American Airlines took center stage at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, when 25 nursing mothers and their children recently rallied to support a woman’s right to breastfeed while travelling on an airplane. The mother, apparently sitting in the window seat, next to her husband, was asked by a flight attendant to cover-up with a blanket while feeding, for the comfort of others. The woman later wrote a complaint to American Airlines addressing the incident and received a reply in which the airlines supported her right to breastfeed, but due to the confined space within the aircraft, expressed their views that ‘breastfeeding be done with a certain discretion.’
While American Airlines, along with Northwest and United Airlines state that a mother is not prevented from breastfeeding on a plane, the larger question, for many, seems to be what is appropriate when breastfeeding and what is not. Fortunately or unfortunately, the reality is that the American culture is uncomfortable with the exposure of breasts in public. While in the case of nursing mothers, breasts are used as the primary source of feeding for their children. Their function is fairly straightforward and yet the act of watching a mother nurse her infant continues to be embarrassing to many. Does the public have the right to infringe their views by saying, ‘It’s okay if you breastfeed, but do it in a way where you don’t make me feel uncomfortable?’
Others may argue that they fully support breastfeeding, but ask that the mother practice a little modesty by using some type of cover-up. Therefore, you’re encouraged to breastfeed, but not at the expense of others by bringing attention to yourself. The tug-of-war continues and the question then becomes, ‘Is the mother choosing not to use a cover-up in order to voice her right to breastfeed in any manner in which she chooses?’
Whether in the air or on the ground, the question of what is appropriate when breastfeeding in public and what is not remains an emotional argument. Until the American culture changes its views on the exposure of breasts as related to nursing, the conflict persists.