Breast-feeding and class — never the twain shall meet

By Asher Freeman

This year has been fraught with controversies, one after another: some big, some small; some tragic and some arbitrary. The nature of social media in an ever-shrinking world ensures that there’s always a new problem to fight about. Breast-feeding has been a long-standing point of debate with many sides and many points of view.

With all due respect to mothers everywhere, breast-feeding in a professional setting is — well… unprofessional. New mothers should be prepared for extenuating circumstances such as sick child as well as remember that in a professional setting, they are not only mothers. Even after having a baby, if a mother decides to go back to work, the same level of professionalism and preparedness applies in the workplace as before the child was born.

The most recent developments in this debate involve Facebook, like most things these days. Earlier this year, Facebook took a considerable amount of heat from hundreds of nursing mothers who felt victimized and discriminated against by the company’s nudity policy. Many mothers who posted photos of their exposed breasts and their nursing children found their accounts temporarily deleted on a “breach of terms of use charge” or the offending photos taken down. Hundreds of women responded by having nurse-ins in front of Facebook offices all over the country, including Austin and Houston this past spring.

Even more recently, on Aug. 28, American University professor Adrienne Pine sparked wild debates on breast-feeding in the workplace after she nursed her infant daughter during her lecture in front of 40 students. Shouting matches have also occurred over two women in the Air Force who have been photographed nursing in uniform.

The photo was used in an awareness campaign by Mom2Mom of Fairchild Air Force Base, a support group for new mothers. Though the two mothers say they breast-feed in their uniforms all the time, the photo that has become widespread has fed the proverbial fire.

It is, in fact, legal in Texas to breast-feed in public, with varying constraints and allowances in private businesses.

So why all the fuss?

Breast-feeding is natural and has been proven to be healthier than formula for the child. Public breast-feeding is legal in 45 states, allowing them to nurse in any public or private location. Many businesses and higher education institutions have contingency plans and back-up child care for new mothers, which is becoming more frequent in smaller businesses.

Professor Pine said she practiced nursing in public as much as she could before the incident and didn’t expect it to be considered so outrageous in her classroom. She also said she wanted to disrupt the class as little as possible while her child was in the room. Granted, Pine clarified that the baby was sick and had no alternative healthcare at the time. It’s also understandable that, as a professor, she didn’t want to cancel the first day of class.

The issue here is not that she chose to breast-feed her child. It’s that no one was warned, making the action even more of a distraction than if she had simply decided to walk out of the room for a few minutes or dismiss class. Somewhat ironically, the class she was teaching was an anthropology class called Sex, Gender and Culture. She could have used the situation to her advantage. But that’s beside the point.

Two women in uniform committed a far worse breach in decorum.

As most of us know, there are strict rules for conduct when wearing a military uniform, to include smoking, chewing gum, talking on a cell phone while walking and even holding hands. If these are violations, than certainly something as intimate and personal as breast-feeding in photos must be crossing a line, no matter if it was specified or not.

We at the Lariat aren’t arguing against breast-feeding in public.

We’re arguing against breast-feeding, a generally intimate and personal act, being put on display in an environment that isn’t particularly conducive to it — classrooms, business meetings, professional appointments etc.

We also appeal to nursing mothers to remember that the professional world and their personal life shouldn’t (for several reasons) mix.