It is no secret that during the summer many families take to the roads and skies with their kiddos to take vacations, visit family members, etc. Not surprisingly, some of those families have infants who are traveling with them – infants who are still nursing. So, it seems to be a developing theme that during the summer we hear about an unfortunate story of a mother who catches flak for nursing her baby on a plane. Planes are small and confined spaces where you often can’t help but accidentally see some of what is going on around you, and thus a breastfeeding controversy is sometimes born. I wrote a post about this regarding a mother on a Delta Airlines flight in August 2011, but this time it is American’s turn in the hot seat thanks to a “nursing on a plane” controversy.
Recent American Airlines Nursing Controversy:
I first noticed some bubblings of a problem while on American’s Facebook page yesterday trying to win free tickets to the movie Planes. I didn’t win. There were lots of angry comments on their Facebook page about nursing, so I did a little research and here is what seems to have happened according to this article.
In late July a mom reported that she was on an American flight in a window seat next to her husband, and there was an un-related pre-teen girl on the aisle seat who was busy talking with her friends in surrounding seats. As the mom breastfed her baby, she noticed a passing flight attendant glare in her direction. She mentioned this to her husband and they agreed it wasn’t a big deal because they really didn’t think it’d go any further.
The mom wrote, “A few minutes later, the same stewardess returned to our row, leaned over the girl in the aisle seat, and told me (after a bit of hesitation as she couldn’t find her words) that I needed to put a blanket over my son ‘because there are kids on this flight.’” Her husband declined, saying they preferred to not use a blanket, and the attendant offered to move the girl at the end of the row, who was completely oblivious to the fact that the mother was nursing.
For the rest of the flight, they reportedly received no drinks or any service at all, and the attendant refused to make eye contact with them.
The theme is that these sort of problems seem to emerge when a mom does not “cover up” while nursing. For those who have never breastfed, covering up seem like a simple solution, and truthfully much of the time it is. However, not every baby likes to be covered, and frankly in late July on an airplane it can sometimes be really hot. Having a 98 degree human pressed against you can be hot by itself – add a blanket or nursing cover over that and it could be insanely hot for the baby and the mom. Also if you have never breastfed, know that even without a cover it can be done pretty easily without displaying very much of what is going on. For myself and every mom I have ever talked to, you are certainly not breastfeeding because you want someone else to watch. You are doing it because your baby is hungry and you want to feed them with the most nourishing substance available – your milk.
American Airlines’ Response:
Fast forward to the family sending a complaint letter into American Airlines. We all know it is possible to encounter an individual employee who doesn’t necessarily represent what the company as a whole believes. Their response letter was posted to Facebook and reportedly concludes with the following statement:
“…because of the offense that may be taken by others within the close confines of commercial aircraft, we simply ask that breastfeeding be done with certain discretion and a sense of modesty. We believe it is reasonable to ask that the mother cover-up in an appropriate manner during the feeding.”
This seems to be what has caused some parents did get pretty angry with American Airlines. An individual employee’s actions are one thing, but an official response saying that essentially they do think a mother should cover-up while nursing is another. I breastfed Little C for several months, and while I did use a nursing cover when we were out in public, I also didn’t ever nurse during the very hot summer months. I’m not sure how that would have played out in terms of being fully covered, but ultimately I would do whatever was best for my daughter, whether or not someone gave me an “evil eye” for doing so.
Legal and Practical Implications:
When I nursed, I carried around a little card given to be at the hospital with the Texas law quoted on it that said I could nurse anywhere I was legally allowed to be. I never needed to use that card, but I know some who did. It didn’t say I was allowed to nurse anywhere I was legally allowed to be if I used a nursing cover. Many states have a similar law, and I see no reason for that standard to change when you enter an aircraft.
Legal issues and health benefits aside, from a practical standpoint nursing is also perfect for travel and being on the go. It comforts the baby, keeps them calm, and doesn’t require you to bring and clean bottles, prepare formula, etc. You don’t need any gear to nurse – you just need you and the baby. Cover, no cover, who cares?! Well, obviously some people still do, but my opinion is they need to just grow up and get over it. We’re not talking about a mom flashing the plane and handing out lap dances. We are talking about a mom sitting in the window seat next to her husband nursing her infant. Might it raise some questions from a curious child who has never seen a mom nursing before? Absolutely. But that is a great opportunity for a teachable moment about how and why babies nurse. Travel is about lots of teachable moments, so this one seems pretty innocent to me.
Official Airline Policies on Nursing:
The website Nursing in Public compiled a list of official airline statements/policies on nursing on their planes. Some including Jet Blue and Alaska state that their crew cannot request a nursing mom cover-up, where as some other airlines do suggest that mothers have and use a blanket or jacket so that other passengers are not “subjected to an uncomfortable situation”. I recommend taking a look if this is an issue that impacts you and your family.
I used a nursing cover with C, and I personally recommend using them when you travel if it works for you and your baby just to avoid any potential issues. Even though I was a fan of the cover for us, I don’t think that you should have to use a one, or receive lesser treatment if you choose to not cover your baby.
What do you think is reasonable when on a plane or in another confined space? If you are a nursing mother, what steps do you take to ensure a good experience when you travel with your baby?