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On A Mission For Mammary Relief, The Airport Disappoints

Breastfeeding in public is accepted, but public places have yet to understand the need for working mothers to pump breastmilk

I am committed to breastfeeding my baby for one year.

Unfortunately, many airports don’t give a crap about this goal – or the fact that there are numerous documented health benefits to doing so.

For example, this winter, when my husband and I both battled a cold, our newborn Gabe did not even get a sniffle, which is a common story among breastfeeding families. It's because breast milk contains antibodies that protect a baby from illness.

You would think now that since workplaces must have lactation rooms – and because it’s almost universally accepted in this country that breastfeeding in public is A-OK – that airports would provide clean, safe, private rooms for a woman to pump her milk.

Pumping breast milk is different than breastfeeding.

Let me explain.

You see, if you are a breastfeeding mother and you need to be away from your baby – like I did last Sunday and Monday to train for my new job – then you need to use a pump to extract milk from your breasts, both to feed your baby and to keep your milk supply up.

The pump looks like a horn.

You place two of those horns on your breasts and then attach them to bottles. Then you hook it all to a machine that makes the horn pulsate in a way that makes your breasts squirt out milk.

If you neglect to pump or feed your baby every few hours, your milk supply could dry up – or worse –  you could develop an infection that could give you major fatigue and a fever.

All of these issues careened through my head as I wandered through the LaGuardia Airport on my way back to Columbia last Monday.

My goal was to bribe, cajole, flirt or bully my way into finding a sanitary place to pump.

It goes without saying a woman shouldn’t have to do this.

But I did.

My first stop in LaGuardia was a US Airways Special Services desk.

There was something classy-sounding about the name, so I wondered if the nice woman there could help me in my quest to pump in a clean place.

The lady pointed me in the direction of the women’s bathroom. She said I could try pumping by the changing table if the bathrooms were too awful to endure.

I trudged over there with my pump and bottles in a backpack and noted the bad smells and strange sounds.

And the changing room table area? It had no curtain or door, and it smelled like poop.

I left and considered crying, but I decided to stay strong.

Instead, I wandered around some more, the pressure literally building by the minute, as my breasts grew hot and achy with three hours of accumulated milk.

Perhaps I could beg one of the ladies at the nail salon to find me a room to pump, I thought.

But the idea of rejection in front of customers was too much. 

Yet somehow I found it easy to approach the pudgy older man behind the desk at the US Airways Club, where behind its doors I saw a gaggle of older, banker-y looking guys who paid a fee for a private place to drink their bourbon and relax away from the rest of the airport riffraff.

“Sir,” I said, “I am a nursing mother. I am away from my baby. I need to pump my breasts to bring food home for him and to keep my milk supply from drying up. The airport bathrooms are gross, so I’d like to pump somewhere in the club. Can you help me?”

He paused.

I searched his face for a reaction. Disdain? Disgust? Pity?

“Well,”  he said, “Conference rooms are $50, but you wouldn’t want to pay $50 just to do that.”

“Yes I would,” I said. “Gladly.”

“Well, the women's bathroom here is very clean and private. You can use that, but don’t tell anyone I’m letting you do this,” he said.

“Okay, I guess this is the best I’m going to do,” I thought.

So there I was, in the US Airways Club bathroom, scrambling to assemble my machine, keep it clean and clamp it on my body quickly enough by the sink before anyone walked in to catch me – bare-chested – in the act.

Once I had the pump installed, I rushed behind a closed bathroom door and finished my business, with only one splash of breast milk dripping on my new leather boots.

The splash left a stain, and it’s a battle scar I wear proudly.

When I look at it,  it reminds me to talk about how this generation of working mothers shouldn’t have to make their baby’s food next to the toilet.

A quick note to my readers: If any of you want to post here the airports that have lactation rooms, that would be great. I’m starting a list….

Amber McCann February 14, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Thank you for your post, Lisa. I'm a strong believer that, while we tell moms that they should breastfeed their babies, society often places incredible barriers in front of their success. I'd love to pass your list of airports with clean, pumping facilities on to my clients. Will you post it here? www.ambermccann.com
Summer February 14, 2011 at 09:45 PM
Thank you so much for this post! This is a lesser publicized struggle that breast-feeding moms, especially working moms face. I know your article is about airports, but I think it points out a larger challenge. Even at work, it can be a real challenge for many moms to find a clean, private place to pump. I was incredibly lucky to have a private room at work to pump when I was breastfeeding my oldest and to be working from home when I was breastfeeding my youngest. However, I know a lot of women who are not so lucky and have a real challenge finding places to pump at their jobs. Not only do nursing moms need support in breastfeeding their babies, but working moms need support for the pumping that is required in order to maintain their ability to breastfeed (and to avoid health problems!).
Amber McCann February 14, 2011 at 09:48 PM
A friend posted the following on my facebook page when I linked your article and asked about breastfeeding friendly airports: "Schiphol in Amsterdam is AMAZING. They have this beautiful room with little curtained areas for mamas to be private. Every curtained area has a little crib and two seats. Right next door is a play area with slides and jungle gyms for older syblings.It was a wonderful experience!"
Anne Gonnella February 16, 2011 at 01:36 AM
It doesn't just apply to traveling, either, John. I had to go to a one day conference in DC for my job while I was still pumping every three hours. The venue did not publish whether or not it had anyplace appropriate to pump, and it did not as I discovered when I got there. I made do with the bathroom and ended up leaving early. This is also not just a women's issue. It is a family issue. Mothers and fathers want their children to be healthy, and breastfeeding is well recognized as an important way to keep babies healthy. It is also a community issue. Children raised on breast milk grow up with fewer health problems, which is good for everyone. It burdens our health care system less, it doesn't contribute to rising insurance costs, it makes employees more productive because they aren't dealing with continual health problems; everyone wins when people are healthy. It just so happens that the women have to produce the milk, and most of the time they can't just stay near the baby all of the time for a year or more, as you suggest. Therefore, it is necessary to have sanitary places to pump.
John Boyle February 16, 2011 at 03:46 AM
There are more things in pumping and nursing, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

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