UK, there are two main categories where it is not unlawful to prevent a mum from breastfeeding:
- If there is a valid health and safety reason to do so. For example, the mum and/or child may be at harm if they do not leave.
- If there is a justified reason for a single sex service where women would not ordinarily be permitted.
(Maternity Action, 2019)
If you have reason to complain about how you were treated while feeding your child, the first course of action would be to complain to the business/organisation where the mistreatment occurred, where possible (Maternity Action, 2019). Ask them for their complaints procedure, which will explain how to lodge your complaint. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome, you could make a claim in a county court in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or in a Sheriff court in Scotland.
This page was last reviewed in August 2019.
NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.
Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2005/1 (Accessed 25th August 2019)
British Chambers of Commerce. (2010) Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know? Quick-start guide for businesses who sell goods and services. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/85008/business-quickstart.pdf (Accessed: 25th August 2019)
Department of Health (NI). (2018) Breastfeeding – a great start. A strategy for NI 2013-2023 Mid-term review. Available at: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/health/draft-mid-term-review-breastfeeding-strategy.pdf (Accessed 25th August 2019)
Fox R, McMullen S, Newburn M. (2015) ‘UK women’s experiences of breastfeeding and additional breastfeeding support: a qualitative study of Baby Café services’, BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 15: 147. doi: 10.1186/s12884-015-0581-5
Gov.uk (2015) New mothers are anxious about breastfeeding in public. Available at:
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-mothers-are-anxious-about-breastfeeding-in-public (Accessed 9th December 2019)
Kellymom. (2018) Breastfeeding in public. Available at: https://kellymom.com/bf/concerns/legal/bfip/ (Accessed 26th August 2019)
Knowles R. (2019) Breast and bottle feeding safely in a sling. Available at: https://www.carryingmatters.co.uk/breast-and-bottle-feeding-safely-in-a-sling/ (Accessed 29th August 2019)
La Leche League GB. (2016) Out and about with your breastfed baby. Available at: https://www.laleche.org.uk/out-about-with-your-breastfed-baby/ (Accessed 26th August 2019)
Maternity Action. (2019) Breastfeeding while out and about. Available at: https://maternityaction.org.uk/advice/breastfeeding-in-public-places/ (Accessed 25th August 2019)
NCT. (2011) Historic month for NCT as women win right to breastfeed in public. Available at: https://www.nct.org.uk/about-us/news-and-views/news/historic-month-for-nct-women-win-right-breastfeed-public (Accessed 11th December 2019)
NHS. (2017) Breastfeeding in Public. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/breastfeeding-in-public/ (Accessed 25th August 2019)
Sex Discrimation (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, c. 5A. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisi/1976/1042/article/5A (Accessed 25th August 2019)