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Breastfeeding mom calls treatment by flight attendant ‘wildly offensive’

United Airlines. From Getty Images.

United Airlines. From Getty Images.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CNN) — Another flight brings another complaint about an airline interfering with a passenger breastfeeding her baby.

The mothers who complain about instances of airline employees interfering with their breastfeeding or pumping aren’t covering up and going away; they are tweeting out their complaints in 140 characters or less, sometimes in multiple posts, other times taking pictures of longer reports.

Kristen Hilderman is the latest mother to say she was hassled while breastfeeding. The Vancouver mother was returning to Canada from a vacation in Costa Rica with her family on Sunday night when, she says, there was a problem on the final leg of her trip.

Hilderman was feeding her 5-month-old son on board United Airlines Flight 438 as the aircraft taxied along the runway before taking off from Houston to Vancouver. To describe what happened next, she took a picture of her typed recollections and posted it to Twitter.

“A male flight attendant named Keith walked up to our row and said to my husband (loudly, so that everyone around could here ), ‘Are you two together?'” Hilderman wrote.

When her husband said yes, Hilderman said, the flight attendant “tossed a blanket at him … and said tersely, ‘Then HERE, help her out.’ ”

When she twice asked what he was supposed to help her out with, she said, the flight attendant ignored her.

Passengers on the plane were supportive, she said, and told her they hadn’t known she was breastfeeding until the flight attendant singled her out.

“I’ve been breastfeeding my son in myriad public places since he was born, and never has anyone made me feel so uncomfortable and ashamed for feeding my baby without putting a cover over his head,” she wrote.

Hilderman said her flight couldn’t land in Vancouver due to fog and was diverted to Seattle.

“When we were able to reboard the plane and fly from Seattle to Vancouver, Keith had placed a blanket folded up and sitting on my seat waiting for me,”  wrote Hilderman.  “Not a single other seat.  Just mine.”

United Airlines spokeswoman Jennifer Dohm said that the airline reached out to Hilderman on Monday night via Twitter and that airline officials “look forward to speaking more with her and to our crew member to understand what happened.”

“On our general approach to breast feeding, we welcome nursing mothers on board and we ask that crew members do their best to ensure their comfort and safety as they do with all customers,” Dohm wrote in an email. “We also ask nursing mothers and passengers seated near them to be mindful of one another’s space and comfort.”

Hilderman, who filed a complaint with the airline, said United had not contacted her beyond their tweeted reply but said she has found support from allies on social media.

Delta passenger Lauren Modeen, who needed her breast pump on a January flight but was forced to check it as luggage, started a Boobs on Board Facebook page that’s gained over 1,100 followers in the past month.

“Before social media, the majority of these harassment stories went unheard,” Modeen wrote in an email. “As a result, airlines faced little pressure to improve and pave a better way for mothers and children.”

She wants her Facebook page encourage airlines “to publicly post their explicitly clear pro-breastfeeding/pumping policies inside every airplane so the rules are not left to interpretation by an airline employee, and in turn harass/shame/bully a mother.”

United, Delta and other major U.S. airlines say breastfeeding is allowed on their aircraft, although United and American Airlines don’t have those policies posted on their websites.

Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines do.

Though you can’t please everyone in the air, women are allowed to breastfeed in flight, says veteran flight attendant and author Heather Poole, who is also a mother.

“Which means if breastfeeding bothers you, maybe try looking away, closing your eyes,” said Poole, author of “Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet.”

And remember that baby could be crying instead, giving you another reason to complain. “Better a happy baby than a crying baby.”

Trademark and Copyright 2015 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.


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26 comments

  • KENNETH BRIGGS

    so if you wanna breastfeed in public regardless of whether you are making those around you uncomfortable then you should be ok with me taking a picture of you breastfeeding in public regardless of whether it makes you uncomfortable. fair is fair. you cannot demand the right to breastfeed in public but at the same time demand that no one watch or look. or take pictures.

      • dg54321

        Well, no, you don’t. Same as you don’t have the right to not be voice recorded where there is no expectation of privacy. If you expect to be treated as if you were in private, then go where you can have that expectation. A plane isn’t that place, nor is a public street.

    • White__Rabbit

      What kind of sicko d-bag weird O would want to take pictures of a breast feeding mother and her child in the first place?!

  • Darth Intern (@DarkSideIntern)

    This says it all: “We also ask nursing mothers and passengers seated near them to be mindful of one another’s space and comfort.” I think that should be both on-board and off-board a plane. I’m not sure why women can’t cover up while the breastfeed. Maybe it’s just because I’m a guy?

    • Luci

      Because it suffocates the baby. I tried but my baby would sweat and start to pull at the blanket. And no the bathroom full of germs is not an alternative.

    • Denise

      I breastfed three babies. If the situation warranted it, I used a light blanket just to keep everyone feeling okay with it. However, if it’s hot and stuffy (as it was, apparently, on the plane), all that would happen is the baby gets over-heated and usually cranky. I’m thinking it’s better to avert your eyes if the whole thing bothers you than to have to listen to a cranky hungry baby cry. But that’s just me. I do think both sides should try their best not to aggravate each other (being polite should work both ways), but… in the final analysis, the health of the baby has to come before anyone else’s feelings, preferences, etc.

    • Catje

      Would you demand a bottle-feeding mother cover up her baby? That’s what breasts are for–feeding babies. Humans did it this way thousands of years before bottles were even invented. I think the word “breast” should be dropped entirely and it simply called “feeding your baby”.

    • Slam1263 (@IKnowBO)

      I find that asking for a drink tends to cause a commotion.
      As for being something the humans have done for a while, we used to crap in public, now we don’t.
      Get with the times, use a Hooter Hider, give your spawn some privacy.

  • Carrie Parker King

    Yes I agree. Can’t you even cover up? I just believe breastfeeding is part of a bonding time between mother and child that other people shouldn’t be looking at. You don’t like it? Take it to the restroom, no pity here.

    • Denise

      Sometimes covering up is hard on the baby. If it’s hot and stuffy, they can overheat as well as have trouble breathing. (Throw a blanket over your head on a hot day and see how good it feels). The health and welfare of the baby has to come before anyone’s sensibilities. You can always avert your eyes. Saying “Use the bathroom” is an indication that one cannot accept the actual purpose of women’s breasts, which is to nourish babies. It is just odd that our society will use a mostly naked set of boobs to sell cars, movies, and every product under the sun, but freaks out when one sees a baby attached. Go figure.

    • Olivia

      ” a bonding time between mother and child that other people shouldn’t be looking at. ”
      Don’t like it, don’t look. Why should the mother take “take it to the restroom” because YOU don’t like looking at it? She shouldn’t have to cater your wants. The only person she needs to cater to is herself and her child. How you feel about it shouldn’t be an issue. Her feeding her baby doesn’t concern you or anyone else. If I was ever told to “take it to the bathroom” while I breastfed my daughter by someone like you, I’d hand my daughter to my hubby, and you’d have my fist in your face. No pity here.

      • Sabre

        Then I KNOW you won’t mind when my big hairy husband takes his shirt off on the plane because it’s “hot and stuffy”.

        • Olivia

          Hey it’s hot and stuffy, If it’s what makes him comfortable, then more power to him. He’s not hurting me in any way by doing that…and if I don’t want to look at it, I WON’T.

  • Sabre

    I find this spoiled brat to be wildly offensive herself!! Hey lady–NOBODY wants to look at your bare breasts. You probably cover your baby with a blanket in an 80 degree room but you were just hoping to make a big scene because you are a magazine writer and now you have a story to write about.

    • dg54321

      I really don’t have a problem with breast feeding, boobs are boobs….but you have no right to be offended if you pull them out and people stare. What this flight attendant supposedly did…not OK, really, but I have my doubts about this story being truthful. It wouldn’t be the first time some “Twitter narcissist” embellished or even outright made up a story for attention and free stuff, knowing just about any company and the army of SJWs out there will automatically believe them.

  • Denise

    Why is it that 23 years ago when I breast fed my daughter, I never got harassed. If I could, I would cover my shoulder drapping a blanket over her. If it was too warm, I didn’t. I never had anyone complain. I might have gotten a couple of smiles, but no one was ever rude to me like they are now a days. What most people complaining don’t realize is that most women do not “drop it flat out” – their nipple is exposed enough for the baby to latch onto. At that point, they have the baby cradled and most of the mom’s shirt or top covers the upper portion of her breast – if a portion of the breast is seen – it is no more (and probably less) than most cleavage exposing shirts show. It is a natural act. As far as those telling mothers to go into a bathroom – REALLY, a public restroom that might actually be cleaned daily and you want a vulernable baby to be fed in there. Think about it – do you crap where you eat? Get over it people. It’s part of life.

    • dg54321

      Most don’t, you’re right. The ones that do, however, are the type to cry and whine the loudest about their “right” to perform indecent exposure.

    • Pam

      You didn’t get harassed back then because people didn’t feel entitled and feel the need to create a big scene . Because breastfeeding moms feel like they have the right to let it all hang out, they’ve drawn attention to themselves and created a bit of a monster…and now people from both sides are acting like idiots, when really just some common sense and a bit of discretion would be the best way to handle it. It’s turned into a p*ssing contest now…

  • wowjustwow

    Nothing wrong with it. That being said, when you have an incident, do you really need to twitter and facebook it? Build websites? C’mon, it seems like the ladies that get all upset about other people being upset, are just looking for attention. “Boobs on Board” Facebook page? Really?

  • Pam

    I breastfed two kids, and I always covered up. I think it’s just a courtesy to those around you who may be uncomfortable seeing your boobs. I actually feel bad if I am causing other people to feel uncomfortable, regardless of what I am doing – especially in confined places where people cannot move…like planes or buses. I find it ludicrous when breastfeeding mothers DON’T care, and make themselves look like even bigger prima donnas when they create a giant scene like in this case. It doesn’t kill you to be descreet, ladies. I am not defending the flight attendant, who didn’t really handle it well, but I think this mom is overreacting. And BTW, what we really should be talking about here that is the safety issue associated with unrestrained babies on planes (the dreaded “lap baby”), esp. while taxiing down the runway…!!! Newborn or not, if I have to stow my 5lb purse, moms should have a carseat secured in a paid seat for their human!

  • Lawrence Beerbower

    Covering up while breastfeeding is not only common sense, but proper etiquette while in a public place. the people around you also paid for their seats and you should respect those around you if you expect them to respect you.
    using a light sheet for screening is called being discreet and then you do not have issues as you so clearly created. Believing your rights supersede those of everyone around you. yes you have the right to breast feed, but you also are expected to show proper etiquette and respect as a mother. you should be leading by example. both of my wives breast fed our children and both knew how to be discreet. Maybe you should stop and think about that just for a moment. what exactly Etiquette, discrete and respect mean before commenting and posting about this. I see it way to often in public that young mothers do just plop it out there and it is not discrete and partially covered up.

    • MaryC

      That’s the problem, no one practices any etiquette nowadays. It’s all “me, me, me” and seeing what kind of a hullabaloo you can cause. I have two sons 24 and 20 that I breastfed on airplanes, in restaurants, in places of worship, all over. But I did it discreetly. There is no need to flop your naked breast out so everyone else has to look at it (including others children). If you position the blanket or light covering appropriately, you do not need to cover and smother the child. You can actually shield them and still maintain eye contact in most instances. And if u have to feed them without looking them in the eye a few times, it’s not going to emotionally scar them. It’s just common courtesy people. Why not try practicing it in your daily life.