Breastfeeding on a Plane is Controversial – Who Knew?!

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This week on a domestic Delta Airlines connection flight, operated by Pinnacle Airlines, a woman says she was “publicly humiliated” by the flight attendant when she was breastfeeding her eight-month-old child.  (Check out the article here)  The woman says that the she was seated next to her husband, and that the only other person who could see she was breastfeeding was the flight attendant.  The flight attendant reportedly asked the nursing mom to either cover-up or stop feeding the baby.  The mom refused the blanket that was offered as a cover-up, saying that it was already 85 degrees on the plane and that it was too hot to use the cover.  Which I totally believe in the summer on those small planes – the AC stinks until you get up in the air flying!

The mom then quoted Indiana state law saying that she had the right to breastfeed in any place that she was legally allowed to be.  Unfortunately, the flight attendant reportedly continued to give her a “hard time” about breastfeeding without a cover and said that the mom could “get into trouble for giving the flight attendant a hard time”.

Naturally, this story was a topic on some travel forums today.  I have to admit that I am a bit dumbfounded by the reality that breastfeeding on a plane is indeed somewhat controversial.  When a friend was preparing to fly for the first time with her two month old baby, I remember her telling me that she was going to make sure and carry a card with her that quoted the state law saying she could breastfeed (just as this mother on the Delta flight did).  My friend also said she was going to make sure that her seat-mate knew she would be breastfeeding, in case they would like an opportunity to switch to another seat.  She also planned to utilized a cover and be very discrete about nursing.  When she was telling me this (especially the part about carrying the state law), I remember thinking she was very smart to think it through this well, but that there was no way that anyone would give her a hard time for just feeding her baby.

Boy was I wrong!  While most people seem to be okay with the idea of public breastfeeding if a cover is utilized, remove the cover and the controversy really heats up!  🙂

I breastfed my daughter for several months after she was born.  I stopped nursing in the late spring when she was about 5 months old.  I never nursed in the hot summer months.  I remember during my last few weeks of nursing, that having the cover was really starting to become uncomfortable on warm days if we weren’t in good air conditioning.  I can’t imagine how hot it would be nursing in the real summer heat with a cover.  Forget my own comfort, imagine the baby who is skin to skin next to the mom, in the heat, with a blanket covering its whole body.  Yikes. So, while I personally was a fan of using a cover while nursing, I can completely understand that there are a variety of situations where that isn’t practical or comfortable.  Here is Little C when she was a one week old breastfed little monster.

Babies travel.  Babies need to eat.  Breastfeeding, if possible, is best for babies.  Thus, many traveling babies will need to breastfeed.  Heck, breastfeeding while traveling is logistically way easier than having to travel with bottles, formula, items to clean the bottles with, etc…. Also, if a baby is breastfeeding, they aren’t crying!  That is a huge plus for the parents, the baby, and the fellow passengers.  I would much prefer sitting next to a breastfeeding baby (cover or no cover) than a crying baby!

I feel bad for traveling moms that feel they need to hide the fact that their baby is nursing for fear that a flight attendant will “get them in trouble for giving him/her a hard time”.  In case you haven’t tried it, nursing isn’t always easy.  At times, it can be painful, draining, demanding, and exhausting.  It certainly wasn’t the highlight of my life!  However, it was the best thing to do for my baby, and I am thankful that I was able to do that for her.  Whether I am on an airplane, in a park, or in my living room, the last thing that I would have needed during that time is someone giving me grief for doing what is best for my child.

What do you all think about nursing and traveling?  Is it fair to other passengers who may be offended?  Should the mother be required to cover-up or feed in the airplane lavatory?  Should the other passengers and flight attendants just suck it up and mind their own business?  I’d love to hear your take on this!  Who knew it could be so controversial!

All this talk of young babies made me pull out one more photo of when Little C was three months old……….and still breastfeeding.  😉

 

Comments

  1. I have no problem with a woman breastfeeding in any location as it’s completely natural. I’m partial though because I believe in the power of breastfeeding, and my wife is still breastfeeding our infant. So I find it ridiculous that the woman was given a hard time.

    My question though is does knowing the State laws really matter when in the air? In other words, are State laws applicable when flying domestically? If I’m flying across the country, do the laws change as I travel over each State? Which laws pertain?

    I find it crazy this type of issue would even need to be covered by a law.

  2. It really is simple. Would they prefer a crying baby or perhaps a woman breastfeeding.

    As a frequent flier and now a parent, I do not like the delays kids and families often cause. However, it is life and you live with it. But really, a woman feeding her baby harms no one.

  3. This is so ridiculous! It blows my mind that such a large segment of this country is prudish about breastfeeding, yet sexually suggestive imagery dominates a huge portion of our entertaintment/advertising/media etc. Just don’t look!

  4. I agree with the other responses. It is utter nonsense that this should have even been made an issue of. And I totally believe the FA threatened her. Many of them are feeling quite powerful lately and know they can just say the word and have the captain throw you off the plane. [No FA flames please, it’s just a fact lately that *some* of them are on a power trip] Anyway, more power to those breast feeding mommies! Keep up the great work of rearing our children! You have the hardest job in the world being a mom, so the last thing you need is grief and threats from a Flight Attendant about you breast feeding!

  5. Although I am in favor of a woman’s right to choose how she feeds her baby (formula or breast), I do think that if these women are going that far to prepare against backlash that they would go a bit further and just pump before hand and have a few bottles with breast milk available. In response to the “natural” thing and ” just don’t look”, would you say the same to a person masterbating on the plane?

    • The difference here Frank, is that masterbating is a sexual act and breastfeeding is not!! It is not the same thing so the comparison you make is not valid.

  6. Well I have breastfeed both of my boys till they were 2 1/2 and traveled on several flights over those years with them. I have to say….I think the flight attendant was rude to her and probably out of line……BUT……I also feel that breastfeeding mother’s should be discreet & use covers. (I made myself a perfect cover that hangs from your neck and covers the area well. It’s light and easy to use) She must have not been doing this and therefore made the flight attendant at least…..maybe other passengers too….uncomfortable. I know that as a woman I am uncomfortable if my friends (which they have) let it all hang out and their babies are just sucking on them and you are seeing it all. Yes….it’s natural but what does that have to do with privacy. Just because you are breastfeeding you have the “right” to let the world see you stuff and not care. Personally, I wanted to have a cover and would have been extremely embarrassed if I was exposed while breastfeeding. My boobs only for me, my husband and my babies! I completely understand people being uncomfortable if a woman is not using a cover and don’t blame them.

  7. ditto the comments! I breast fed both of mine till they were almost 2; I would have given that flight attendant an ear full!

  8. This is America not Europe… What happens when a young child on the plane gets up to go to the bathroom and sees a woman’s breast.. This is an uncomfortable situation for the mother of that child… In public areas in the U.S. a cover should be used..

    • First of all every woman that I have ever known that breastfed in front of me never did it in a way that much of anything could be seen. That is with and without a cover.

      Secondly if a child did happen to walk down the row and see a mother nursing a child then the parent should explain to the child that the mother is feeding her baby and not make a big deal of it. We aren’t going to change the attitudes of the western world where they freak out about anything and everything that is even slightly perceived as sexual by perpetuating the misinformed thinking!

  9. I am currently breastfeeding my 16 month old and have nursed her on several flights over her short life. A cover is out of the question for her, she just rips it right off.
    While nursing in such close quarters is not something I enjoy, it is what is best for my child and also what keeps her quiet and happy on the flight so it is what we do.

    • Ha ha! Not sure if it was intended or not, but it is certainly the most appropriate word I could come up with….in more ways than one!

  10. Just use a cover. It doesn’t have to be a blanket that will make you overheat. Why not an extremely thin piece of cloth. I am a guy so I really don’t care, but there are things you can do in life to make things go more smoothly. This isn’t a travesty like the TSA feeling you up, this is just throwing a cloth over you to make old people feel more comfortable.

  11. While I appreciate that this probably should not be an issue in our society, I think that it is. I admit, that it makes me a little uncomfortable. It is just the way I was brought up and I see breastfeeding as something that should be done in private.

    My wife breast-fed our son, but most of the time she pumped and my son got the milk from a bottle, which enabled him to go to daycare, me to handle some of the overnight feedings, and my wife and I to go off on trips and leave my son with family. This is one alternative to breastfeeding in public.

    I find it ironic for the mother to claim public humiliation because a flight attendant asked her to stop but it never occurs to her that she is pretty obviously making the flight attendant and perhaps others uncomfortable enough that the flight attendant approached her about it. The flight attendant is at work and has little choice about whether or not s/he is on the plane. S/he expressed a concern and rather than addressing the concern by stopping, covering, etc. the mother read off her rights.

    Yes, you have rights, but you also have responsibilities. While the mother may be within her rights to breastfeed on a plane, the airline is within its rights to decide that they do not want her as a customer. Will they? Probably not, because it would be a public-relations disaster. But if they decide that they don’t want infants on planes, you will no longer have a right to breastfeed on a plane and then where will you be?

    Note that at least one airline has banned children from first class. Wal-Mart banned some extreme couponer from every WalMart after she got into an argument with management on pricing. If people keep pushing their rights at the expense of other people’s comfort, the carriers will side with the people who bring in the most revenue.

    There is often room for compromise but I do not get the feeling that the mother in this article was interested in seeing that there were two sides to the issue.

  12. Everyone who is saying this woman should have covered up has apparently never breastfed an 8-month-old (or witnessed one nursing). By that age, many will be too distracted or irritated by a cover that they will pull it off. I did use a cover with my 3-month-old when we were flying, because there is so little privacy in an airport or on an airplane, but I would not have been able to do so when she was 8 months old. If you take advantage of appropriate clothing, though, there is essentially no skin showing, certainly far less than many women display on planes in the summer.

    Isn’t the bigger issue here that it’s another instance where flight attendants are making up their own rules about “safety” and “appropriateness,” to the point that this woman was told she wouldn’t be able to fly?

  13. To those who have suggested that the mother ought to have just pumped milk and bottle-fed the baby on the plane: this is not always an option. My daughter was able to interchange breast- and bottle-feeding without a problem, so I was surprised when my son completely refused bottles—and I tried everything, believe me. It would have been far more convenient to be able to bottle-feed him in public, but in the end I breastfed him exclusively until 5 months and moved him straight on to sippy cups, which he eventually accepted. (I am fortunate enough to live in the UK, where I could take 9 months’ maternity leave.) I know of at least one other breastfeeding mother whose baby also completely refused bottles. In any case I just wanted to question people’s assumption that bottle feeding is always possible—it’s not.

  14. This makes me so angry! This mother has every right to breastfeed anywhere she wants, was respectful enough to be discreet about it, yet she is made to feel as if she’s doing something wrong?
    I’ve breastfeed countless times while flying and honestly never thought twice about it. Would passengers prefer that my child scream and cry? Am I supposed to deny my child sustenance? With all the added stress of flying with an infant, are mothers seriously expected to pump, bottle, and store breastmilk? And what about that recent list posted by a flight attendent that listed pumping breastmilk as one of the “grossest” things she’s seen passengers do?

  15. A few points:
    1. As my baby has gotten older, she hates and outright refuses to eat in her ‘tent’ as we call my nursing cover. And even though it is the thinnest cotton fabric, it gets mighty toasty with a little baby sandwiched between it and me!
    2. When I dress for nursing in public, like on a plane, I wear a nursing tank of the same color beneath my shirt, so that when I raise my shirt, the only thing that is exposed is my nipple and the teeniest bit of skin, which my baby’s face completely covers. I’ve had conversations with people who had no idea I was nursing my baby – they thought she was just sleeping in my arms!
    3. Breastpumps are expensive and a P.I.T.A. Carrying bottles and asking for hot waterto heat the bottle (that your breastfed baby may refuse in preference for the real deal) is also a giant P.I.T.A. that I shouldn’t have to worry about – God made me a perfect, portable, milk-making machine =)
    Thanks to all who support a baby’s right to nurse!

  16. I love all the discussion! I have to agree with Diane about the masterbating vs breastfeeding comment. In my view, the two are not really related in the slightest. Using a cover and/or pumping are two options available to some women and some babies, but as someone who has done both, I agree that neither works in all situations. Flying with a pump and all the related “gear” makes travel much harder, unless that is the only way your babies will eat.

    Babies are just all so different. Parenting styles are all so different. Unfortunately, that means there likely isn’t a “one size fits all” solution to hungry babies needing to eat on planes. At the end of the day, it truly is just about the baby needing to eat.

    Whether you agree with me or not, I greatly appreciate you taking the time to share your opinion. I look forward to reading any additional comments or opinions on this topic as well! It is a major issue for many families who travel with small children.

  17. As an old Granny now, who did Breast feeding of 2 out of 3 children now in their 30’s and 40’s…it seems an age old debate. At this time in my life I can only smile with great pleasure to see a young mother doing the best thing she can for her baby! those folks that think it is disgraceful and are uncomfortable should just look the other way! Hello! Breasts are for Babies, not for oogling. Although, I am sure some men will disagree. I say Congratulations Mothers & unite…now I do call exception once children reach puberty…it is time to wean! LOL! BTW MP that last pic of Little C and her expression LOOKS so like The Man!!!

    Love your blog!

  18. Ridiculous. Especially if she was seated, in which case the only people that could see anything were her husband and the FA.
    What I never understood was that, in publications, or tv,or movies it is ok to show the breast as long as you can’t see the nipple. So the nipple seems to be the “naughty” part. Yet men can walk around with out shirts flashing nipple all over the place.

  19. Also, to all the people who are recommending pumping breastmilk as the way to go…it’s a liquid. It is an “allowed” liquid in more than 3 oz. bottles…but TSA has trouble following their own rules. There have been reports of insulin being taken from diabetics for being a liquid…so it is not beyond the stretch of imagination that someone would overstep their bounds – who needs that stress at the airport??

  20. Good point about the problems of bringing liquids. When flying out of London with my 4-month-old daughter 3 years ago, we came prepared with bottles and a few small cartons of ready-made formula. We were allowed to pour one bottle of formula into the bottle and taste it as we went through customs, and forced to dispose of the rest, having been told we’d have to mix any further powdered formula ourselves with water we’d have to purchase and somehow warm (there were no facilities for this). So I ended up giving her the one bottle during takeoff, and then breastfed later on the flight. In the end, nature was the best and most sensible default but it did strike me that others who weren’t breastfeeding would be at an unfair disadvantage trying to travel and feed a hungry baby under those circumstances. The rules on this don’t make it easy!

    • That is horrible that they made your family do that! Thank goodness you were able to breastfeed, but what if that wasn’t an option?! Yikes!

  21. In Response to Comment #5 Frank: who said:”I do think that if these women are going that far to prepare against backlash that they would go a bit further and just pump before hand and have a few bottles with breast milk available.”

    Frank as a Breastfeeding mom, not all babies take to bottles if they Breastfeed. Bottles are different than nursing so if the baby wont take a bottle it wont eat and they can dehydrate… So safety of the baby vs public acceptance? Nope… I go for safety of the baby.

    And who in the world made breastfeeding such a Taboo thing in the first place? Just because formula was invented it made breastfeeding inappropriate as if someone is making a porno? WTF? Its so opposite of sexual yet society is so twisted to see it as perverted… yet we can watch TV series on the big 3 letter networks that have incorporated soft porn on the evening tv shows and blood and guts yet if a woman “feeds” her baby she is told to hide in a bathroom… COme on!

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