As an Airline Pilot, I Struggle Everyday to Find a Clean, Sanitary Place to Pump Breast Milk for My Baby

Within days of coming back to work as a Frontier Airlines pilot after having my first child, who was still nursing, I got an extremely painful breast infection. Despite doing my best to pump regularly between flights in airport bathrooms and at my hotel on overnight trips, I still got mastitis, and it was the sickest I’ve felt in my life. I was miserable from the pain and high fevers.

Before returning to work, I had asked Frontier what resources were available for nursing pilots, but the airline never returned my emails or calls. I was left to figure out on my own how to make it work, turning to other pilot moms for advice. Not having any support from my employer was scary and isolating. I felt abnormal for doing what I believed was best for my child and my health while continuing to do the job I love.

When I started breastfeeding my second child, knowing how difficult it had been the first time around, I reached out again to Frontier to ask what nursing accommodations were available. Frontier once again ignored my requests at first, and then it refused me accommodations that would allow for a regular pumping schedule. I felt I had no choice but to stay out on unpaid leave.

I’ve now returned to work, but I’m still breastfeeding— and still struggling to make it all work. After I filed a discrimination charge against Frontier for failing to accommodate pregnant and breastfeeding flight crew, I learned from a news report — not from Frontier — that the airline had pulled together a list of lactation locations at the airports it flies to. I requested this list from the company and have been scrambling to pump in the designated pumping locations between flights ever since.

I learned the hard way that many of these lactation rooms were unworkable and inadequate.

First of all, running around trying to find a designated lactation facility in the short break between flights is stressful and time-consuming. Pilots typically only have about 15 minutes to take care of personal needs between flights—and sometimes even less in the case of flight delays. It takes about that long to pump. That means that by the time I reach the designated location, with a 20-minute walk to and from the gate, I’m left with no time to pump at all. And many of the lactation rooms listed are located outside security, which makes the timing essentially impossible.

I learned the hard way that many of these lactation rooms were unworkable and inadequate.

Frontier also didn’t designate any places to pump at some of the major airports we fly into. At others, it has failed to inform airport personnel that the pumping rooms existed — meaning I could not even get in once I found it. And many of the rooms are small, dark, or unsanitary, clearly not suitable for handling your baby’s food. Several have no privacy. I’ve been walked in on while pumping by crew and passengers alike.

Overall, the experience has been stressful, exhausting, and dehumanizing. That’s why today I’m standing with the organization MomsRising in support of the I Pumped Here campaign. August is National Breastfeeding Month, and I want to expose the unsanitary, impractical, and inadequate places I, like other pilot moms, have had to pump in on the job. We are not alone: 60 percent of women don’t have basic workplace breastfeeding accommodations or adequate break time to pump. It’s time we brought pumping moms out of the bathroom stalls—and aircraft lavatories—and into the lactation rooms they deserve.

Have you experienced discrimination or been denied accommodations for pregnancy or breastfeeding at work? Tell us your story here.

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Exclusively Pumping

I desperately want to breast feed for 6 months and I have to go back to work after 12 weeks. I am having anxiety about how I will be able to safely and privately pump and I am an Elementary School teacher in a beautifully supportive community of educators. The stigma must be lifted and women need the support of society to make the choices they must for their families!! Thank you ACLU.

Anonymous

I understand where you are coming from, but giving you a place to breastfeed cost money that comes out off others and your paycheck. It sucks that everything dwindles down to money but that's how it is.

Rusya27

This theme very actually today. We wrote a lot essays about it in familyessay.org . But I think a many years will be this question isn't solve.

Anonymous

Actually it's federal law that they are required to do so. So no it's not about money. It's about the airline caring as legally she can sue them for breaking the law and that would cost them more.

Anonymous

Don't quite understand what you're asking in terms of "adequate break time". If, in between flights, all the time you have is 15 minutes, before the next flight, how would you like the airline(s) to accommodate you? Should the airline delay the next departing flight for you, do you want to be excused from working your next flight? Also, when an airline has accommodated you with lactation rooms, albeit not as close as you'd like them to be, why is it considered discrimination because those rooms are outside security? Lastly, you've describe some rooms as being "small, dark, or unsanitary, clearly not suitable for handling your baby’s food. Several have no privacy" and that you've been "walked in on while pumping by crew and passengers alike." Why is a small room a problem? By dark do you mean no lights? Are the unsanitary conditions due to not being cleaned, at all or was it in between a cleaning schedule? For privacy sake, is the room labeled and have a door lock?

Anonymous

As required by law, a pumping room should be clean, sanitary, has a sink, and has a refrigerator in case you need to store the milk. A room with a chair and nothing else does not count.

Dana

Unless you have gone back to work at 6 weeks PP and breastfed and pumped somewhere unsanitary and inadequate you can NOT relate. Providing time would be as simple as rearranging her flights NOT DELAYING yours. I've pumped in a closet, in an airport terminal, in a bathroom, in my car and in a community break room. This NEEDS to be a priority. Working mothers DESERVE a clean place to pump the vital and necessary food for their child ESPECIALLY if employers do not provide maternity leave.

Again, if you haven't done it you can NOT decide for the rest of us. STFU.

Anonymous

Here is the federal law. US AAP says 1 year breastfeeding. WHO recommend 2 years. Know your facts and laws.
Federal Health Reform and Nursing Mothers
President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on March 30, 2010. (See the combined full text of Public Laws 111-148 and 111-152 here.) Among many provisions, Section 4207 of the law amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 (29 U.S. Code 207) to require an employer to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth each time such employee has need to express milk. The employer is not required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time for any work time spent for such purpose. The employer must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to express breast milk. If these requirements impose undue hardship, an employer that employs fewer than 50 employees is not subject to these requirements. The federal requirements shall not preempt a state law that provides greater protections to employees.

Anonymous

See some of these comments, most likely from men? This is their attitude towards women generally. It's been like this since the internet came up with chat rooms. You ever want to see just how unevolved some American men are, just take a glimpse at comments sections under articles specific to women. And god help you if the subject of the article is a woman of color. THIS is but one symptom of how they think. Their hatred for women is palpable. Always makes me wonder why they bother with the whole hetero thing.

Anonymous

LOVE! Spot on!

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