KLM still under fire after telling breastfeeding mother to cover up


A mother breastfeeding her baby. Photo/Getty Images
A mother breastfeeding her baby. Photo/Getty Images

In Summary

  • The furore started after a woman posting under the name Shelby Angel said on Facebook that a flight attendant told her to cover herself while breastfeeding her one-year-old on a flight between San Francisco and Amsterdam.
  • She said she refused, but was left feeling “uncomfortable and disrespected” and when she complained to KLM she was told the attendant’s response was in line with company policy.
  • “So instead of standing up for and protecting breastfeeding mothers and our children, already under the duress faced by flying with our young children, KLM would rather hold up antiquated values that shame women’s bodies,” she wrote.

Dutch airline KLM recently faced sharp criticism for its “antiquated values” after cabin crew told a breastfeeding woman to cover herself up to spare the blushes of other passengers.

Also ReadShaming a woman for breastfeeding in public is unacceptable

Women reacted angrily when KLM confirmed the policy on social media, saying the company was playing into stigma and mothers should never be shamed for feeding their children.

A look at the company’s Twitter page on Wednesday showed users still questioning the KLM statement that reads:

“Breastfeeding is permitted at KLM flights. However, to ensure that all our passengers of all backgrounds feel comfortable on board, we may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this.”

Esther Kimani, a doula from Nairobi said: “Disappointing policy KLM, why should a mum cover up? In the same vein ask all to cover up when eating, it may offend me to see you chewing.”

Another Twitter user, Colleta Wanjohi posed: “Why would anyone be peeping at another’s breasts while she is breastfeeding in the first place???. Those with the urge to peep and feel inconvenienced should cover their eyes!”

Almost all the tweets got a pasted response from KLM saying: “And we absolutely don’t want to make the mums of our youngest passengers feel judged about the most natural thing in the world. That is why our cabin crew may suggest options to the mums to ensure some privacy when feeding their child.”

The World Health Organization recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for their first six months, then have a diet of breast milk and other food until they are two years old.

The furore started after a woman posting under the name Shelby Angel said on Facebook that a flight attendant told her to cover herself while breastfeeding her one-year-old on a flight between San Francisco and Amsterdam last month.

She said she refused, but was left feeling “uncomfortable and disrespected” and when she complained to KLM she was told the attendant’s response was in line with company policy.

“So instead of standing up for and protecting breastfeeding mothers and our children, already under the duress faced by flying with our young children, KLM would rather hold up antiquated values that shame women’s bodies,” she wrote.

However, Ayala Ochert from British campaign group Better Breastfeeding said breastfeeding in public was accepted in the “vast majority” of countries and the company was out of step with social norms.

“In their effort to avoid offence in the tiny minority of people disturbed by the sight of a child feeding, KLM has instead chosen to offend a mother trying to feed and nurture her child,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Negative attitudes about breastfeeding in public stem from the over-sexualisation of women’s bodies,” said Niki Kandirikirira from the advocacy group Equality Now.

“Breastfeeding is a totally natural process and women should have the freedom to do it wherever and whenever they want, rather than being forced to hide as if they are doing something inappropriate.”

Heather Yemm, a British researcher added: “Do you think it’s acceptable to ask a mother to cover her child while feeding? Why would breastfeeding cause anyone to “feel offended”? I’m very curious to know how feeding a child could be viewed as offensive?””

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