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.
Photo credit: Mothering Touch on flickr
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