California native and new mother, Shelby Angel, says she felt disrespected while breastfeeding on her latest flight to her home in the Netherlands — and now the airline is justifying its actions.
In a viral Facebook post, Angel says that a flight attendant on KLM airlines told her to “cover up” while breastfeeding her one-year-old daughter. Angel explained that her daughter couldn't stand to be covered while feeding. “It calms her and helps her sleep and makes her comfortable,” Angel wrote in the post. “She's also a busy toddler who doesn't like to be covered. I do my best to be discreet, but sometimes some skin shows.”
Despite explaining this, Angel said that the flight attendant didn’t back down. “She told me…‘if you want to continue doing the breastfeeding, you need to cover yourself.’” Afterwards, Shelby filed a formal complaint with the airline, but she says they defended their policy, stating that Shelby should be respectful of other cultures.
In email to USA Today, a spokesperson for KLM explained that it’s part of the company’s policy. "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," the KLM spokesperson told USA Today. "This may involve a request to a mother to cover her breast."
The spokesperson suggested that not every culture is “comfortable” with breasts being visible — even when breastfeeding. Although there are many countries where breastfeeding is normalized, a study from the British Journal of Medical Practice in 2014 states that in Western society, the stigma has been linked to a reluctance to breastfeed in public. According to the study, as many as 69 percent of women worry people will “judge them” for breastfeeding in public, and 80 percent are “too embarrassed” to do so.
“Despite a social movement where bikinis, low-cut tops, and skin-revealing attire are no longer classed as ‘indecent exposure’, even less exposure, such as a mother discreetly breastfeeding in public, can be perceived as awkward, disrespectful, and uncomfortable,” the study’s authors write. “The public perception still remains that bottle feeding in public is more acceptable than breastfeeding, despite the known health benefits.”
In an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle, Angel says that she didn't expect her post to go viral and that she’s gotten “quite a bit of really lovely, supportive comments.” However, not everyone has been in agreement with her stance. Angel says one commenter wrote: “So with other words you didn't take what the stewardess was saying seriously at all and barely flipped her the middle finger. How hard can it be to just cover up when someone asks you politely? Not everyone likes to see a boob, deal with that instead of being stubborn.”
Angel, however, is staying strong in the face of all the backlash because she believes that “women and children need to be protected.” She says she’s proud to be standing up for something she believes in and has a message for other mothers. “I'd like all moms to know that they're doing a good job. Every single one of us who tries only to do the best we can for our kids, the best way we know how,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Being a mom is hard, and we should focus more on supporting each other than judging each other for the way we raise our children.”
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