Breastfeeding on Airplanes

If you’re a nursing mother who travels, know your rights when it comes to naturally feeding your child while on a airplane.

When my daughter was born, I expected to breastfeed.

After all, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends it, and current conventional wisdom dictates that breast is best. Heck, New York City’s public hospital system announced last year that it would stop providing post-partum moms with free formula samples to take with them when they are discharged, in a campaign to encourage breastfeeding.

As I held my newborn daughter in my arms and watched her eat at my breast, my idyllic post-birth moment seemingly came true.

Fast-forward three days, when I angrily demanded that the nurse bring me a bottle “right now, damnit!” My kid had a sideways suck, and let’s just say my compass doesn’t point north. We didn’t match up.

At that exact minute I became a bottle feeder. Which sounds a lot like “bottom feeder,” doesn’t it?

Judgment of my choice to feed my kid formula came in many, many forms, and I reached my limit when my mom’s real estate agent asked me why I wasn’t breastfeeding.

Um, hello? Did I ask you what color underpants you are wearing today? Because that is an equally personal question.

I know from being judged, friends.

That’s why I understand when women express that special mixture of outrage and shame when they are judged for breastfeeding in public.

Breastfeeding Feuds

Last week I wrote a TravelMusings post about Catherine Connors, a Toronto, Canada mother and writer who alleges that a flight attendant repeatedly asked her to cover up while she nursed her young son aboard a WestJet flight from Vancouver to Toronto.

Moms came out in force to chime in when I asked if airlines should have specific breastfeeding policies, with the answer being a resounding “no.”

Annie Crombie of Ottawa, Canada, was among those who commented. Crombie authors the blog Ph.D in Parenting, and is a mom of two children, ages 4 and 18 months.

Crombie breastfed her children on at least 12 flights, about half of them trans-Atlantic, and says she never had a bad experience.

“My nurslings were aged between 7 months and 21 months at the time of the flights,” she says. “All of my experiences were positive ones, and I was never harassed for nursing on the plane.”

On several occasions, she adds, flight attendants even suggested nursing on take-off and landing, because sucking helps infants and toddlers deal with the pressure in their ears.

Feeding-Friendly Airlines

However, Crombie was concerned enough about the issue to contact several airline companies in advance of her travels.

“I kept reading more and more stories about women being told to stop breastfeeding or to cover up while on airlines,” Crombie explains. “Since legislation is not clear about women’s rights, I thought women should at least be able to use their consumer power and protect themselves by choosing airlines that are supportive of breastfeeding rather than ones that are not.”

Her research led her to create an entire page on her blog that lists her findings on airline breastfeeding policies.

All the airlines she contacted said basically the same thing: Mothers have a right to breastfeed, and other passengers have the right to feel comfortable during the flight.

Bottom line: Feed your kid any way you like, and if someone else doesn’t like it, the cabin crew will do their best to find new seats for either you or your seat-mate.

The information, she adds, was pretty easy to come by. All she had to do was call or e-mail customer relations.

The key words here are “call” and “e-mail.” A quick search of several airlines’ Web sites reveals that breastfeeding policies are not listed for the general public.

Exercise Your Right, Mama

Policies aside, Roslyn Muraskin, professor of criminology at Long Island University’s C.W. Post Campus, says there is little airlines can do to stop women from breastfeeding, or to force them to cover up while doing so.

Muraskin, who specializes in women’s issues and the law, says most states have a civil rights law protecting breastfeeding moms. In New York, she says, the law allows women to breastfeed “in any location, public or private, where she is authorized to be.”

“If you have a [plane] ticket and you are sitting in your seat, you are ‘authorized’ to be there,” Muraskin says. “The law is the law, and no one can tell a mother she can’t breastfeed. It is a very natural thing to do.”

Muraskin points out that she has personal, negative feelings about passengers who drink to excess during flights, but there’s nothing she can do to stop that person from drinking liquor. Nor can she stop the airline from serving it.

“Airline personnel or other passengers may make a fuss (about breastfeeding), but the law is the law,” she says.

Knowing your rights as a breastfeeding mother is important, and next time you fly, be sure to inform anyone who tries to stop you of those basic freedoms.

But sometimes, knowing you are right doesn’t ease the pain of being judged.

Themes: Family Travel

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