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American Airlines Flight Attendant Allegedly Told Breastfeeding Mom To Cover Up

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The actions of an American Airlines flight attendant provoked outrage this week after an anonymous mother alleged that she was mistreated and insulted while trying to breastfeed during a domestic flight.

The incident, which occurred July 21, began attracting attention Sunday when Hannah Butta, a friend of the mother, posted on Facebook about the woman's experience.

While breastfeeding during her 5-hour flight, my dear friend, who would like to remain anonymous, was treated poorly by an American Airlines flight attendant. My friend reached out to customer service and in response American Airlines outlined their policy requiring nursing mothers to “cover-up" [sic]. The federal government and nearly every state have laws in place that protect women nursing in public. Are the legal rights of breastfeeding infants really lost when the plane leaves the ground?

The bulk of Butta's post consists of a long quote, apparently written by the mother, outlining the incident. The mother's statement says she began breastfeeding her 5-month-old son after the plane was in the air; she notes that she was sitting in a window seat, while her husband was sitting in the seat next to her, separating her from the little girl in the aisle seat in their row. The mother also mentions that she had positioned her baby's head so that he faced "toward the window," in an effort to be discreet.

"A few minutes after my son started nursing, a stewardess walked by our row, shook her head at me and shot me a very displeased look," the mother says, per Butta's post. "A few minutes later, the same stewardess returned to our row, leaned over the girl in the aisle seat and told me (after a bit of hesitation as she couldn’t find her words) that I needed to put a blanket over my son 'because there are kids on this flight.'"

The mother's statement goes on to say that her husband told the attendant they preferred not to use a blanket and mentioned that passengers did not seem to be bothered. The statement says the attendant eventually returned to speak to the girl sitting in the aisle seat. "I’m going to move you back here because you’re probably really uncomfortable," the attendant told the girl, according to the mother's statement.

The mother said she filed a complaint with the airline and received a letter outlining the company's policy on breastfeeding. The letter stated that the airline does allow breastfeeding on flights but asks that it be "done with certain discretion and a sense of modesty" so that other passengers "within the close confines of commercial aircraft" are not offended. "We believe it is reasonably to ask that the mother cover-up [sic] in an appropriate manner during the feeding," American Airlines' letter goes on to say, "and by your account it appears you were sensitive to this need."

A photo of the letter was included in the Facebook post describing the incident.

(Story continues below.)

aa breastfeed

An American Airlines representative was not immediately available to comment on this story.

Last year a spokeswoman for the airline told the Chicago Tribune that "in-flight procedures advise our crew to ensure that breast-feeding [sic] mothers have the privacy they need and that other customers are not subjected to an uncomfortable situation," adding that employees are "trained to handle such situations with professionalism and discretion."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls breastfeeding "[o]ne of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant" and recommends mothers breastfeed if they are able. In order to promote this option, the federal government requires employers to allow mothers time to breastfeed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

More than one blogger has pointed out that American Airlines' policy doesn't go far enough to protect the rights of breastfeeding mothers.

A post on Dirty Diaper Chic, for example, noted that the airline's policy is "ambiguous" and makes the mother "responsible for anyone around her who happens to sexualize the act of feeding an infant or who happens to have misogynistic expectations that they can force a women meet their arbitrary standard of 'covered up.'" The post goes on to say that the policy "leaves mothers vulnerable to harassment and bullying from flight attendants."

According to a blogger for Bustle, "[I]t sounds as if this mom was shamed by American's flight attendant, which is never appropriate. ... Let's hope that drawing some attention to this mom's experience will force American Airlines to rethink their outdated, offensive policy -- or at least how they communicate it to their customers."

The incident occured during National Breastfeeding Month, an annual event that we're celebrating here at HuffPost Parents. We're participating in "I Support You," an initiative to collect photos and messages from mothers to each other that say we might lead different lives but we share wanting the best for our children. Find out more here.

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