Just about everyone agrees that women should breastfeed their babies (if possible), but God forbid they ever leave their homes with said babies! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, saying that the practice reduces diarrhea, ear infections, and meningitis, and may also protect babies against SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), diabetes, obesity and asthma. Breastfeeding is becoming a far more acceptable topic of public discussion — even, at times, a fashionable one, with numerous celebrity moms, including Jennifer Garner, Julia Roberts, Heidi Klum, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, crediting nursing with their speedy post-pregnancy weight loss. Yet some women do, amazingly, still encounter hostility when feeding their infants in a public place.
According to news reports, Emily Gillette, a 27-year-old New Mexico woman, says that when she attempted to nurse her baby on a Delta Airlines flight, the uptight stewardess gave her a blanket, asking her to cover up. When Gillette refused, the flight attendant threw mother and baby off the plane! Silly Emily–doesn’t she know those things are for selling beer and cars? Any other public use is obviously obscene.
Breastfeeding in public is legally protected in at least twenty-eight states, according to La Leche League; many statutes — including Vermont, where Delta so unhappily encountered Emily Gillette — stipulate that a mother may breast-feed anywhere she and her child have a right to be. But clearly, as I once heard a civil liberties activist say, the only way to protect rights is to use them. A group of women held a “nurse-in” at a Delta terminal in Vermont to protest Gillette’s treatment, and the online mother-activists group MomsRising has a petitionyou can sign to tell Delta to get over its neuroses, and tell Congress to pass the Breastfeeding Protection Act, which extends the anti-discrimination provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to mothers feeding their babies.
Access to abortion gets a lot of attention–as it should, especially in an election season–but it’s important to remember that reproductive rights also include the freedom to have and properly care for babies. This incident is particularly remarkable given the hassle many parents faced trying to bring infant formula on planes just after the London bomb threat (when passengers were forbidden any liquids). Let’s hope Delta is feeling, well, exposed. I called up the corporate communications department to see what the company had to say for itself. When I explained why I was calling, a spokeswoman sounded nervous, and hastily directed me to an absent colleague’s voicemail. I haven’t heard back from anyone yet.