Should students care when a professor breastfeeds in class?

baby in classA mother and professor at American University, Adrienne Pine, never thought feeding her baby would make the headlines. “It wasn’t until some of my undergraduate students saw me feed my baby through my breast that my workplace became a hostile environment,” Pine wrote in the newsletter CounterPunch.

On the first day of her introductory course, “Sex, Gender Culture,” Pine brought her one-year-old and breastfed the child momentarily when she was hungry and restless. A news editor for the AU student paper, The Eaglesent her an email afterwards asking for an interview on the breastfeeding episode in class.

“I was hoping to be able to talk to you in order to discuss what happened in class and allow you to speak about the matter in your own words,” the student wrote in the email. “I understand the delicacy of the matter and I do not want to make you feel uncomfortable, but for the story to have the most balanced angle it would be best to have your thoughts.”

Pine was surprised, to say the least, that her breast feeding incited an uncomfortable reaction from students on campus. “I really wish this weren’t considered “newsworthy,” but I suppose that’s why a feminist anthropology course is necessary at AU. I had no intention of making a political statement or shocking students,” Pine wrote to the AU student journalist. She published her reaction in an post titled “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposeing My Breasts on the Internet.”

In the post, she added that her child was feverish that day. While she prefers to leave her family and professional lives in separate realms, she did not have a choice and expected her students to understand the circumstances.

If I considered feeding my child to be a “delicate” or sensitive act, I would not have done it in front of my students. Nor would I have spent the previous year doing it on buses, trains and airplanes; on busy sidewalks and nice restaurants; in television studios and while giving plenary lectures to large conferences. I admit those lectures haven’t always gone so well (baby can get fidgety), but as a single parent without help or excess income, my choice has been between sacrificing my professional life and slogging through it.

During the interview with the Eagle, the journalist asked Pine if she thought a classroom was “public or private space.” She also asked whether or not Pine considered the cultural implication of breastfeeding, and the potential reaction from foreign students in the class. “Exasperated, I skirted the issue of AU’s lack of class and racial diversity (in Washington DC, of all places) and tried to explain that in most other societies, people don’t have the kind of ridiculous Puritanical hangups that would turn a working woman breastfeeding into a newsworthy ‘incident,'” Pine wrote. After the interview, Pine requested that the article not be published.

The Editor-in-Chief of the Eagle , Zach Cohen, made the decision to run the story. “Rumors about the incident are already spreading through the student body, and we owe them an explanation of what really happened,” Cohen wrote to Pine in an email. She requested anonymity in the article.

“So here’s the story, internet: I fed my sick baby during feminist anthropology class without disrupting the lecture so as to not have to cancel the first day of class,” Pine wrote. “I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it. But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one.”

How would you react if a professor breastfed in class?

29 Comments on “Should students care when a professor breastfeeds in class?

  1. Really? This is a story? This is as bad as the AU paper running it…

  2. If women can breast feed their children in public, why can’t I whip my wiener out and relieve myself on Prospect Street. It’s natural right?

  3. Really, someone just equated breastfeeding and urinating? You, sir, are an idiot. Breastfeeding is EATING. Do you eat in public? I’m sure you do. What the baby was doing was eating. Get over yourself.

  4. @hm is your wiener providing substantial nourishment/comfort to your child? I sure hope not. Nice try though. Also, there are some class rooms that you can feel free to strip down for (be an art model perhaps?)

  5. @hm – when your “weiner” suddenly supplies *nutrional food* and is covered from sight by the person ingesting said food….you can. BUT, that will never happen, so, no, keep your sexual and waste excreting organ in your pants. Breasts are a food source…they are not obscene when used as such. Also, breast milk is food, urine is a waste product.

  6. I think it’s a non-issue … or at least it should be. I think regardless of her course subject, she was well within her rights to feed her child. Given that she was teaching a feminist anthropology class she was modeling very appropriate behavior. The students may not “get it”, but hopefully by the time they are parents they will.

  7. @ hm: Ignorance is ugly, not witty. Breastfeeding is FEEDING, not eliminating waste. It’s actually called NURSING, so stop getting so hung up on the word breast. Are you in junior high?

    Since you don’t drink your urine, and since she is not advocating letting her baby eliminate waste in public, you are talking about apples and orange traffic cones…not even close. Breast milk if FOOD and eating is a social activity. Elimination is not consider a social event. If you leave breast milk on the table for five hours, it is not only safe to drink, but beneficial. If you put your urine in a glass on the table, in five hours it will grow bacteria and be a hazardous waste.

    Besides, breasts aren’t genitalia. They are not sex organs any more than a mouth or hands are, even though they are used (perhaps even more often than breasts) to bring sexual pleasure, as well as for their primary purposes.

    The purpose of breasts is to feed our young and since our young require to be fed many times throughout the day (our milk is made thin and quickly digested because our young are meant to be kept close to us) then you are either advocating women be locked up in the kitchens again, or you are advocating that children be denied, not just good nutrition, but the cancer fighting, disease killing, diabetes preventing properties of breast milk that are meant to help them complete the development of their digestive, neurological, immune, and nervous systems because you are not talented enough to avert your eyes or turn your neck to avoid seeing something you have decided is inappropriate or offensive.

    Please do not have children until you have matured some. Your misogyny is showing.

  8. Go Jennifer, that is such an idiotic comparison! And seriously, wiener, what are you like 6? My three year old knows how to say penis. Breastfeeding is natural and normal, it breaks my heart that so many people are unable to grasp that. Anyone that’s seen it done knows it’s not sexual at all and honestly I am glad that so many people saw it happen. So many women have no exposure to breastfeeding at all before they have children.

  9. If she gave her baby a bottle, would there have been a problem? Would anyone have noticed anything but the presence of an infant in her class?
    Women in Muslim countries nurse their babies in public and no one notices. Women all over the world, except in the United States of America, nurse their babies in public without anyone giving it a second of attention. We are more repressed than the Victorians were (who also nursed their babies in public) more repressed than anyone when it comes to being able to publicly perform the act that is the reason that our species is alive here on the face of the earth. Holy hell, why don’t we women with babies just stay as shut-ins like upper class women back in the good ol’ days of 1910? Since it’s 2012, why don’t we wear burkas in public given that someone somewhere is going to be sexualizing some part of our bodies — toes, ears, noses, lips — and it’s always incumbent upon us to protect them from their own heads? Breastfeeding is the act of a baby eating and anyone who fetishizes should feel free to put a blanket over their heads, since it makes them uncomfortable.

    Good luck, Professor Pine.

  10. Why *is* this news? And who the heck has an issue with breastfeeding in a feminist class?? I applaud this professor for doing the right thing. Breast milk is essential for babies, especially when they’re sick, as it’s full of immune-boosting nutrients. And that’s wonderful that she was able to meet her responsibilities as a mom and as a professor at once.
    People need to get over their weirdness about breastfeeding. It’s that kind of attitude that makes it so hard for women to feed their children, the way they’re supposed to be fed (not with gross artificial formula or out of a bottle).

  11. Seriously… Comparing urinating to breast feeding? Did the professor “pop a squat” in the classroom? No… Completely different than feeding a baby.

  12. Sad that breastfeeding was made the issue here, if the professor had brought juice and crackers or even perhaps a bottle full of pedialyte, would anyone have cared?
    It seems to me the issue should be that she brought the baby to her class, but I highly doubt anyone would have thought it was newsworthy since we are all humans and every once in awhile we make a tough decision when caught between a rock and hard place. Kudos to Ms Pine for showing that balance must happen in real life. Boo on people making an issue about a mother feeding her child.

  13. I want this to be perfectly clear to everyone who apparently has not taken a course in biology or anatomy like this Hm fellow.

    Your penis is a member of the genital family, as is a vulva. Men have penises, women have vulvas. Completely different organs.

    Breasts are considered secondary sex characteristics. Meaning both men and women have them but they appear different depending on the level of hormones involved. Some women do grow beards, beards are also secondary sex characteristics. Some men grow breasts but just like beards, breasts are not genitals. They do not secrete excrement or hazardous fluids, they create food for babies also known as milk. Milk is not considered a hazardous body fluid by any regulating agency. Unlike feces or other excrement which are considered hazardous fluids.

    If you have issue with a woman feeding her baby the way nature intended I suggest you take a good hard look at your life and ask yourself what has happened to you to make you think it is less normal than a plastic or glass apparatus with a rubber simulation of the real thing on the end.

  14. What a perfect opportunity to educate young minds on the benefits of breastfeeding!

    To me, this is a non-issue: it is best for the child and our society should suppot and embrace the practice. It is very common to see this done on a daily basis in other cultures.

    One could argue that her classroom was a perfect place to breastfeed. Students need to be challenged to move beyond social mores and their comfort zones. I hope they felt uncomfortable and ultimately educated.

  15. It’s funny that people need to be educated that breastfeeding is THE WAY BABIES EAT, but since they need educating, then the more it makes ‘the news’, I guess, the better…….. Would be nice if people just used common sense, instead, though. Babies eat. Big news. Wow.

  16. I am a breastfeeding mum and breastfeed in public- that said when at work I would not feel it professional to do so and thats from someone who works in a maternity hospital. When I am feeding I want to focus on my child as much as he wants my focus. However as this wasn’t a regular occurence I think it can be excused

  17. to me, nursing in the classroom is the non-issue. bringing a child to class with her (and especially a sick child) is the real issue. i would be confused, distracted and offended that my professor brought her child to class when i’m paying tuition to take the class and leaving my children at home to attend the class.

  18. Why is this even an issue? Seriously?

    It is the equivelent of having coffee or a snack in a lecture. How is FEEDING YOUR CHILD a problem? Never mind that it is a sick child, never mind that it is coming out of an organ that males focus sexual attention on, never mind the face that social taboos label breast out as an insult on the innocence of children’s minds (Seriously!?). Adrienne Pine needed to feed her child and someone felt offended… Why are we talking about her? Shouldn’t we be focussing on the fact that someone was offended by the fact that a child was being fed? Isn’t that a more newsworthy issue?

  19. Well said, Kristin. That is the issue exactly. It is rather rude and unprofessional of her to only give her students, who paid a lot of money to be there, her partial attention. As she said in her blog, she rushed through her lecture that day so she could get her baby home. Is doing her job halfway a better solution than just canceling the class? Although I don’t think this needed to be a big story, she made it into one with that blog post. She not only insulted the school newspaper and the student reporter, but the entire student body and school as a whole. What a shame.

  20. The average penis is perfectly capable of providing nourishment. It’s more infrequent and requires slightly more sucking, but you get there all the same. Might even be similar in nutritional value. If I had to guess I’d say it has somewhat more sugar than breast milk, but that’s just a guess.

    And all these girls are pretending not to know this sort of thing…

    Before anyone goes off on me: I’m being somewhat sarcastic. I clearly understand the difference between excretion and lactation (probably in far greater detail than you ever have or will), but you asked the wrong question.

  21. Also, I’m curious as to what this woman does when her child is normally in daycare? Does she leave work every time she’s hungry? She has clearly implemented other ways to feed her child when they are separated. Why not do that in this situation?

  22. What is so wrong about excretion? If I am correct, I believe that is also an important part of the gastrointestinal system you ladies have so eloquently informed me about. Without it, I would burst with excrement! How terrible!

  23. @christine in a normal/healthy breast feeding relationship, babies are nursed “on cue” rather than on a set schedule. And when you are sick, you need extra fluids, correct? so should you only drink water or juice every 3 or 4 hours? Also, babies also nurse for “comfort” when they are sick or in pain. Nursing mothers typically find their nurslings more mobile than bottle fed babies because they have an easy way to quiet their unhappy baby. All of the facts say that nursing her baby was likely less disruptive than not showing up for class or letting the baby cry…

    It made sense for her to nurse her baby in class and bring her, however short the class was. As a college graduate, I would rather have had an instructor bring her baby the first day than not show up at all. There was no insult to the students by bringing the baby to class once. Bringing a baby every class would be a different story.

  24. This professor is awesome. We need to set a precedent where motherhood is no longer a thing that’s seen as unprofessional. If we want to have greater gender parity, the first step is to create an open and encouraging work-environment, particularly for single working mothers. This woman is juggling a family and a career – attending to the delicate sensitivities of her students should be the last thing on her mind.

  25. THIS is the angle the newspaper deemed as “newsworthy”?! REALLY?! How about: “Strong Professor and Mother Makes Best Mothering Decision Possible for Self and Baby While Continuing to Educate the Minds of the Next Generation”? This professor has every right to BF whenever, and WHEREVER, her LO wants/needs it. As a BF-ing mum myself (18 mos strong :-) I couldn’t give two craps what others’ “comfort” level is. Most women – covered/uncovered – are pretty discreet when nursing. It’s just a natural motion: kiddo wants milk, lower top, pop nipple in mouth = DONE! It’s not like we sit with a neon sign above our heads, flashing: “PUBLIC NURSING”. Jeez! Don’t get your knickers in a knot, people. Here’s a “news-worthy” headline: “Women Have Breasts, WITH Nipples” … GASP! Besides, in a lecture, shouldn’t you be more focused on the content of the lecture and taking notes rather than gawping at the prof’s chest? I’m just saying… Congratulations to this professor for doing the best for HER and her BABY! (I’m a single mum, too, so I understand the tough decisions, and unique situations that provides.)

  26. @Kristin: I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I took my newborn to class, and nursed whenever. I’ve seen other mums do the same. Who the heck are you to be offended? It’s not like the baby was running around, banging pots and pans up and down rows of students? Your the adult. Grow up and focus…

    @Christine: I’m not gonna waste more than this on your callous statement: YOU should be ashamed. Shame on you for being so heartless and cold.

  27. A Professor who feeds her baby in class is setting a great example to her female students (and male students too). In an age where breastfeeding (which is normal, and optimal) is seldom seen in public, and formula feeding (which is abnormal) is shown in pictures everywhere, young people need to be exposed to the idea of breastfeeding, and will then be more likely to do it themselves.

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