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Is Breastfeeding a Baby While Teaching a Class Newsworthy?

Is Breastfeeding a Baby While Teaching a Class Newsworthy?
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Anthropology Professor Adrienne Pine has been tossed into a controversy she never intended to create. The scenario was simple, as she describes in an essay on Counter Punch:

So here’s the story, internet: I fed my sick baby during feminist anthropology class without disrupting the lecture so as to not have to cancel the first day of class. I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it. But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one.

She wasn’t trying to make a statement or create a “teachable moment.” In fact, she has always distanced herself from lactivism and tried to keep her family and professional life as separate as possible. She simply had a dilemma — her baby had a fever and couldn’t go to daycare, but cancelling the first day of class to stay home with her sick baby could have professional consequences.

Unfortunately, some students in the class and a reporter from the student newspaper decided to label Pine’s choice as an “incident” that is “uncomfortable” and “delicate.” All of a sudden Pine, who had always simply breastfed her baby without giving it much thought, felt she needed to defend herself from an anti-woman attitude and potentially hostile work environment.

Pine is Not the First, Not the Only

The fact that the student newspaper wanted to make a story out of Pine’s choice is indicative of how rare it is to see breastfeeding in the workplace and other public places. However, many mothers simply breastfeed their babies anytime, anywhere without giving it a second thought, just as Pine had always done. To be sure, Pine wasn’t the first woman to breastfeed in public, at work, or even in front of a classroom.

Kasey Powers, who teaches Introductory Psychology as an Adjunct Professor at College of Staten Island, the City University of New York (CUNY), went back to work about six weeks after her son was born. She took her son to work with her and had another graduate student watch him during class. For the most part, that arrangement worked, except one time when he needed to be fed before class was over. “There were only a few minutes left in class when I heard him in the hall,” Powers wrote in an e-mail. “I waved Anna (the graduate student watching the baby) and Simon (the baby) in and nursed while students were picking up their assignments and asking questions. This is the only time I ever noticed students noticing that I was nursing. None of them said anything.”

Outside of that one time in class, Powers frequently nursed during her office hours. “My office hours were right after class so he was always hungry. Any time a student came to the first part of the hour I am sure I nursed.” Powers said she never mentioned or discussed nursing with her students. “I didn’t really think about it, it’s a non issue in my mind. I didn’t feel the need to qualify or apologize. The only thing I ever did was say I had my son with me in office hours since he was obviously there.”

Why should someone who is meeting their work and parenting obligations in a non-disruptive way have to apologize for doing so? Isn’t the ability to coordinate work life and family life something to be lauded, not sneered at? Just as this was never an issue for Powers, it should never have been an issue for Pine.

Given the abysmal maternity leave situation in the United States, the desire and need for maternal workforce participation, and the personal and public health benefits of breastfeeding, it is surprising that this issue hasn’t come up more often. If women are expected (or at least encouraged) to breastfeed their babies and expected to go back to work shortly after giving birth, it makes sense for workplaces to be baby-friendly and breastfeeding-friendly environments that will accommodate situations such as child care challenges and even the desire for child care options in the workplace.

The Parenting in the Workplace Institute found that allowing parents to bring their babies to work and creating a work environment that facilitates and supports that has many benefits, including an earlier return to work, increased loyalty, better teamwork and cooperation, improved morale, and lower healthcare costs. These programs are not difficult or expensive to implement and focus mostly on creating a supportive environment and culture. If a university made it clear that it was a family-friendly environment and that both students and employees were welcome to have nursing infants with them, this would create flexibility for nursing mothers and also make it clear to others that intolerance is unwelcome.

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Photo credit: Mothering Touch on flickr

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211 comments

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4:52PM PDT on Oct 19, 2012

I think that saying that she should not have brought an ill baby to class is a cop-out. How many other professors come to lecture sick? I have had several who did that. A nursing infant is not likely to expose the class to germs -- a toddler, well, that is a different story. Women nurse their babies, so what? Why can't people just get over that fact? If the baby had been bottle fed, she still would have had to choose either to cancel class or bring the baby.

12:39PM PDT on Oct 16, 2012

im all for breastfeeding but in front of students? idk. maybe a bad choice

6:35PM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

There seem to be some contradictions in this article vs. her short interview with CNN reporter. One article says the baby is an 11 month old baby girl and this article states a six week old baby boy. Somehow, either the writer here has gotten things confused or CNN. In any event, the mother had other options than breastfeeding in front of her students.

3:17PM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

I have no problem with women breast-feeding in public, but honestly.... She is just stretching it. She is standing in the front of the class, knowing that between 30 and 100 students are required to look at her to understand the lecture....It would be better to take a 20 minute break to go breast-feed rather than basically 'force' the students to watch her.

2:44PM PDT on Sep 21, 2012

Found my old dog-eared copy (and please remember this was recommended to me in 10th grade by my biology teacher)
It's "The Decent of Woman" by Elaine Morgan.
Just a really different take on evolution that I think has some merit.
Didn't mean to start an anthropological war there - - - -

3:58AM PDT on Sep 21, 2012

I wonder if anyone else will jump in the frey and fight about the "why humans have individuals with huge boobs all the time" and dissagree. but then go and rage on a body image issue with "the men who like those skinny flat chested run way modles only think they are sexy because they have a body like a little girl and they are most likly child molesters"

I am sure it will be said.

10:09AM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

I do not believe that Desmond Morris and the great majority of evolutionary biologists are arguing that men are only attracted to large breasts or that all women have exceptionally large breasts. They are explaining why human females are the only species of primate that develops prominent breasts at the onset of puberty and keep them their entire lives. Of course it is a theory, just as most science is based on theories. I dated a girl in high school that was totally flat chested and sexy as hell, however I do not think I can use that fact to discredit the theory put forth by Morris and evolutionay biology.

10:05AM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

I don't know about you, but I think we have beaten tis topic to death. Can't we move on?

6:17AM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

ok so i didn;t read what was posted since last night.

theroizing is fun.
it is the magic of a human.

look I'm going to troll you with "beastie animals do not care. a wolf cannot think like this, neither can a magpie or ape"
and we all know what floats one person's boat must be true for everyone.

I demand respect for liking slim pretty boys and not liking lots of body hair. I don't care how much of a pedophile it makes me, considering the features I like are of youthful androgy and would be like the doe that wants the buck that looks like he is underage.

Oh I hope I get one of those males. I feel like there is a 70% chance he is going to be homosexual. and as a cis hetero female. that does me no good. Maybe if I had shape shifting magic?

6:12AM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

it would of been fun if she were a chemistry teacher. doing this is more like getting attention, or "i can get away with it" or "look at me". this is a "go figure'.

I wish I had a degree in these things. reading a few books and watching some documentaries dosen't cut it. then again having a degree won't do anything either.

I am lead to believe said breasts are of duel nature. sure they get bigger for lactation. but other mammals do not "grow 'em" unless with child/offsprings. Have you ever saw a dog "with boobs?" a spayed dog?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e9/Middle_White_Sow.jpg here is a sow
http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/jun01/k9441-1.jpg with baby.

humans always have them, don't we? then there is the idea of "big breasts echo the swollen rump of the ape, due to our erect biped nature and frequenty face-to-face copulation"
not a lot of animals copulate to impregnate face to face. So, I read/heard that having big boobs is kind of like the big old monkey/ape butt.

why does a mammal need breasts when not feeding young? why look like we are lactating when we are not?

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