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I received the following letter over the weekend from a woman who wished to share her story with as many people as possible. The same letter has already been posted on the Mommy News Blog, but I decided to print it here too. I also have a different slant on this. I have left out the name of the airline company but have otherwise left the letter in tact. If you have already read this letter feel free to scroll down to read my thoughts on the matter.

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To whom this may concern, I had an unfortunate incident occur on a x flight this past weekend. My family went to New York for the weekend for a beautiful wedding. Steven (my partner), Piper (my 6 month old daughter), and I were flying for the first time as a family, and Piper behaved famously I might add. I cannot say the same for the flight staff however. As we were descending into NYC, I was nursing Piper. I was sitting by the window, and Steven was on the aisle. The flight attendant came up to me and asked me to cover up. She actually reached across Steven 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. Another 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 x 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 a Delta spokesperson (Delta had an agreement with Freedom to carry its passengers) that “Delta Air Lines 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.”6 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 a Freedom or Delta employee will not behave the same way in the future….” [Link]. So, it seems that I am not the first mother that has been told how I can or cannot breastfeed my child on a 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.

Breastfeeding mothers on planes are being asked to cover up. 43 States currently have laws protecting breastfeeding rights to some extent, and only three States have no laws pertaining to breastfeeding at all (Idaho, Nebraska and West Virginia). However, all State laws are somewhat different. As a reader of mine recently told me here

“…what this meant when we took my infant son to visit relatives, requiring flights across three time zones, layovers in various states, arrivals in various states, and in one case the actual destination being in another state, was for me to look up the rules for Oregon, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio ā€“ just to know if Iā€™d have any ground to stand on if someone challenged me.”

bficon-medPeople shouldn’t have to do this. Delta apologized to Emily Gillette. They said they were breastfeeding friendly and yet these things still continue to happen. Couldn’t an airline company formally adopt a breastfeeding friendly policy and have it be legal no matter what State they happened to be flying over at the time? Let’s change the culture! Airlines did it once before. Smoking isn’t illegal in any State or province and yet all of North American airlines have “no-smoking” signs. So even if you want to smoke, you just can’t. If airlines adopted the international breastfeeding symbol passengers would realize that they just can’t make a breastfeeding mom cover up. And even if they did, the steward could just smile and point to the breastfeeding symbol explaining that all flights are breastfeeding friendly.

It is unclear in this woman’s story if the stewardess asked her to cover up because she thought it made the other passengers uncomfortable or if another passenger actually complained about it. If the latter is the case, I actually feel bad for the stewardess. Regardless of her own beliefs or values she has to try to please everyone. Without a policy in place it’s a balancing act of attending to one person’s level of comfort over another.

Breastfeeding your baby isn’t like having your iPod on too loud or kicking somone’s seat over and over. All I can think of to compare complaining about breastfeeding to is complaining about seeing a fat person eat. And would any adult with any couth actually dare to ask a steward to cover up a fat person eating? Or even complain? Most of us think it would be horrible to even think these thoughts to begin with. I’m uncomfortable just writing about it. Yet that doesnt change the fact that some people feel uncomfortable and/or offended by fat people. Why else would they be discriminated against unless it was a fact? Breastfeeding moms are discriminated against too. And sadly, that discrimination hurts babies. Babies like persons of all other ages deserve to eat without having a blanket thrown over thier head.

So right here, right now, on my blog, I am asking all airline administration to strongly consider adopting breastfeeding friendly flight policy. This will benefit your airline in so many ways: it will decrease employee bias, increase passenger well being and comfort, clarify breastfeeding policy, and promote equal rights for all.

For a collection of other accounts of breastfeeding mothers being asked to cover up or move from a flight, check out PhD in Parenting’s post Breastfeeding on an Airplane: The Collection.

What do you think of this? Do you have any additional suggestions for airline companies?

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11 Responses to “Making Airlines Breastfeeding Friendly”

  1. #1 Lauren @ Hobo Mama Says:

    November 24, 2009 at 2:16 am
  2. #2 CaroLyn Says:

    November 24, 2009 at 4:24 am
  3. #3 Melodie Says:

    November 24, 2009 at 8:35 am
  4. #4 Missy @ The Marketing Mama Says:
    November 24, 2009 at 9:09 am
  5. #5 Cave Motherr Says:

    November 24, 2009 at 1:21 pm
  6. #6 Juliette Says:

    November 24, 2009 at 10:32 am
  7. #7 Corinne @ Have Baby Will Travel Says:
    November 24, 2009 at 10:44 am
  8. #8 Jake Aryeh Marcus Says:
    November 24, 2009 at 11:46 am
  9. #9 Claire Says:
    November 28, 2009 at 6:25 pm
  10. #10 Angela Says:

    December 7, 2009 at 9:02 pm
  11. #11 Breckenridge Says:

    March 8, 2010 at 5:57 pm

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