Laurel, Md., Woman Says She Was Harassed on Flight for Breastfeeding Son

By Joshua Axelrod
|  Thursday, Sep 19, 2013  |  Updated 1:54 PM EDT
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Breastfeeding advocates are rallying around a Laurel, Md. mom who said she was harassed on an American Airlines flight last month because she refused to cover her son while breastfeeding him. News4's Jackie Bensen spoke exclusively with the woman.

Jackie Bensen

Breastfeeding advocates are rallying around a Laurel, Md. mom who said she was harassed on an American Airlines flight last month because she refused to cover her son while breastfeeding him. News4's Jackie Bensen spoke exclusively with the woman.

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Breastfeeding advocates are rallying around a Laurel, Md., mom who said she was harassed on an American Airlines flight last month because she refused to cover her son while breastfeeding him.

A group of mothers held a "nurse-in" at BWI Marshall Airport Wednesday morning in support of the woman, an Anne Arundel County public school teacher who has asked to remain anonymous in order to avoid harsh reactions from her students' parents.

But a friend of hers posted the woman’s story on her Facebook page Sunday, along with a letter from American Airlines in response to the woman's formal complaint to the company after the incident.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the letter has been shared on Facebook more than 7,500 times.

"I feel sorry for all the nursing mothers and babies who have experienced this kind of shaming and discrimination," the woman wrote. "I worry that some other moms may have stopped nursing their babies just to appease another adult who has no business making them feel ashamed of nourishing their babies."

According to Hanna Butta's post, the incident occurred July 21. The woman and her husband were flying home with their five-month-old child.

After lift-off, the woman began nursing her son in order to keep his ears from hurting and stop him from crying during the flight.

"[A flight attendant] shook her head at me and gave me a very unpleasant look, like I was doing something very obscene," the woman told News4 Washington.

The flight attendant came back and asked the woman to put a blanket over her son because there were children on the flight, the post read. The woman’s husband said they preferred not using a blanket and the woman continued to nurse her son.

A few minutes later, the flight attendant returned again and told a young girl in the aisle seat next to the woman and her husband that she was going to move her back because she could have been feeling uncomfortable, according to the post.

The woman stressed in the post that it appeared the young girl didn't even notice the nursing. The flight attendant allegedly avoided her and her husband for the rest of the flight and never offered them drinks.

The woman filed a complaint on the American Airlines website, describing the flight attendant’s behavior as "inappropriate" and "harassment-style."

In its letter, American Airlines apologized but said they ask that anyone breastfeeding on an American Airlines flight to show "certain discretion and a sense of modesty."

"I think an appropriate response from American Airlines to my written concern would have been a sincere apology and a promise to address that employee’s behavior," she said. "Instead, I received a letter claiming to be an apology but was more like a justification for the flight attendant’s unprofessional actions."

In a statement to NBC Washington, American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said,
"To clear up a misunderstanding, American Airlines has always allowed mothers to breastfeed during flight. The approach our flight attendants take is to ensure breastfeeding mothers have the privacy they wish to have, while also ensuring the comfort of our other passengers.

"We apologize to the breastfeeding mother who was offered a blanket during a recent flight by a well-intentioned flight attendant. The intent was to make everyone onboard comfortable, including the unrelated 12-year-old sitting in the same row."

Huguely also acknowledged that the company's letter should have used language closer to that in flight attendant manuals, which state that the "breastfeeding of infants is permitted during all phases of flight" and "F/A’s should not place restrictions or requirements on the mother of the infant."

American Airlines representatives also sent the woman a travel voucher.

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