Labor & Employment

New Breastfeeding Policy Debate Follows Anthropology Prof's Decision to Bring Baby to Class


An assistant anthropology professor at American University has ignited new debate about the parameters of breastfeeding law and policy by bringing her baby to the first day of class when the child unexpectedly awakened with a fever that day.

As Adrienne Pine explains in a Counterculture essay last week, she felt doing so was a better option than canceling the first session of an introductory sex, gender and culture class. The next day, she was able to find a friend to sit for $140, but meanwhile, as on other occasions, “as a single parent without help or excess income, my choice has been between sacrificing my professional life and slogging through it,” she writes, explaining “it seemed that I had little choice. I could not bring her to daycare with a fever, and I did not feel like it was an option to cancel class.”

Pine posted the essay after a student newspaper reporter interviewed her and questioned her decision to breastfeed the baby during the Aug. 28 class. Now the university has weighed in, too, saying in a Tuesday statement that Pines should have taken the day off if she couldn’t arrange emergency childcare and taking issue with her characterization of students in her essay, the Washington Post reports.

Pine, who is in her fourth year at AU and continues to teach there, referred the newspaper’s requests for comment to the same university spokeswoman who issued the statement criticizing her decision-making.

It says AU follows federal and District of Columbia law concerning nursing moms, but also states that “a faculty member’s conduct in the classroom must be professional. Faculty may maintain a focus on professional responsibilities in the classroom by taking advantage of the options the university provides, including reasonable break times, private areas for nursing mothers to express milk, and leave in the case of a sick child.”

As detailed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, there have been objections to nursing moms discreetly breastfeeding in public even when their legal right to do so is expressly guaranteed by state law.

Inside Higher Ed, which also reported on the university’s response, noted that its readers had reacted strongly, both pro and con, to an earlier post about Pines breastfeeding during class.

One commenter wrote that she thought her instructor, after telling her when she called for advice about dealing with a last-minute babysitter cancellation that she would fail a college class if she didn’t take the final as scheduled, “was going to stroke out” when she then appeared at the exam with her newborn son and breastfed him to keep him quiet.

Pine says in her essay that no one had previously objected to her breastfeeding in public, including outside the university setting, until after she brought her baby to that one class session and what she considers a nonevent was pursued by the student paper as a possible news story.

“To be honest, if there were an easy way I could feed my child without calling attention to my biological condition as a mother, which inevitably assumes primacy over my preferred public status as anthropologist, writer, professor, and solidarity worker, I would do so,” she writes in the Counterpunch essay. “But there is not.”

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Moms Plan Nurse-In on National Mall in Washington, DC”

ABAJournal.com: “Mom Sues, Says Deputy Broke Law OKing Public Breast-Feeding by Sending Her to Courthouse Bathroom”

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