Biology is currently such that cis women are the primary bearers of children, and after they bear these children who will pay for your Social Security and Medicare one day, the women lactate in order to feed said children for a year or so.  That’s if everything goes right, and we should celebrate when it does, because ideal health is an ideal.  Duh.

Most nursing mothers nurse in public without incident.  Perhaps this is why its so surprising to find that some people not only have an aversion to women’s lactation and infants’ healthy feeding practices, but they think their aversion is legitimate.

Most states have laws that say a woman can breastfeed anywhere she and her child have the right to be.  These laws also allow for incidental exposure of the breast.

A woman discreetly breastfeeding on an American Airlines flight (her husband was next to her, and the individual in the third seat in the row had no idea what was happening) was told to cover up with a blanket by the flight attendant.  After the woman declined, she was subsequently shunned by the flight attendant (link with details at the bottom of the post).

After the woman later complained to the airline, she received an apology from American Airlines that included this non-apology:

“… 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.”

My questions:

  1. Who gets to set the parameters for discretion?
  2. Who decides whether a woman’s sense of modesty is sufficiently modest?
  3. What does it mean to “cover up”?

It would be great if American Airlines set up a Modesty and Discretion Department that could delineate these things so nursing mothers would not have to worry about being humiliated on airplanes.  And the airline could provide burkas.  Nursing burkas.  In fact, everyone could wear a burka in order to satisfy the most conservative possible notions of modesty for all.

When I lived in California and the state passed legislation on public nursing, the debate included a lot of fear on the part of Republican men that establishing the right of nursing mothers to nurse in public places would lead to a nudity fest in which women would go topless on a regular basis throughout the state using the excuse that they were breastfeeding.

You never heard about the subsequent hoardes of topless women?  That’s because there weren’t any.

Then after American Airlines forgot that breastfeeding is the normal way to feed babies, someone created this meme:


So a woman has a right to breastfeed anywhere she and her child have the right to be.  And lactating women are generally automatically prepared–baby wants to eat, and before it screams and annoys every single person on the plane, including it’s mother, the mother breastfeeds it.  What constitutes “abuse” of the right to breastfeed?  Breastfeeding?  Again, we’re not talking about the topless hoardes here, just a woman sitting in a window seat quietly nursing an infant.  There is no right not to be exposed to breastfeeding, no matter what the size of the space.  Even if the woman were topless and screaming “Hey! I’m breastfeeding over here!”

Punishing women for having lactating bodies is punishing women for being women.  Women with healthy bodies lactate after they give birth.  I suggest anyone who wants a breastfeeding mother to use bottles stay out of enclosed spaces.  And wear a burka without eyeholes.

One of the many sites documenting the details of the American Airlines incident:

California breastfeeding law:   43.3. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present.

An overview of state breastfeeding laws: