Professor Feeds Baby During Lecture, Says It’s No Big Deal

By Features LearnVest

We think the workplace has a long way to go to make new mothers feel comfortable. Some suggestions include:

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These are all things that are still under debate, and only slowly making inroads into most companies’ culture. But one American University professor sprinted right past these plausible milestones into new territory when she decided to breastfeed her baby while she was teaching.

What’s Her Reasoning?

It’s hard work balancing a job and a newborn. Professor Adrienne Pine, a single mother, had a dilemma on her hands. It was the first day of her class, her baby was sick and she had a new teaching assistant who most likely couldn’t take over even while Professor Pine observed. In her essay on Counterpunch, Pine said her friend suggested it could be a “teachable moment” to take her baby to class, especially since the course is “Sex, Gender and Culture.”

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Pine didn’t feel like she had a choice, so she took her baby to class, lectured–while taking a break to extract a paper clip from her baby’s mouth and keep her away from an outlet–and briefly breastfed her daughter when she got fussy.

“End of Story”

When Pine was contacted by the campus newspaper for a comment (ostensibly because there was student chatter about it), her reply started with, “I really wish this weren’t considered ‘newsworthy,’ but I suppose that’s why a feminist anthropology course is necessary at AU,” and ended with, “As it turned out, the baby got hungry, so I had to feed it during lecture. End of story.”

In Counterpunch, Pine related this episode (and revealed that she had done this before while giving plenary lectures at large conferences), saying she felt that the campus newspaper was creating a hostile work environment for her by pursuing the story, especially after a student reporter cornered her after class to interview her. Essentially she saw it as a non-issue, and wanted it dropped.

Not Quite the End of the Story

Most people now agree that breastfeeding shouldn’t be hidden inside a closet like a shameful act. Women breastfeed on public transportation, in the park and other public places. But what makes this case seem a bit different is that Pine was in a professional situation where anywhere from 12 to 100 or more students had no choice but to watch her. On the bus, other riders can at least avert their gaze if they feel uncomfortable.

It’s ironic that she’s teaching a course on gender and culture, and is herself experiencing how culture norms and expectations can put a real burden on working mothers. (And let’s not forget that professors, as the Anne-Marie Slaughter article in The Atlantic earlier this summer explained, have much more flexible schedules than the average working mom.)

What Can Moms Do?

So, was Professor Pine between a rock and a hostile work environment?

There seems to have been other options, as the writer and mother at Today Moms points out. She could have waited to feed her baby until the end of the hour lecture. She could have pumped before class. She could have even started class by saying, “Today I face a situation that many moms face when they work with a young baby. My baby is sick, I’m a single mother, so I had to bring her to class,” and then acknowledged later when her baby got fussy that her breastfeeding in class might make some people uncomfortable, but her baby would be calmed by nursing and it’s normal for mothers to nurse in public.

So we would like to know what LV Moms readers think: Was Professor Pine over the line? Or is this a non-issue?