Feeding babies, breasts, planes, cameras, and discrimination

Airplane, airport

Forget having it all, breastfeeding activists want it both ways on a plane.  Which sounds dirty.  Surprisingly though, it’s just about feeding a baby and not having their pictures taken.

Anyone else surprised this is an issue?  Anyone else think this really isn’t about breastfeeding?

This weekend I will be flying with Sugarbaby, a total of 4 flights to get where I’m going and return home.  According to Christopher Elliott and people he talked to that are afraid of a nurse-in happening if they share their name, if I breastfeed my baby on a plane without a cover, I can’t complain if someone snaps a picture of my exposed breast.

Does this happen frequently?  Because I’ve flown and breastfed my babies many times and have never experienced someone wiping out their cell phone to snap a picture of my exposed breast and tweet it to the world or post to a breastfeeding fetish site.  At least, I’m not aware of this happening anyway.  It just seems so immature and ridiculous.

Let’s say it does happen, just for the sake of discussion.  Personally, it wouldn’t really phase me.  Except for the part of a stranger taking pictures of my child and me without my permission.  It’s not the breastfeeding part or the maybe catch a glimpse of my breast part that I would have an issue with.  No, it’s the lack of human decency that I’d have an issue with.  The taking a photo of my child and me without permission that would bother me.  It wouldn’t matter what we were doing, I would never be ok with someone taking a photo of my child if I haven’t expressly given my permission.  Plus, it’s creepy.

Let me be clear, this has nothing to do with breastfeeding.  Or breastfeeding pictures.

It’s not illegal to take pictures of people out in public, so that’s really not the issue, even if it is creepy.  It’s more the attitude that’s concerning here.  Change the circumstances.  A woman giving her child a bottle and some random person pulling out their camera.  Pretty sure that mom would be just as uncomfortable as the breastfeeding mom.  Or the woman with a pedicure in a pair of sandals and a man she doesn’t know starts zooming in with his phone.  Bet she would be uncomfortable, maybe even kick him.  How about the guy that looks like Santa Claus sitting in Starbucks a few tables from me right now?  Surely he wouldn’t mind if I started taking pictures, after all he went out in public with his snowy beard, apple cheeks, and evidence of significant cookie consumption.  It’s like the guy is asking for it.  The man at the beach with man boobs?  Might he have an issue with a teen girl snapping pictures and posting online for everyone to laugh at him?  How about a girl wearing a skirt and that guy sneaking to take pictures up her skirt with cameras on the toes of his shoes?  He was arrested, actually.  Or that baby hanging out in their car seat while their mom has coffee, surely he’s fair game for me to snap a few photos of and share on the internet.  What about the woman with the cane?  The child in a wheel chair?  A black man in a suit?  An interracial couple?  I mean, really, can anyone go out in public and do anything and expect not to have their pictures taken without their permission from total strangers?  Can they really have it both ways?  The law doesn’t protect them from having their pictures taken without their permission, we’re all fair game to random stranger’s picture snapping so if someone thinks you’re strange, gross, or an opportunity for their sexual fantasies, then can you really have it both ways?  Another way of putting it would be “can you really leave the house?”  Or get on a plane.

Taking photos of individuals without their permission is rude.  Sites like peopleofwalmart.com are based on this behavior, taking photos of individuals without their permission for the sake of our personal gratification.  Be it a gross fascination, to mock them, or a sexual fetish, regardless, it is rude and self-serving.

In fact, it’s far more reprehensible than feeding a baby.  Because that’s all it is feeding.  It is not a sex act, not human waste, it’s not gross or strange, and breasts are not genitals.  It is a child eating.  Saying the mother was asking for someone to leer or photograph her feeding her child and blaming her for their inappropriate behavior is backwards.

This kind of attitude where condoning inappropriate behavior because of what someone else is doing is toxic.  It’s this line of thinking that leads to blaming victims of sexual assault for being attacked by questioning what they were wearing, where they were, or that with their clothing they were “asking for it.”  Or claiming that wearing a hoodie is cause for shooting someone.

Before I get jumped all over that it could all be avoided if breastfeeding moms would just cover/pump/feed bottles/go to the bathroom to nurse, what would you say to the others that don’t want their pictures taken without their permission?  The woman with the pedicure in sandals should wear boots?  The mom bottle-feeding should turn to the wall?  The Santa Claus in plain clothes should shave his beard?  The child in the wheelchair should work harder at walking?  The interracial couple should stay home?

None of those would be accepted, we would call all of that discrimination and rightly so.

This has nothing to do with breastfeeding.

It has to do with respect.  Decency.  Human rights.

Speaking of respect, someone is bound to mention that it’s not that hard for a breastfeeding mother to cover (someone that has never had a baby fight being under a cover) out of respect for those that don’t want to see that.  I bet there are other things you don’t want to see that you would never ask someone to cover because, again, that would be discrimination at worst, rude at best.  But surely these moms can respect that not everyone is comfortable seeing the female breast.  If she weren’t so selfish about her rights she would consider the rights of others, right?  I have to ask, why would any mother ever be expected to consider the rights of complete strangers over her child’s right and need to eat and find comfort?  My baby just wants to eat.

I will be feeding my baby on the plane this week.  Someone may take a picture of me doing so.  Probably me.  I can’t really prevent anyone else from doing so even without my permission but I’m not going to let that intimidate me from changing how I meet my daughter’s needs.  Some day breastfeeding won’t be considered a freak show where strangers pull out their cameras at the sight.  I have glimpses of hope that we’re headed in that direction, like this unexpected article by Tyler Brown at The Collegian reflecting, as a male college student, on the uproar surrounding a professor breastfeeding her baby as she gave a lecture to her “Sex, Gender and Culture” class.

How can we be OK with breasts on display all around us, encouraging us to consume more crap, and yet when a single mother in a tight spot needs to feed her child, people throw hissy fits? I can’t help but hear an uber-male bro voice saying, “Yeah, but she wasn’t using them for what I want her to, and that’s not cool.”

Guess what folks, we’re mammals. And that means, along with hair and a myriad of other distinguishing features, mammary glands. That’s how Pine, along with other mothers, feed their children, believe it or not.

See the entire article, it’s well worth the read.

Can breastfeeding advocates have it both ways?  Can we ask society that we stop just giving lip service to breastfeeding as “best” and stop discriminating against breastfeeding mothers?  For the sake of our children, let’s hope so.  There will come a time when the discrimination against breastfeeding mothers will end and mature responses to a woman feeding her child will just be expected.  Such as not pulling out your camera to take a picture.  Until then, I will continue to both feed my children and talk about how the rest of the world needs to get over it as necessary.  Some day, the mature perspective of this young, heterosexual male college student will prevail.  I hope.

If you’re planning on flying with your child that breastfeeds, you may find the tips from Annie at PhD in Parenting helpful.



Have you flown with a breastfeeding baby?  What was your experience?  Have you ever had someone take a picture of you breastfeeding without your permission



  1. I’ve flown from New York to California frequently with my babies over the past 3 years and nursed the entire way without ever covering. Never had anyone complain or even look, perhaps I was lucky. It is close quarters but my seat mate usually just gives me privacy. I tend to think of it that people would rather have a quiet, sleeping baby than one that is crying from being tired and ears hurting. When my baby was first born I was actually fortunate enough to sit next to a LC so we had some great discussions and another time, I sat across the aisle from a mother nursing a toddler in a car seat. I would actually be shocked if anyone said anything to me especially on an air plane and they would get an ear full 😀

    Have a great, drama free trip!!

  2. I wish I could be half the mom you are. Honestly. I am all for breastfeeding but I could NEVER be comfortable not covering up in public. I just can’t do it. I wish I didn’t care what others thought but I do. I give you HUGE kudos for speaking your mind and doing what needs to be done to feed your little one.

  3. Have done lots of flying with my breastfeeding son. From when he was 4 months, we took several short flights from Vancouver to Calgary and back. And flew from Vancouver to Cancun, and back with him when he was 23 mos old, (and we’re still nursing now at 32 months). I insisted on nursing him on take off and landing, unless he was already asleep. I use a shawl to cover up, mostly because he insists on practically my entire chest being exposed, as he twiddles the other nipple when he nurses. Sometimes I end up being revealed, but it doesn’t really phase me. It would if someone took a picture though! I’ve even nursed in family court 🙂

  4. Thanks for pointing out how the issue is about respect for others – the baby. It really shouldn’t be about a mother’s right to breastfeed, it should be about a kids right to eat. Some kids won’t eat under covers, some kids won’t take a bottle, but they still have a right to eat and be nurtured.

    I recently flew and did experience the one and only time somebody else has made me feel uncomfortable nursing because of his staring at me in the airport terminal. He was clearly and older business man and I don’t know what his problem was, but I am sure the people my kid woke up with his tantrum much preferred the quiet nursing to screaming.

    I will still breastfed my almost three year old almost whenever he wants to though, because I can’t deny him when he says “want milk to feel better” and “I’m happy now” when he’s finished. I do draw the line at sitting on the web curb while taking a walk though.

  5. Krista Barber says:

    We will be flying this weekend as well and I will be feeding my 3 month old when needed without a cover, but we have a blanket for snuggles and to keep warm if necessary.

  6. The last time I flew, last month round trip FL to WI , was also the first time I tandem nursed on a plane with my 3 year old & 9 month old. I did not cover up, and as far as I could tell, no one even noticed! I’m sure they would have noticed 2 fussy kids much more,!

  7. Gretchen K says:

    I’ve been flying with my breastfed babies at least 4 times per year since my son was 7weeks old (he’ll be 6 at the end of this month), and I’ve never had any problems that weren’t in my own head 🙂 I’ve used a cover once, and that experience was so horrendous and embarrassing, I never bothered again. I’ve even nursed my 2.5yo daughter. No looks or pictures that I know of, but I someone did take a picture, is probably ask them to text it to me, so I have it also!!! 😀

  8. I flew recently and did cover up. I really don’t like other people seing my breasts, call me shy but this is personal to me and the baby. I don’t mind husband and close family members seing my breasts and me feeding the baby but strangers don’t have the privilege…

    • Kristin McGuckin says:

      I also chose to cover up while nursing my daughter in public, but I still received glares when I was out. I also had people stare at me for nursing in airports and flying. It was very uncomfortable and I couldn’t understand because I was feeding my child. So crazy, breasts in American culture are still predominantly viewed as sex symbols rather than the optimal feeding choice for infants.

  9. Love this article. Thank you for including. As a college instructor, my LLL leader has encouraged me to bring my baby to class for feedings. Although I have not done so, the article you referenced is an encouragement that maybe one day for my future babies, I might be able to do so!

  10. I read the article you’re responding to the other day and tried to leave a comment with much the same sentiment but the site was “not accepting comments at [that] time.” I would be completely offended if a stranger tried to take a picture of me breastfeeding without asking, but I would be equally offended if they tried to take any other picture of me without my permission. There were a lot of other issues in that article that got my blood boiling, too, but that’s a discussion for another day.