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Airline sparks outrage over breastfeeding warning to mums

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Anna Brech
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A woman breastfeeding her baby

Airline KLM said it may ask breastfeeding mums to cover up, so that no-one feels uncomfortable

Dutch airline KLM is under fire after it warned that breastfeeding mums travelling on its routes may be asked to cover up in order to “keep the peace” on-board its flights.

The statement comes after a Californian woman travelling with KLM was asked to shield herself with a blanket while feeding her baby on a flight last month.

In a Facebook post shared earlier this week, Shelby Angel from Sacramento describes feeling “extremely uncomfortable and disrespected” by the surprise request from a flight attendant. But when she complained to the airline, they defended the decision, and said other breastfeeding mums may be asked to do the same – if doing so made fellow passengers uncomfortable.

“Of course, breastfeeding is permitted on board,” the airline said on Twitter. “However, as an international airline company, we transport passengers with a variety of backgrounds. 

“Not all passengers feel comfortable with breastfeeding in their vicinity and sometimes these passengers complain to the cabin staff. 

“To keep the peace on board, in such cases we will try to find a solution that is acceptable to everyone and that shows respect for everyone’s comfort and personal space. This may involve a request to a mother to cover her breast.”

Unsurprisingly, this stance sparked outcry among campaigners, politicians and parents on Twitter:

Shelby Angel, the mum behind the original KLM incident, says there hadn’t even been a complaint in her case. She says she tried to be discreet while nursing but the flight attendant told her, “if you want to continue doing the breastfeeding, you need to cover yourself”.

After she refused, because it makes her daughter uncomfortable, the attendant “would not so much as look me in the eyes”.

Research shows Britain has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, in a trend that’s fuelled by negative attitudes towards nursing in public.

In an age where a third of women still feel embarrassed to breastfeed while out and about, attitudes of the kind displayed by KLM do not help the situation. 

Although it’s illegal to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public space in the UK, there have been plenty of incidents where mums are told to cover up. 

Such a tired old mindset moves away from the normalisation of breastfeeding, and feeds a culture of shame that has no place in today’s world.  

Image: Wes Hicks on Unsplash

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.