Breasts on a Plane: The Challenges of Breastfeeding in Public

ImageBreastfeeding in public has long been a topic of debate. The irony of the matter is that in many respects people find it acceptable for women to flash their breasts in front of a camera for millions of men and women to view and ogle at them. On the big screen, full frontal nudity is acceptable for many. The funny thing is, breasts were not designed simply as visual stimulation to add nothing of real substance to an otherwise mediocre plotline of the latest B-movie. Breasts were made for breastfeeding infants. So what’s the big deal with pulling them out in public to offer food and nutrition to a fussy baby? Apparently one airline did not think it was acceptable.

In February, a woman setting out to travel on a six-hour Delta Air Lines flight took to Twitter to clarify policies on breastfeeding onboard Delta flights. The woman spoke on how her infant will not take to a bottle or is able to breastfeed with a cover up. In response, the airline said that breastfeeding is not allowed if a cover up is not used. Delta representatives spoke on the ‘misinformation’ given by the Twitter account and promptly apologized, welcoming all breastfeeding mothers and infants onboard their airline. However, angry mothers already took to Twitter to vent about the policy.

Breastfeeding is often a challenge for many women, and current policies and the built environment add extra layers of problems for women and families to try and navigate around. An airplane is not the most convenient location to breastfeed, factoring in the 100+ passengers nearby and risk of unexpected turbulence ruining the ability to feed easily. Airplane lavatories are small and difficult to maneuver around with an infant while trying to feed. The line of people waiting for the pilot to turn off the fasten seat belt sign to use the restroom can be a deterrent for breastfeeding mothers who may need 15-30 minutes to effectively expel their milk. On long haul flights this is most inconvenient, so what might airlines try to do to resolve these issues?

Allowing mothers to openly breastfeed at her seat, with or without a cover up, is an obvious solution. The addition of a family restroom that is slightly larger than the run-of-the-mill lavatory may also help encourage breastfeeding ease on board aircrafts without frustrated passengers congregating in the aisles awaiting the lavatory. Offering rows on the plane for breastfeeding moms can also help ease frustration and anxiety so that women can be seated safely during feedings. These solutions may also help with changing infant diapers on crowded planes.    

Without better laws and policies protecting breastfeeding moms, better airplane lavatories or seating won’t cut it. Currently 45 states have laws allowing for public breastfeeding, but only 28 states have policies exempting breastfeeding women from laws against public indecency. Breastfeeding provides infants with numerous health benefits, and optimal breastfeeding duration is at least 6 months. With so few women exclusively breastfeeding for this recommended amount of time we cannot afford to deny women the right to breastfeed their infant because of indecency concerns. Our nation needs to do better at promoting the acceptance of breastfeeding for women in public without fear, shame, or embarrassment.   

For more information on breastfeeding in the U.S.:

http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/why-breastfeeding-is-important/index.html

http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/AAP-Reaffirms-Breastfeeding-Guidelines.aspx

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK52688/

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