Should college professors be able to breastfeed while they teach class?

American University professor Adrienne Pine (NOT pictures above) sparked controversy when she breastfed her sick baby in front of students during the first day of her 75-minute class “Sex, Gender & Culture.”

Being a single mom, she didn’t know what to do when her baby fell ill that morning, and her friend who was staying with her from Chile suggested that she take the baby into the class for a “teachable moment.”

Pine describes the whole incident on her blog, where she says she tried to calm down her feverous baby girl by breastfeeding, and she didn’t even stop lecturing!

When Lee grew restless, I briefly fed her without stopping lecture, and much to my relief, she fell asleep.

The next day the professor was “shocked” to receive an email from a student reporter for the University’s newspaper:

Hello Professor Pine,

My name is Heather Mongilio. I am one of the news assistants on The Eagle. I hope you had an enjoyable first week of classes. It was brought to our attention that you breast fed your child during your “Sex, Gender and Culture” 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. 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…

Heather Mongilio

Pine especially took offense at Heather Mongilio describing the situation as “uncomfortable” and “delicate.”

I was shocked and annoyed that this would be considered newsworthy, and at the anti-woman implications inherent in the email’s tone. “Delicate”? “Uncomfortable”? What did the Eagle, AU’s official student newspaper, think I was? A rice paper painting? A hymen?

Her post is really long and details her ultimately successful struggle with the student newspaper’s editors to not write the story about her breastfeeding in class. She also disparages “lactivism:”

“Those marauding bands of lactating white women who go to collectively feed their babies in places where the right to breastfeed has been called into question.”

Now her university has released an official statement against her actions, which they view as a health issue because her child was ill. They also said that that professors should use things like sick leave, break time, and private areas to deal with issues like this in order to “maintain a focus on professional responsibilities in the classroom.” They go on:

“Every working parent can empathize with facing the choice of an important day at work when a child gets sick. Both demand your focus and attention. There is no easy or ideal alternative.”

Public breastfeeding is a touchy subject, and people shouldn’t freak out if they see a woman doing it on the street or in a restaurant, but it’s another matter when a professional breastfeeds in the middle of doing their job. It does seem a bit unprofessional to not even excuse yourself for a few minutes to feed the sick child you brought to work. Most people don’t even have the luxury of bringing their child into work with them when they’re feeling ill.