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Is Breastfeeding a Baby While Teaching a Class Newsworthy?

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Was It the Baby or the Breast?

Pine did what she thought was best in the situation and then continued with her day. It wasn’t until she received an e-mail the next day from a news assistant at the student newspaper that she realized it was an issue. The e-mail specifically focused on the act of breastfeeding, not on the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of having a sick child in the classroom.

The University, on the other hand, told the Washington Post that the issue was the child’s illness:

For the sake of the child and the public health of the campus community, when faced with the challenge of caring for a sick child in the case where backup childcare is not available, a faculty member should take earned leave and arrange for someone else to cover the class, not bring a sick child into the classroom.

Pine described a scenario a few days later where she was cornered by the reporter from the student newspaper immediately after class and was hardly able to speak because she had “caught and improved upon my baby’s cold.” So she not only brought a sick baby to work, but also went to work herself when she was sick.

From the University’s perspective, it is inappropriate to expose the campus community to illness and therefore Pine shouldn’t have taken her sick baby to class and she probably shouldn’t have been in class herself after catching the baby’s illness. Yet somehow the environment at the university is such that Pine felt cancelling the class would be disruptive to her students and “could also negatively affect my student evaluations, putting my tenure at risk.” If that is true, it appears that the discrimination against nursing mothers is not the only potential problem at the university. The dichotomy between their written policy regarding illness and the real consequences of following that policy are indicative of a problem that needs to be addressed.

Students’ Objection to Breastfeeding is Indicative of a Societal Problem

The students reaction to breastfeeding in the classroom likely stems from their lack of exposure to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is so often hidden away and done only in the privacy of the family home or at best under a nursing cover in a public space. In order for breastfeeding to seem normal and natural, it needs to be visible. It needs to be something that everyone has seen and everyone is familiar with. It shouldn’t be something that people see as awkward or inappropriate.

If more mothers were to breastfeed in public, especially around teenagers and young adults, it would help to normalize breastfeeding and make it easier for nursing mothers to continue to live their lives and take care of their babies needs. But it would have other benefits too. As I wrote previously in We Need Mothers To Breastfeed in Front of Teenagers, it would provide young people with important exposure to breastfeeding in the years prior to becoming parents. It would help them to see that breasts are not just sexual, it could give them the confidence to breastfeed and it could give them concrete visual examples to draw on as they hold their own baby up to their breast for the first time. It would give them more places to seek support, make them feel less alone, and give them more confidence.

Although Pine never intended to be a lactivist or to create a teachable moment, the reality is that every time she brings her baby to the breast in a public space, she is doing just that. Despite trying to distance herself from lactivism, the anger she showed towards the situation she found herself in clearly demonstrates why lactivism is an essential part of the feminist movement.

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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

him 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 Rice.

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 accomodate situations such as child care

challenges and even the desire for child care options in

the workplace.




Breastfeeding, feminism, work, teaching, university,

academia, discrimination, students, lactivism.

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Photo credit: Mothering Touch on flickr

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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? here is a sow 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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