Jenny, a mother of three, recently traveled on a Southwest flight across country. Her best friend’s sister passed unexpectedly in her sleep. Jenny immediately booked tickets for herself and her three children though it was a huge expense, knowing she had to care for the children alone as her husband had little vacation time left.
According to Jenny, “Traveling with a 4 year old, 2 year old, and 9 month old by myself is not ideal. I know this. However, when your best friend’s sister passes suddenly and you need to be by her side, it’s what you do because it’s the right thing to do. A departure time of 6 a.m. two days after you receive the bad news is all that’s left, so it’s what you take to get there. It’s no big deal, I tell my husband. I can do it because I’m confident in my mothering abilities. Who would have known that my confidence would be shaken by an ignorant flight attendant on the trip?’
‘Mid-flight, while everyone around us was sleeping, my 9 month old started screaming and thrashing her body in protest. I quietly began nursing her, soothing her as to not wake the sleeping passengers around me. A few seconds later, the flight attendant comes up to me and with a look of disgust says, “You don’t have a cover?” I quietly reply “no” as she storms past me. I then hear her telling the other flight attendant, loudly, that I was feeding my baby in the aisle with no cover on, as if I had done something terribly wrong.”
“I confronted the other flight attendant, who projected it back on me telling me that she was sorry that I was upset. After landing, I complained at the counter and was referred to file a complaint online. After a few days, customer relations calls to apologize, refunded my tickets, and promised that policy changes will be made. I’m still waiting for it to happen. I tell her that while I appreciate the refund, I ultimately want all mothers to be protected on flights and for policies to be put into place. No mother should have to be publicly shamed for doing what’s natural by feeding her child. Southwest does not currently have a policy with regards to nursing on a flight. That leaves room for flight attendants to use their own judgement, as was so unprofessionally done in my case. That also leaves rooms for mothers to be vulnerable and open to harassment.”
WHAT? Another NIP Incidence?
Yes…but wait! We’re working to remedy that. I promise. YOU can help too. As many of you are aware, two other mothers had very similar experiences on two major airlines (Delta and Frontier Airlines). Both released public statements after multiple bloggers, advocates, and mothers took policy enforcement into their own hands via social media. Jessica from The Leaky Boob and Jamie of I am not the Babysitter were instrumental in utilizing their huge social media outreach to ask for policy to ensure that businesses would at the very least make a public statement.
WHY in the world does this keep happening?
Weak or non-existent policies, lack of inclusion about corporate policy regarding nursing mothers in operations manuals, bare bones or non-existent education on how to welcome nursing mothers, and the complete lack of follow-up procedures are just some of the causes.
Weak or non-existent policies leave judgments to be made on the spot by employees whose personal feelings may not reflect the stance of the company as a whole, also resulting in negative press for the business due to a poorly handled issue or lack of understanding of a policy. Perhaps even more importantly, an uncomfortable mother that is dealt with negatively has the potential to start a firestorm of bad press and will cause the business to lose clients, profits, and credibility as a result.
How about this…
Make ALL employees very aware that the company feels that all mothers should be welcome to nurse wherever they are allowed to be without restriction AND hold employees accountable for not following company-wide procedures. Without investigating complaints, enforcing company protocol, and offering corporate lactation education, repeat offenses are inevitable.
Follow-up with Southwest Airlines:
Jennifer Pitkin, BS, IBCLC, RLC, a volunteer with the Family Friendly Business Initiative and independent contractor for corporate lactation training reached out to Southwest Airlines on Jenny’s behalf. Two representatives from Southwest have assured us that they are working to remedy the situation.
We’d love to see if changes are made. Here’s where you come in…ASK Southwest to show you their policy. Tweet to @Southwest Air #showusyournippolicy
About the authors:
Jennifer Pitkin is an IBCLC and the founder of Family Friendly Business Initiative. Jennifer is a current La Leche League Leader, and former WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor. Jennifer has a 5 year old daughter, and 3 year old son.
Liz Neighbors is an RN/BSN and an IBCLC. She owns private lactation consultation company, Beyond Baby. Liz is married to an optometrist and amazing breastfeeding advocate. She has three daughters, ages 5, 2 1/2, and 3 months.