I Was Hassled While Breastfeeding on a Plane

Jacqueline Burt Cote

nursing in publicNobody's ever accused me of being a cockeyed optimist, but I really had been expecting the stories about bullies who can't bear a split-second nipple sighting to fade over recent years. We're supposed to be getting more tolerant as a society, not less.

Unfortunately, I still hear about people going postal on publicly breastfeeding moms all the time. It's no different now than it was almost 10 years ago when a fussy flight attendant hassled me for nursing my then-6-month-old daughter during takeoff (you know, like the pediatrician TELLS you to do, so their ears don't pop?).

Ooh, my blood still boils to remember that woman's face! (And it was a woman, too!) I didn't even realize that she was glaring over me at first. I was looking down at my daughter, who was in that crucial phase between nursing and sleeping when it seems like the baby has finally fallen asleep but just when you try to pull away ... dang! That frantic little mouth starts hoovering away again like crazy.

I was completely absorbed in trying to execute this complex breastfeeding maneuver so the baby would fall asleep and hopefully stay asleep for most of the flight when the attendant interrupted me.

"Ma'am, you're going to have to cover up." From her tone and expression, you would've thought she'd walked in on me filming low-budget porn in the lavatory.

"I'm trying to feed my daughter," I said, shocked by the attitude of this stewardess (yeah, you hear that? I called you a stewardess, bee-yotch).

"The baby's not even eating anymore, and I'm getting complaints from your fellow passengers," she snarled.

I looked down again. Indeed my daughter had just crossed over into true sleep territory at that precise moment. My nipple had been exposed for, oh, a full 10 seconds or so.

"You can't tell me what to do," I sputtered. "That's ... that's against the law."

"Well." The flight attendant made a little snorting noise and walked down the aisle toward the beverage cart.

Seething, I refastened my nursing bra and checked out my "fellow passengers." A snoring old man, a tween girl reading a magazine ... these were the only people who could even see me. Yeah, like either of them really complained.

In retrospect, I should've made more of a stink than I did, and l wish more persecuted breastfeeders would, too. Of course at the time, you're so awash in this strange mixture of rage, shame, and confusion that you can barely form a sentence.

Have you ever been hassled while breastfeeding in public?


Image via Thomas Widmann/Flickr

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