Anyone who has ever breastfed in public knows that it’s often met with stigma and shame from others. Even though breastfeeding and pumping are totally natural (and biologically crucial) aspects of new motherhood, many people…still don’t understand how the female body works, apparently. Last week, one woman encountered this directly when she brought a breast pump on a plane and was met with resistance and confusion from one of the gate agents. Her response is a perfect indicator of just how frustrating life as a working mom can be — and just how far society still has to go in normalizing the everyday aspects of new motherhood.
On July 12, NBC News correspondent Jo Ling Kent took to Twitter to share her frustration with a recent experience on a Delta flight. “Was just harassed by a Delta gate agent for carrying a TSA-approved breast pump on the plane,” she wrote. The agent tried multiple times to take the pump from her, and then asked where her baby was — you know, assuming her child needed to be with her in order for her to pump breast milk. Which, of course, is the exact opposite of the real reason she needs to pump (ie, she is away from her baby).
“Well, sir, perhaps you haven’t met a working mom before,” she quipped about the experience.
Was just harassed by a @Delta gate agent for carrying a TSA-approved breast pump on the plane. Something I do often w no issue.
He tried to take it 3x so I nicely explained. Then he says this:
“Well, where is your baby?”
Well, sir, perhaps you haven’t met a working mom before.
— Jo Ling Kent (@jolingkent) July 12, 2019
Naturally, moms and other breastfeeding supporters on Twitter were equally outraged at this treatment. “Well if you had the baby you wouldn’t need a breast pump with you!” one user responded. Another pointed out that the device is a breast pump, not a baby pump, and a mother can’t exactly leave her breasts at home when she travels.
Unfortunately, this kind of behavior from the TSA agent is nothing new for working moms. Last month, a director at the U.S. Census Bureau shared a story about being denied access to her own speaking event because she brought her baby to the expo hall. For some reason, many in society still struggle to comprehend the difficulties of being a working mom — the good, the bad, and the ugly. And while breastfeeding is scientifically proven to have health benefits for both mother and child, the public stigma and confusion around it continue. Even the U.S. government recently came out against a U.N. resolution in favor of breastfeeding, which angered doctors and other health officials who have worked to promote breastfeeding as a healthy and accessible nutrition source for babies.
The solution to this? Public education is key. Gate agents would obviously never fault someone with a serious health condition for bringing necessary devices with them on the plane, and breastfeeding should be viewed in a similar way. It’s natural, and critical for a woman’s health, for her to pump milk when her baby is unable to feed. If more people understood this, new moms would have an easier time navigating life without pushback.
Thankfully, people like Kent are shedding light on this issue, and big companies are taking notice. Delta responded to Kent’s tweet with an apology and a promise to look into the situation further. While our culture still has a long way to go, situations like this highlight the struggles many moms share in caring for their postpartum bodies. The more we talk about it, the more pressure big companies will hopefully feel to make changes. And that’s a future world all moms should all fight for.