A friend recently sent me this news story about a woman who was told to pump in the pet relief area of Dulles International Airport. Reading her story, I had a few different reactions — like outrage at how she was treated, and disbelief at how uneducated the airport staff was about pumping. But a reaction I did *not* experience was surprise. Things are getting better for breastfeeding mamas, thanks to public health campaigns to increase breastfeeding and awareness raising by celebrities, among other things. It is starting to normalize in most parts of the country, I think. But there is still a lot of work to be done. If the medical establishment and public health powers that be want us to breast feed our babies, they need to support us in doing so. And we need to demand that support, and advocate for ourselves and each other in the meantime.
When I was exclusively pumping for my first baby back in 2011-12, I had to travel by plane quite a bit, and I became pretty good at pumping on the go. And so, I will now present a two-part series on my top three tips for pumping and flying — tips that I think would have really helped the mom in the story. (They apply to pumping and nursing in public generally, too!)
Tip 1: Don’t ask, just pump. And don’t be shy.
Too many times, I’ve heard stories about a mom asking where she can pump or breast feed, and being told to go to a toilet or other inappropriate and insulting location. This is upsetting, yes, but I think it is largely avoidable. This is a problem of education. People don’t understand about pumping and nursing unless they have been exposed to it or educated on it. Unfortunately, for lots of reasons, the average employee you’re asking has probably never seen someone breast feed. And pumping might as well be a state secret, they know so little about it. So, if you see a decent place to pump or breast feed, go sit down and claim it. Act confident, and GO! I pumped in so many places where, because I acted entitled (though I may have been quivering inside), nobody even seemed to notice — movie theaters, coffee shops, next to a stranger on an airplane in flight (I turned my cardigan backwards to cover up a little – he did not so much as glance at me), on a train, you name it. Anywhere with a clean seat and an outlet. And I didn’t ask for anyone’s permission or advice to do so.
Tip 2: Did I mention don’t be shy? DON’T BE SHY!
When it comes to feeding babies, shyness is your enemy. I understand and respect modesty — I’ve become quite a modest person myself over the years. But if we want to desexualize and de-eroticize our breasts for the purpose of publicly breast feeding, we have to act accordingly. You can’t expect to always have a super private place to do what you need to do to feed your baby, because such a place isn’t always available. If someone sees my nipple for a second as I’m prepping to pump, I have to make peace with that (as do they). And usually, we feel more self-conscious than we need to — truly, nobody is watching, and if they do see you, they avert their eyes quickly.
I felt really bad for the mom in the article, looking for a “dark area” by the gate, facing a wall, and having her colleague shield her. Sure, turn your cardigan around, or bring a nursing cover or scarf or blanket to cover yourself. But those little moments of transition when you’re positioning the flanges, or latching your baby on? Do them as swiftly and calmly as you can, and own it. You are feeding your baby. This is your right and your responsibility. Imagine that the world supports you doing it, because for the most part, they do! And if they don’t, I truly believe they would with some education on the topic.
(Also, know your rights wherever you are — this will give you strength and conviction. Check out my recent post here on this topic.)
Come back tomorrow for my third tip on pumping and flying — enlist a pumping support team in advance! Once I started doing this, I had some awesome results — even an escort through security and comfy pumping spot in the first class lounge. The key is to find the right point person to assist you in advance. (As with so many things, ask and ye shall receive!)