Breastfeeding Mom Shamed for Pumping in a Bathroom Because Nowhere Is Safe

Breast pump

Traveling as a new mom is never easy -- even if you leave your baby at home. For breastfeeding women, they have to navigate airports with equipment that is often scrutinized by security, and they are judged if they dare pump in public. Sophie McBain is a breastfeeding mom who tried to avoid any problems by discretely pumping before a flight back to New York in the one place that Heathrow Airport employees instructed her to: the baby changing room. Yet, other staff members still had a problem with this and shamed her for it.

  • McBain needed to pump before her flight, and she had no problem when staff at Heathrow suggested a bathroom.

    Although McBain didn't want to pump in public, she is more than used to feeding her 10-month-old wherever is needed. However, that doesn't mean that she's comfortable with pumping in an airport terminal. "I estimate that I have breastfed in every single cafe and on every park bench within about a mile radius of my New York home and I am so pleased to report that I've only had people say nice, encouraging things to me," McBain tells CafeMom. "I've never had to pump in public, and it would make me feel really uncomfortable. It makes me feel a bit like an industrial dairy cow."

    So instead of setting up her pump in the waiting area, McBain opted to express milk in a private bathroom because there was no other place for nursing moms -- and she tweeted what happened next.

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  • Someone knocked while she was in there, but she didn't hear -- so a male employee was sent to check things out.

    According to McBain, the employee went on to lecture her about how she should have left the door unlocked or pumped outside. "I felt so exposed and embarrassed. Could a female staff member not be sent?" she wrote. "Could he not wait until I was unplugged and [dressed]? Can breastfeeding women not have a room to pump undisturbed & in private?"

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  • She spoke out to raise awareness for other women, and the airport's reaction shocked her.

    She sent Heathrow a simple summary of what went down between her and their employees. "I explained what happened: after seeking advice from staff I went to pump milk in a baby changing room," she wrote. "I felt so bad about inconveniencing other parents but also I felt so uncomfortable & had to do this before my flight."

    No one apologized to McBain following her formal complaint, but she says the airport responded indirectly via a press statement on Twitter.

  • Here's Heathrow's response that McBain found to be seriously problematic.

    "They did not address my concern, which is that the staff at Heathrow clearly have no awareness of breastfeeding mothers' needs and the airport has not created a dedicated space for us," McBain tells CafeMom. "Their copy-and-paste-style response didn't mention breastfeeding or pumping at all. Heathrow is a huge transport hub, 1,300 flights take off and land there each day, which means there could easily be hundreds of breastfeeding passengers using the airport daily, and some of them might want somewhere private where they can breastfeed or pump undisturbed before or after their long-haul flights."

  • McBain also broke it down for those who don't get why a male barging in on her was a big deal.

    "A male attendant unlocked the door on me, and while my bare breast was still inserted in my pump, he told me next time I should leave the door unlocked or pump outside in the main terminal," she wrote on Twitter. "Also, sticking your breasts into an electric breast pump is so undignified looking I don't even like it when my husband sees me doing it. Why would I want strangers to see this?"

  • She went public because "this is the kind of thing that makes women stop breastfeeding before they really want to."

    "I want to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, when he unlocked the door on me he was probably expecting it to be empty, and so I might have caught him off guard," she tells CafeMom. "Maybe he also felt he had to respond to other parents' legitimate grievance that the baby-changing room had been unavailable for 20 minutes. But the whole incident made it painfully clear to me that he had received no training on how to handle the situation with sensitivity -- does the airport really expect I might want to stick my bare breasts into pumping machinery while sitting in Pret A Manger or McDonald's?"

  • Also, people need to understand that it's serious when moms can't pump when they need to.

    Mastitis is no joke, and McBain hopes that people realize this is what happens when there aren't areas available for breastfeeding moms. She also thinks it's ridiculous that women don't have designated places to breastfeed if they want to do it privately.

    "It's important to create a space for women who don't feel comfortable [breastfeeding in public]" she says. "It feels extra important in places like airports or train stations, where breastfeeding mothers may have long journeys ahead of them, they may be far from home and they may really need to either breastfeed or pump." 

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  • Others were furious on her behalf and hope her story goes viral.

  • One pointed out that the future is female, so companies better figure out how to start treating mamas better.

  • But let's all realize that no pumping mom should be kicked out of any place -- especially a family bathroom.