As we approach the holiday season, many of us will be traveling and many by means of public transportation (planes or trains or buses). I have written several articles on breastfeeding and traveling which can be seen here, here and here. Yesterday I was contacted by a mom who was doing just that - traveling with her baby and she was given a hard time by the airline attendant. I wasn’t sure what to do when I first received her message. I don’t normally post about things like this on this blog – it is usually for advice and tips and to share stories, but I have decided to post her note here. I thought that some of you might have some advice to share with her – and that some of you might have had similar experiences and could lend some advice. Before I post the question from my reader, I do want to post a link to great article by Annie of PhD in Parenting – she wrote a fantastic summary of what do if breastfeeding on a plane and what to do if given “unwanted attention” – I highly recommend reading it!
Here is the letter that was sent to me by a reader of this blog. For privacy purposes, I have not mentioned the name of the person submitting it nor the name of the airline that she is referring to. If you would like this information, I will gladly pass along your contact information to her so that she can contact you directly.
To whom this may concern,
I had an unfortunate incident occur on an airline flight this past weekend. My family went to New York for the weekend for a beautiful wedding. My partner, my 6 month old daughter, and I were flying for the first time as a family, and my daughter behaved famously I might add. I cannot say the same for the flight staff however.
As we were descending into NYC, I was nursing my daughter. I was sitting by the window, and my partner was on the aisle. The flight attendant came up to me and asked me to cover up. She actually reached across my partner to help me do so. I stopped her and asked if I was covering myself for her or for my comfort. She replied that it was for the other passengers. I then informed her that it was my right to nurse wherever it was my right to be. She nervously said “ok” and walked away.
You may or may not be aware that this sort of thing happens frequently. There have been women asked to leave places of business. They have been asked to feed their babies in toilet stalls. Women have also been threatened to have the cops called on them if they did not comply to their demands. People have even tried to argue that it is inappropriate for children to see, saying that it will have them bring up questions on sexuality.
I understand that people fall on both sides of this issue, and that the majority of people might agree with her that I should cover up, which I believe is the result of a greater problem. Likewise, I understand that some women are more comfortable covering up. I have no problem with this. I am not necessarily asking women to nurse openly, just as I expect that no one should ask me to nurse more discretely. Regardless of personal opinion, I feel that asking me to cover up is the same as to say, “excuse me, can you chew with your mouth closed, it might disturb other passengers.” It is of the same absurdity in my mind.
We see breasts everywhere, all over magazines, TV, movies, etc. We are exposed to them all of the time, and we find it acceptable as long as they are commodities. In other words, we can expose almost all of our breasts, as much as is exposed when I breastfeed my baby, as long as it is about being sexual. Yet breastfeeding is viewed as obscene or gross. I am baffled by how backwards this is.
I called the airline today to file a complaint in hopes that some sort of action would be taken. The woman simply told me that they would take it into consideration and that I may or may not hear back from them. She also refused to let me talk to anyone above her, saying that “no one above me talks on the phone.” Is this a joke? How does one get a job like this? She said that I could write a letter, and I intend to. I do not know that anything will ever come of it, but I feel compelled to tell my story.
When doing research I actually found this on the web… It is in reference to breastfeeding law. I should also state that in Indiana, there are no laws protecting a woman either way in regard to breastfeeding. It is my right to breastfeed wherever I am permitted to be, but if someone harasses me for it, there is no legal action I can take against them…
“…(In Vermont) Gillette, a mother from New Mexico, was removed from a Freedom Airlines flight, while it was still on the ground in Vermont, for refusing a flight attendant’s demand that she cover herself while breastfeeding her child. Without the law, she might have been left only with the statement of an airline spokesperson that “The Air Line fully supports a mother’s right to breast-feed on board our aircraft, and we were very disappointed in the decision to move Ms. Gillette from the flight.”
Gillette and her family were not only humiliated by an airline employee, but had to wait until the next day for a new flight. Other than a few public words, the airlines have offered her nothing, and in the absence of a court or commission ruling, there are no guarantees that an employee will not behave the same way in the future….”
So, it seems that I am not the first mother that has been told how I can or cannot breastfeed my child on an airline flight. I realize that my story is not as extreme (perhaps because we were in the air and to kick me off would have been asking me to jump from the plane), yet I feel that it breeds the same results. If I am allowed to nurse my baby wherever I please or need to for that matter, should I not be able to do it how I choose? How is it that women can expose all of their breasts except for their nipple and no one asks them to cover up? Yet my baby eating is somehow taboo?
Also, I need to say that after this experience on Friday I have found myself self-conscious breastfeeding in public, and I am saddened that it has had this affect on me. I will work through it, however. I will continue to proudly feed my baby in the way that we were designed to, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking care of her needs publicly.
I do not know what my expectation is in all of this yet, but I do know that it feels like a violation of my human rights, and I hope to convey that. I know that many people will not agree with me, I just ask you to think about it objectively.
And if you are interested, here is another article that I found pertinent.
Thank you for listening, and please feel free to pass this on and tell my story. I am one of many, unfortunately.
Do you have advice for this mom? Have you had a similar experience when flying on a plane? If so, please leave a comment here and share your concerns, your advice and your experiences. Breastfeeding moms should never be made to feel like what they are doing is shameful. Let’s help this mom recover from this awful experience.