National Consumers League

NCL continues to advocate for breastfeeding mothers

headshot of NCL Health Policy intern Alexa

By NCL Health Policy intern Alexa Beeson

This July, Dutch airline KLM found itself in the middle of a breastfeeding snafu: “public decency” vs. “natural practice.” A mother wrote about the airline with a Facebook post describing how a KLM flight attendant asked her to cover up if she wanted to continue nursing her baby. The new mom said that, while contacting KLM to file a complaint, she was told that she should “be respectful of people of other cultures.”

Other moms went on Twitter to ask KLM about its official breastfeeding policy. KLM responded with: “Breastfeeding is permitted at KLM flights. However, to ensure that all our passengers of all backgrounds feel comfortable on board, we may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this.” The National Consumers League is disappointed.

New moms should be encouraged, supported, and protected to breastfeed. It has so many health benefits for mom and baby including the prevention of allergies in babies and the reduced risk of developing certain forms of cancer in moms.

A few years back, NCL posted a Breastfeeding Mothers' Bill of Rights, that included the following:

  • A mother should have the right to breastfeed her child in any public or private establishment where they both are legally present, without harassment or discrimination of any kind,
  • No establishment should enact a rule that prevents breastfeeding a child, and
  • Breastfeeding mothers should not be told to only do so in a discreet manner.

Breastfeeding is a safe, healthy, and natural act through which mothers provide nourishment to their children. NCL stands with mothers wishing to express milk whenever needed, regardless of the presence of their child. In no way should breastfeeding ever be considered lewd, immoral, or indecent–you are feeding your baby! That has nothing to do with sex.

Memo to KLM: check with your lawyers. Both the United States and the Netherlands protect public breastfeeding. All 50 states have laws that allow breastfeeding in public or exempt breastfeeding from public decency laws. In the Netherlands, there are no specific laws regarding public breastfeeding, but it is widely socially accepted. Why then, on a flight from San Francisco to Amsterdam, should KLM be able to prevent a woman from breastfeeding?

Reading replies to this tweet is a happy reminder that people do, in fact, support a woman’s right to breastfeed in public. Many people were upset that KLM considered breastfeeding an offensive act. Others satirically asked whether KLM would force an adult to cover his head if his eating “offended” another passenger. A few people questioned why a woman needs permission from an airline to feed her child. KLM themselves called breastfeeding “the most natural thing in the world,” yet still uphold their policy of having the right to discourage mothers from breastfeeding.

No mother should never feel uncomfortable or judged by another while feeding her child or expressing milk. KLM’s policy shows they would rather cater to someone who is “offended” by the most basic act of feeding one’s child; that is wrong. KLM–you must do better! And all airlines should publish affirmative policies supporting breastfeeding. Women and their babies need our support.

Alexa is a student at Washington University in St. Louis where she studies Classics and Anthropology and concentrates in global health and the environment. She expects to graduate in May of 2020