Galley Gossip: A question (and a poll) about breastfeeding on the airplane

Dear Heather,

Is it okay to breastfeed on the airplane–specifically take-off and landing. Do the flight attendants allow it? Do you need to cover up?

Maggie R.

Dear Maggie,

Of course it’s okay to breastfeed on the airplane! And if you are going to do it, take off and landing is the best time to do it. A constant swallowing motion will help ease those little ears in a pressurized cabin when a pacifier just won’t cut it.

While flight attendants do allow breastfeeding, there are always a few bad apples in the bunch who may throw a hissy fit if you are showing too much skin – or any skin at all. Therefore I suggest you cover up with a blanket you’ve brought from home. Don’t depend on the airline to provide you a blanket, since most airlines do not carry blankets anymore and some even charge for blankets. Not to mention the filth and bacteria that probably live on those synthetic blankets. Or just use whatever you want to keep those prying eyes off your chest. Trust me, you are not imagining those glares, and even worse, those who stare.

“A man can not not look at a breast. If I see a breast I have to look at it. It could be an eighty year-old woman, but if there’s a nipple involved I’m looking. I’m sorry, I can’t help it, a breast is a breast,” said the husband a man who prefers to remain anonymous.

Unfortunately (or would that be fortunately?) not everyone feels the same as the man above, especially when the breast in question belongs to a woman caring for a child. Sure it’s socially acceptable to come onboard scantily dressed (and whine about the airlines not having blankets) and flaunt it down the aisle, but to use that same breast to feed a hungry baby is still a tad bit controversial for some reason. STILL.

Your question, Maggie, reminds me of an incident I experienced aboard a flight from New York to Los Angeles just a few months ago…

I was sitting on the jumpseat chatting with a passenger, when another passenger came to the back of the airplane carrying an infant in her arm and holding hands with a little girl who looked to be about two or three. The young mother stood in front of the lavatory door squinting.

“It’s vacant,” I told her.

She blushed. “I need to breastfeed, so it may take awhile. Just knock if someone needs to use the bathroom and I’ll come out.”

I gave her a look, the are-you-crazy-look, because as a mother of a two year-old I know it’s not easy sharing that tiny space just to change a diaper, let alone sharing it with a toddler and an infant who needs to be fed. Seriously, no one should be stuck in that germ infested port-o-potty for any length of time, particularly a newborn!

“You don’t want to do it at your seat?” I asked the mother of two very quiet children, and when I asked this question I could feel the eyes of the other flight attendants glaring at me. I looked at them, smiled, and then looked back at the passenger. “Because you can do it at your seat. If you want. But if you don’t want to that’s fine also.”

“Well…there’s a little boy sitting beside me and…I don’t know…I’ll just go in here.”

“It’s up to you,” I said, and like that the lavatory door shut and the vacant sign changed to occupied.

I know a lot of people who are uncomfortable with the idea of a breastfeeding mother sitting next to them, or even near them, on the airplane. It’s normal to feel that way. But it’s also normal to breastfeed a baby! Even on the airplane.

“Yeah well I once had this woman on my flight pull down the top of her sundress and breastfeed a child that was big enough to sit in the seat. Right out in the open. She wasn’t hiding a thing. The kid looked to be about five or six years old!” my mother said when I told her about what I was writing.

Thankfully most mothers who breastfeed are usually very good about doing what needs to be done without anyone knowing it’s even happening. Sure there are a few mothers out there who are not discreet, who do not care to be discreet, mothers who make even me uncomfortable, especially when I have to reach over the boob to place a drink on the tray table, but the majority of mothers I come into contact with feel a little weird about breastfeeding on an airplane, just as weird as you do about seeing a baby being breastfed on the airplane. But a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do! Better a breastfed baby than a crying baby I say. So unless the kid is big enough to….well…you know, JUST BIG, as in real big, give the mom a break! It’s not easy traveling with a baby.


Photo of mother and child courtesy of Bertabetti