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Mom Forced to Give Up 500 Ounces of Pumped Breastmilk at Heathrow Airport

“Noooooooooooo!” That is the collective reaction from all moms everywhere who have ever felt the unique pain that is pumping and dumping after hearing this story.

Jessica Coakley Martinez, a working mother of two, recently took to Facebook to share her story of being forced to dump over 500 ounces of pumped breastmilk at Heathrow Airport in London.

Martinez, a working mother who travels on business, understands well the challenges of balancing career and kids. Specifically: “Being away from them, managing care back home from afar, and in my case, figuring out how you’re going to feed your 8 month old breastfed baby while you’re required to be away for 15 days and travel to eight different cities.”

Martinez went on to explain that she was committed to breastfeeding and had worked very hard to keep up her supply, despite having to introduce formula to her son. The price she had to pay for her dedication, Martinez said, was very high. Like many working moms, she pumped between meetings, presentations, and business lunches. She pumped in taxis, on airplanes, and during layovers. Public toilets, airplane bathrooms, empty conference rooms, and closets — you name it, she pumped in it. Even “dealing with the humiliation when a custodial employee accidentally walked in on me.”

But that wasn’t the only situation in which she needed to put her pride aside in order to do what she felt was best for her son. Pumping meant that she had to discuss her nursing schedule with her coworkers and boss, to account for all that time she spent in the bathrooms, empty conference rooms, and closets.

“It meant going to each hotel,” she explains, “and convincing them to store my giant insulated bags of milk in their restaurant freezers to preserve it. It meant lugging this giant block of frozen breast milk through four countries, airports and security checkpoints and having them pull out every single ounce of breastmilk and use mildly inappropriate sign language to convey ‘breast’ and ‘milk’ so that they would let me through.”

And they did — except for Heathrow.

At the airport, Martinez was forced to dump 500 ounces of her pumped breastmilk — two weeks worth of food for her son — despite pleading and begging with the officials for a solution. She claims she was laughed at and treated like an annoyance and pointed out the “exclusionary” unfairness of the Civil Aviation rule that the airport cited as justification for not allowing liquid breastmilk on a plane unless the child is traveling with the mother. (Which obviously makes no sense — there are a lot more mothers carrying liquid breastmilk without their babies than with them, hello … )

And despite Martinez finding a loophole in the rule, which only bans liquid breastmilk, technically making her 300 ounces of frozen breastmilk legal, the airport officials refused to give her back any of the milk, telling her she would have to exit the airport and re-check in if she wanted any of her milk back. Even then, they wouldn’t allow her to fly with it.

I am devastated for Martinez, especially because this is a story we’ve heard many times before. We are all working hard to make sure both traveling mothers and officials are more aware of the rules of flying with breastmilk, and I have totally been there and done that. I’m convinced that there is a huge psychological toll that breastfeeding and pumping takes on a mother, and when you work that hard to try to nourish your child, it really feels like a loss that can’t be measured.

Martinez tried to explain to the Heathrow officials why their decision was so devastating to her, saying:

“If I acted irate, it’s because it was the only appropriate reaction I could muster. I now don’t have the option to solely breastfeed my son because I don’t have enough milk to supply him while I’m at work, despite all of my best efforts. Being a working mother and ensuring both my job and my child get exactly what they need is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but you managed to make it nearly impossible in a single afternoon.

And for those who say that the need for precaution and safety outweighs her circumstance, Martinez argues:

“Security is the priority, but it isn’t and shouldn’t be your only goal, and it certainly shouldn’t punish those you intend to protect. Beyond literally taking food from my child’s mouth, you humiliated me and made me feel completely defeated as a professional and a mother. I hope the next time you encounter another mom just trying to make it work and looking for a little help along the way, you consult your conscience (as well as a physical science textbook) and reconsider your options.”

Heathrow Airport has not responded yet to the incident, despite cheerfully replying to a customer’s request about being allowed to bring a sandwich through airport security on Facebook earlier this week.

Gluten-free sandwiches? A-OK. Liquid gold? Not so much.

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