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Professor Breastfeeds her Sick Baby in Class: Wrong or Non-Issue?

I was reading through some health related news sites this weekend and stumbled upon an unlikely story. A college professor in Washington D.C., is embroiled in a controversy at her university for breastfeeding her child in class.

Adrienne Pine, who is an anthropology professor at American University was faced with a situation that many mothers have encountered- her child was sick and because she had a fever, daycare wouldn’t allow her to come. As a mother whose child is in daycare, I appreciate she didn’t try to sneak her child in and go to work anyway, because that has happened at our daycare. And notably, since it was the first class of the semester with a new teaching assistant, she couldn’t really cancel class, which as a former teacher and grad student, I also understand. So she brought her child with her.

And during her lecture, her child got hungry, so she breastfed her to sleep. And that was the end of it, until the school newspaper caught wind of the incident.

Pine does an exceptional job of explaining what happened in a rebuttal on Counter Punch, where she argues she committed no wrong. And on the other side, I’ve read comments that strongly condemn what she has done. And I find myself torn.

On the one hand, she couldn’t send her child to daycare. I get that. And if my child came down with a fever tomorrow, I’m honestly not sure what I’d do. A lot of commenters are calling her out for being unprepared, but as an equally unprepared mother, what does one do when their child is sick and they need to work? My family is 3 hours away and I would hate to expose them to a sick baby, but like Pine, I can’t skip my job unless I am seriously contagious because I would be letting down 10-15 patients a day, many who have waited days to weeks for their appointment. I don’t think it’s as easy to get back up as some suggest. On this part, I have zero room to judge Pine as unprepared.

On the other hand, there is something questionable about bringing her sick child out in public, period. Now, I somehow doubt her daughter was rubbing snot on the students or had such an impressive cough that she was spraying saliva 20 feet away, and if no student came into contact with the baby, I doubt they’re likely to be ill, but at the same time, for the baby and for others, being in public just seems like a bad plan.

And then there’s the breastfeeding, and to be perfectly honest, I have no problem with it. I am not able to breastfeed my child and I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum on militance with breastfeeding. Yes, I believe women should be able to breastfeed in public, but I also am a fan of those who try to do so discretely. I don’t think women need to use covers or be in a dark corner or anything. And I don’t much care if I can tell you’re breastfeeding, but when avoidable, I’d prefer not to see your nipple while I’m eating my dinner. If you question whether this actually happens, let me just say that I saw the mother of a 4 year old lift up her shirt and place her breast on the table so that her son could nurse off and on throughout his meal.

Pine states that breastfeeding in class was a non-issue. The school’s newspaper, and a whole lot of people who commented on the article I read, believe it to be a rather substantial issue. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle. I have empathy for the situation Pine faced and for the choice she had to make, but I wish in a perfect world she wouldn’t have had to take her child out while sick. As for the breastfeeding, I’m with Pine. I think that was a non-issue that was made into an issue by a newspaper looking to make headlines. And they have, so I suppose a hearty congratulations is in order.

What do you think- Is breastfeeding a sick child in front of a college class a real issue or is it sensationalism in college journalism?

Read more from Katie on Overflowing Brain!
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