Professor Feeds Baby During Lecture, Says It’s No Big Deal

Alden Wicker

We think the workplace has a long way to go to make new mothers feel comfortable. Some suggestions include:

These are all things that are still under debate, and only slowly making inroads into most companies’ culture. But one American University professor sprinted right past these plausible milestones into new territory when she decided to breastfeed her baby while she was teaching.

What’s Her Reasoning?

It’s hard work balancing a job and a newborn. Professor Adrienne Pine, a single mother, had a dilemma on her hands. It was the first day of her class, her baby was sick and she had a new teaching assistant who most likely couldn’t take over even while Professor Pine observed. In her essay on Counterpunch, Pine said her friend suggested it could be a “teachable moment” to take her baby to class, especially since the course is “Sex, Gender and Culture.”

Pine didn’t feel like she had a choice, so she took her baby to class, lectured–while taking a break to extract a paper clip from her baby’s mouth and keep her away from an outlet–and briefly breastfed her daughter when she got fussy.

“End of Story”

When Pine was contacted by the campus newspaper for a comment (ostensibly because there was student chatter about it), her reply started with, “I really wish this weren’t considered ‘newsworthy,’ but I suppose that’s why a feminist anthropology course is necessary at AU,” and ended with, “As it turned out, the baby got hungry, so I had to feed it during lecture. End of story.”

In Counterpunch, Pine related this episode (and revealed that she had done this before while giving plenary lectures at large conferences), saying she felt that the campus newspaper was creating a hostile work environment for her by pursuing the story, especially after a student reporter cornered her after class to interview her. Essentially she saw it as a non-issue, and wanted it dropped.

Not Quite the End of the Story

Most people now agree that breastfeeding shouldn’t be hidden inside a closet like a shameful act. Women breastfeed on public transportation, in the park and other public places. But what makes this case seem a bit different is that Pine was in a professional situation where anywhere from 12 to 100 or more students had no choice but to watch her. On the bus, other riders can at least avert their gaze if they feel uncomfortable.

It’s ironic that she’s teaching a course on gender and culture, and is herself experiencing how culture norms and expectations can put a real burden on working mothers. (And let’s not forget that professors, as the Anne-Marie Slaughter article in The Atlantic earlier this summer explained, have much more flexible schedules than the average working mom.)

What Can Moms Do?

So, was Professor Pine between a rock and a hostile work environment?

There seems to have been other options, as the writer and mother at Today Moms points out. She could have waited to feed her baby until the end of the hour lecture. She could have pumped before class. She could have even started class by saying, “Today I face a situation that many moms face when they work with a young baby. My baby is sick, I’m a single mother, so I had to bring her to class,” and then acknowledged later when her baby got fussy that her breastfeeding in class might make some people uncomfortable, but her baby would be calmed by nursing and it’s normal for mothers to nurse in public.

So we would like to know what LV Moms readers think: Was Professor Pine over the line? Or is this a non-issue?

  • Bevin

    Non-issue! Would a student learn better with a fussy baby screaming in the classroom or with a professor breastfeeding her baby? Any student uncomfortable with watching the professor can look at the board or their texts or just listen and write notes.

    • Particularp

      She had other options. If there were no other options then it may be an non-issue, but any nudity for any reason in a professional setting is exactly why men and women are not being treated equally.

      • Aysaelizabeth

        What nudity?  You can’t see anything when a woman is breastfeeding!  I’d be willing to bet there were some students in the class showing off more of their bods than the professor did!

        • Particularp

          Unless she put the baby under her shirt, she is likely exposed somehow. And even the most gracefully drapers of fabric will likely slip up from time to time. So rule of thumb should be, if it involves bodily fluid, it should be done behind closed doors.  I paid $140,000 for my 4 year education and if even one teacher had tried to pull this you can bet I would have walked out and informed the dean immediately.

        • BabiesMakeUsStupid

          If I were you I’d consider asking men if breastfeeding is sexual or not. From what I understand there is a whole segment of porn that revolves around this. Seems people spend quite a bit of money watching pregnant and breastfeeding women perform. You might want to consider that next time you breastfeed in public and consider who all might be watching.

  • KosherKurlyGirl

    I am not sure that I would have done the same,but I think the professor has her share of chutzpah. My family comes from a culture where public breastfeeding is really no big deal:my late sister’s boss would regularly nurse her infant even in board meetings and no one raised a brow. The baby was hungry,so he got fed! There was a really funny incident on a bus once: A woman began to nurse her toddler on a bus ride from the city center and a male passenger in the neighboring seat chided the baby,saying” What,a great big boy like this is still suckling?!” The mother became irate and smacked the man,snarling “Shut up,you idiot! As if you don’t do the same under cover of night!” The entire bus erupted into laughter,and the bus driver laughed so hard he had to pull over to compose himself.

    • r12345

      Okay, I didn’t get the end joke, could someone explain it to me? Thanks Very much.

      • Db628757

        She means that the guy should not be talking about the baby being too old to suck on a boob because he does the same thing to his wife/girlfriend under the covers for sexual pleasure

    • dee

      This cracked me up!

  • MEH

    Where was her husband/father of her child to help her while the baby was sick?

    • Sandra

       Never assume that the father of the child is available or even a healthy option for the child.  My kids father is a wonderful man, but the article says the professor is a single-mom.  It is none of our business why.  Not to mention that even if he was available, he can’t exactly breast feed.  Also, how many breastfeeding women have you observed exposing themselves?  Most have drapes for modesty, you can’t see anything.  The issue is just knowing that there is a baby on a breast under there.  I personally hated breastfeeding, but it is the most healthy option for the mother and the baby, especially if the baby is ill.  And the idea to make the baby wait until after lecture to be fed is ridiculous.  Babies can’t be told to wait to be hungry until it is convenient for them to be fed.  Have some compassion for this family and leave her be.

      • MEH

        I’m sorry but it does matter. Where the father, or the
        professor’s support group, is may not matter to you and I but I’m sure it does
        matter to her students- who became involved in her childcare situation simply
        by attending a class that they, again likely paid an arm and a leg for. She
        made it their business by bringing the baby to class. I know I couldn’t get
        away with breastfeeding my child in a business meeting, so why should this be
        any different? And no a man can’t breast feed, but he could bottle feed the
        baby breast milk. Moreover, taking a sick day was an option.

  • Morgan Rebecca123

    As woman-founded and woman-centered web site, I’m surprised to see you jump on the bandwagon and make this an issue. This has nothing to do with investing, or women’s finances. It’s a non-issue. If she’d popped a bottle in the baby’s mouth, no one would have cared. Breastfeeding isn’t a luxury or a way to make a political point; it’s the natural way babies are fed. 
    Women need to support all parents who struggle with a lack of quality, reliable childcare, and with work situations where parents are forced to choose between their children’s wellbeing and being perceived as committed or professional. Disappointed in Ms. Wicker and in LearnVest for perpetuating this as a workplace controversy.  

  • Morgan Rebecca123

    …and a side note to the LearnVest editorial staff, might consider that your choice of writer for this story, a barely graduated editorial assistant with a subtle but obvious “ick” factor toward breastfeeding and an arguable lack of life experience on the subject matter, may not have been the sharpest or most critical choice of journalistic perspective. This article doesn’t challenge a hostile environment for working mothers. It perpetuates it. 

  • pornpimol

    What she has done is the beginning of our human society. She is right; it is a non issue.

  • HarlemGirl

    The breastfeeding is a non-issue. The real issue here is that she brought her sick 15 month old child to class to crawl around and disrupt the lecture. Would everyone be on her side if she’d brought her baby to an office setting? Children that young don’t belong in the workplace and if she had no backup care, she should have taken a personal/sick day like the university recommended.

  • Chandra Scott

    Totally a non-issue. I doubt there was nudity. People get hungry and want to be fed. Why expect less of a child. Breast feeding in a lecture was uncommon to the students. Grow up. Life is happening. If someone was traumatically disturbed, they likely wold have walked out or said something. It happens to all mothers, where hey find themselves in a situation unprepared. You learn as you go. The baby is loved. The professor respects her students enough to show up to work and give them the educational content they’re all paying for. She didn’t trust the TA. You could find several issues to complain about in this scenario. Why bother?!?! Years ago it would have been scandalous for her to be a single parent, much less a working mother. Some would have screamed neglect for her attempting to leave her sick child to go to work.

  • Chrissik1

    not an issue – get over it, it was not a sexual act of nudity – this is the way nature has provided for moms to feed their babies. just because she isn’t using similac does not make it terrible for her to do……..the world needs to grow up.

  • Aysaelizabeth

    It absolutely is no big deal!  Babies want to eat when they want to eat and there is nothing at all sexual about breast feeding!  I breast fed my kids everywhere, it is completely natural.  Good for her to be able to do her job and give her child what she needed at the same time.  The more women feel comfortable breastfeeding in all situations, the better it is for them and their babies, and the more the people who have a problem with it (ie stupid people) will have to get over it!!!

  • Sabina

    I am all about breastfeeding (I breastfed twins for year) and even in public when discretely done, but this is unprofessional.  To me it’s not even about the breastfeeding – I wouldn’t even dream of bringing a baby to work.