We hear it all the time: breast is best. And yet sometimes society lags behind in providing the facilities – and the understanding – to help mothers continue to breastfeed their babies.
One mum has shared her difficult experience of trying to find a suitable place to pump breastmilk at Heathrow Airport.
Sophie McBain, from New York, hadn't pumped all day and knew she needed to express some milk to feel comfortable on her flight. She asked airport staff where the best place would be to do that, and she was told to use a baby changing room.
Of course, the problem with that is that there are other parents and carers who might need the facilities of a baby changing room, but Sophie complied with instructions, found a baby changing room, and began to pump.
Anyone who has ever attempted to pump will know there's not a lot of dignity in it, so Sophie was shocked when a male staff member opened the locked door while she was halfway through pumping, and told her she should have either left the door unlocked so others could come in, or just pumped in the main terminal.
To which I'm pretty sure my response would have been, "YOU pump in the main terminal."
Sophie shared her experience on Twitter.
"To explain why I was upset I compared it to someone bursting in on you while you are on the toilet and then calmly telling you, while your pants are still round your ankles, that you are hogging the public bathroom."
Sophie said she made a formal complaint about her experience with Heathrow Airport because she didn't want other women to have to go through the same experience. She had no plans of going public with her experience until she received their "excuse-filled, non-apology".
Sophie also said she wasn't angling to get any one person in trouble – her focus was on the "systemic problem".
"From my perspective what's really important is that this isn't about one male attendant's awkward reaction – he was probably expecting an empty cubicle and we sometimes say weird things when caught off guard," she told HuffPost UK.
"The reason I am so upset and annoyed is because clearly Heathrow has given no thought to the needs of breastfeeding women and as 1300 flights land and depart from the airport each day there must be hundreds of us passing through.
"Even when I gave them an opportunity to acknowledge their shortcomings and to suggest ways in which they might prevent this happening again they side-stepped the issue."
Sophie explained the whole story in a Twitter thread:
I explained what happened: after seeking advice from staff I went to pump milk in a baby changing room. I felt so bad about inconveniencing other parents but also I felt so uncomfortable & had to do this before my flight— Sophie McBain (@SEMcBain) January 22, 2018
Then a male attendant unlocked the door on me, and while my bare breast was still inserted in my pump he told me next time I should leave the door unlocked or pump outside in the main terminal— Sophie McBain (@SEMcBain) January 22, 2018
To explain why I was upset I compared it to someone bursting in on your while you are on the toilet and then calmly telling you, while your pants are still round your ankles, that you are hogging the public bathroom— Sophie McBain (@SEMcBain) January 22, 2018
Also, sticking your breasts into an electric breast pump is so undignified looking I don't even like it when my husband sees me doing it. Why would I want strangers to see this?— Sophie McBain (@SEMcBain) January 22, 2018
But I made clear I didn’t want to get anyone into trouble, this wasn’t about one staff member. It’s a systemic problem. No thought has been given to breastfeeding travelers, we have no space to pump/BF in private & staff have clearly received no training— Sophie McBain (@SEMcBain) January 22, 2018
I didn’t explain that my right side, which I didn’t pump because I was too embarrassed & stressed, was so painful 5 hours into my flight that I cried with relief when the @BritishAirways cabin crew said I could use their rest area to pump— Sophie McBain (@SEMcBain) January 22, 2018
But I did explain that it’s not just that BF women feel uncomfortable when they can’t pump – it puts us at risk of a painful and potentially serious condition called mastitis— Sophie McBain (@SEMcBain) January 22, 2018
Sophie screenshotted Heathrow Airport's reply and shared it on Twitter. The reply explained that a male bathroom attendant will "always enter a bathroom" if he hasn't had any response from requests to enter.
"In this, while it was uncomfortable it was not entirely his fault for entering after warning," said the reply.
"With that said, every passenger should be treated with courtesy and respect, meaning we expect our staff to be professional, helpful and polite at all times.
"I appreciate your experience was not acceptable and so I have passed your feedback on to the appropriate terminal's manager so they can take necessary action."
Anyway- here's the reply I got pic.twitter.com/JskEhihzwS— Sophie McBain (@SEMcBain) January 22, 2018
Which isn't exactly, "Gosh, yes, you're right. We DESPERATELY need decent breastfeeding facilities at this major world airport. Breastfeeding mothers should be treated with dignity and respect at all times."
Twitter was full of supporters, with responders appalled at how Sophie was treated, and at the lack of understanding Heathrow Airport.
I'm so sorry about this - a completely unacceptable auto-reply from @HeathrowAirport. I'm glad the BA staff had a bit more common decency.— HollyEd (@Holly__Ed) January 23, 2018
A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport told HuffPost UK, "We apologise for Ms McBain's experience on her recent journey through Heathrow – in our efforts to keep the changing area safe, we fell short of ensuring she had a comfortable experience at our airport."
So still no talk of decent facilities, then…