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How breastfeeding in public can turn dangerous

Jody Allard is a writer and mother living in Seattle. Her work has appeared online in Time, Scary Mommy, Babble, Good Housekeeping, and The Washington Post, among others. In her spare time, she's pretty fond of sleeping.

The scariest threat to breastfeeding moms has nothing to do with prudes

When our little ones need to be fed at the mall, most of us worry about finding a quiet spot, warming up a bottle or being asked to cover up if we are breastfeeding. One Houston woman learned a very different lesson when thieves took advantage of her helplessness while breastfeeding by stealing her diaper bag with her car keys, wallet and cellphone inside.

While Charlene's two older daughters were inside a mall nail salon getting manicures, she sat in a chair outside the salon, breastfeeding her baby. Her stroller was next to her, and the diaper bag was by her feet. Charlene noticed a couple of teenagers eyeing her, and then watched in horror as they snatched the diaper bag and took off running. Although she called for help and a couple of witnesses chased after the teenagers, the teenagers got away with Charlene's diaper bag.

More: Mom refuses to back down when museum tells her to stop breastfeeding

Charlene's story is a good reminder that breastfeeding may leave us vulnerable to thieves. When we breastfeed, we are trapped beneath a feeding baby and can't easily give chase. We may be distracted by getting the latch correct, positioning our baby's head or even just staring into their sweet gaze. While understandable, this helplessness and distraction create a vulnerability that criminals can take advantage of.

Of course, the risk of theft while breastfeeding is low. One breastfeeding mother who is targeted by thieves doesn't create an epidemic, and no one should panic over the idea. However, most of us probably never even considered the idea that we could be tempting targets for thieves. It's a good idea to be aware of the vulnerability and take small, practical steps to counteract the risk.

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When you're breastfeeding in public, make sure your valuables are kept close. Diaper bags have long straps that can easily be slung around an arm or leg while breastfeeding in public to make it harder for thieves to make off with them, and engaging the brakes on your stroller also makes it harder to steal. You can also keep valuables in a small purse that can be slipped out of the diaper bag and worn on your body while breastfeeding.

Be aware of your surroundings, and make a point to glance around periodically. If someone attempts to steal from you, scream as loudly as possible to attract attention. If you are targeted, make sure to alert the authorities and quickly cancel all your credit and debit cards. The last thing any of us needs is to spend our precious downtime dealing with credit card fraud.

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Unfortunately there is no way to entirely eliminate the risk of theft, but these small steps can make it more difficult for thieves to take advantage of you, and they can minimize the losses if they do. Theft is the last thing breastfeeding mothers should have to worry about, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

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