Can I nurse here?

Yes, I know that Washington state law allows a woman to nurse anywhere. And that is wonderful! But it doesn’t mean you’re comfortable whipping out your boob while sitting in a 10-top at Canlis, or behind home base at SafecoField (though more power to you if you do!), especially during the first few months.

Now that I’m six years into this breastfeeding journey, I sometimes pull my boob out of my shirt without even making a conscious decision to do it. I’ve nursed just about everywhere by now! But I remember how intimidated I was during the early years.

My first public nursing (besides the homes of friends and relatives) ended up being on a park bench in downtown Ballard. Quinn was about four weeks old and we were still struggling to get a good latch. I had just had tea at the now-defunct Chai House (where my friend nursed her own newborn without a hitch – Phew!). Just after my friend drove off, Q totally lost it. I knew that I couldn’t make it home.

After wandering around a bit, desperately seeking “the perfect spot,” I took a deep breath, sat down on a park bench on a fairly busy street, and pulled out my boob (inconspicuously, lifting my T-shirt with a nursing tank underneath). And it was totally fine. Yes, Quinn screamed and took a few minutes to latch on properly, but I faked calmness and soon she took the bait. A few people noticed us, but all pretended to see nothing.

I learned a lesson then: Outside seems like one of the scariest, most exposed places to nurse, but it is actually ideal because people don’t really notice you and the background noise muffles baby cries. I’ve nursed at area parks and benches about a million times since then, and it’s always been a good experience. Even at Greenlake, where a good 4,000 people will walk by in 10 minutes, you can still go relatively unnoticed. (I recommend one of the benches that faces the lake, which seem to be more prevalent near the Bathhouse side.)

A few other things I’ve learned: A coffee shop can sometimes be a pretty intimidating place to nurse, if it’s one where people tend to camp GotMilkout with their laptops and expect complete silence. If your little one latches quietly and easily, go for it, but otherwise you may feel a little conspicuous. This is especially true in places like Starbucks and Tully’s; sometimes smaller, local shops are great because people actually go there to sit and visit. I’ve nursed in many many many local coffee shops without a hitch. If you can hear people talking and laughing when you first walk in, you will be fine.

Incidentally, public libraries can be great spots for nursing in a pinch. Head to the children’s section, where there is almost always a bench and a handful of noisy kids, or look for an empty meeting room off the main entrance.

Most restaurants are actually great, what with the noise of other patrons and the distractions of food and people moving around. The noisier and busier the better! You may be inclined to walk around looking for a quiet, private corner, as I desperately did one day at Ivar’s Salmon House, but your best bet is to just stay where you are and nurse as calmly as you can (which I eventually did).

Some women like to use their covers in these circumstances, but I prefer to just take an inside corner seat of a booth or turn slightly toward a wall as I latch Q on. I’ve only ever received encouraging looks, and I’ve nursed in a LOT of local restaurants, even La Bastille in Ballard and Cafe Flora in Madison Park. I’ve also nursed at a few area wineries, where there is always a lovely little spot perfect for breastfeeding.

If you’re shopping, you can always find a great place to nurse. Nordstrom has those wonderful women’s lounges designed for nursing mothers. So does Babies R Us, and most area consignment and new baby shops have chairs that they reserve for the purpose. Just ask a clerk and they will point you in the right direction.

If you’re at U Village, the Kids Club also has a great nursing room, which is quiet and distraction-free. Bellevue Square also has a great nursing spot – the seats on the third floor that overlook the Kids’ Cove play area (above Center Court). Alderwood Mall has an awesome new mother’s room and bathroom right near American Girl Place. Maternity and kids clothes shops are also really accommodating and used to women seeking shelter.

You can also always use a dressing room, whether you are at Target or Buffalo Exchange. Grab a few items and walk in as you would normally, or just ask the salesclerk if you can nurse in there. I’ve had great luck with both methods; the latter works better if you know you will need a few minutes and don’t want someone knocking on the door several times to ask how you’re doing. I once nursed in a dressing room at Nordstrom Rack during the holiday rush, and the clerks could not have been sweeter about it.

I’ve also had great nursing experiences in lobbies of hotels. Lots of people come and go, and you can usually find a really comfy spot with a nice view. Kid-friendly spots like Woodland Park Zoo (check out the cushy nursing chairs in the front corner of the Zoomazium, the bench seats in the Tundra Center, or the open bird section of the Tropical Forest house behind the jaguars). Community centers are also great places to nurse.

Of course we all believe that nursing is healthy and beautiful and NO ONE has the right to make us feel bad for doing it ANYWHERE we PLEASE, but the reality is that when you first venture out of the safety of your living room (where you have probably been sitting topless for at least three weeks), public nursing can suddenly be a really scary prospect, even in a town like ours.

I hope these suggestions make it a little less scary. If you’re still scared, take a few weeks to go to the places where nursing is de rigeur, like mama and baby yoga classes, baby consignment shops, and gatherings like PEPS and La Leche League. You will see other mamas nursing and get the support and encouragement you need to venture forth! I’ll see you out there.

A version of this post first appeared on Moms Alive.

About the Author

photo 1-5Shawna Gamache is a former newspaper reporter and co-founder of the local blog Moms Alive. She is mama to Ruby, 4, Quinn, 6, and Nora, 13 months. In her quiet moments, Shawna loves writing, knitting and avoiding eye contact with her laundry pile.

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