Traveling without your baby for the first time can be difficult. And if you’re breastfeeding, it can be even harder, as you have to pump milk every few hours to get enough of it from your body, to avoid a huge amount of discomfort, and to prevent the risk of infection.
But for Emily Calandrelli, taking a recent work trip away from her 10-week-old son was far more difficult than necessary.
Calandrelli is a mother of two, an aerospace engineer, and host of Netflix’s science children’s show “Emily’s Wonder Lab.” She was recently on her first work trip since welcoming her second child, which included a five-hour flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Calandrelli is breastfeeding her son and had planned to pump just before boarding the plane. She brought ice packs to keep the milk from spoiling during the flight, but when she tried to go through airport security, TSA agents refused to let her take away some of her groceries.
Calendrelli shared the entire saga in a Twitter thread, which she initially deleted because she was embarrassed and worried about the confrontation. She shared the story in a new thread, saying, “They’re making too many mums feel like this, so I’m going to talk about this because it needs to stop.”
She explained that she was going through LAX security with two freezer bags, one of which was frozen. She only needed one frozen bag for the outgoing trip, but would need both for her return when she had more milk to keep cold.
“Two male TSA agents told me I couldn’t bring my ice packs in because they weren’t frozen,” she wrote. “I asked to speak to someone else and they had their boss come over and he told me the same thing.” He said if she had milk on her or the baby with her, it wouldn’t be a problem. He also asked where the baby was several times.
Two things: 1) Why would she have breast milk with her on a departing flight when she had just left his baby? And 2) If the baby was with her, it probably wouldn’t be a problem at all because she wouldn’t have needed to pump in the first place.
Calendrelli said she repeatedly asked to speak to an officer and was turned down. “They escorted me off the line and forced me to check my cold packs which meant I couldn’t pump before my flight for fear it would go bad,” she wrote.
Technically, she could always have pumped to relieve the engorgement and kept to her pumping schedule and just dumped the milk rather than storing it. But throwing away breastmilk isn’t ideal, especially when you’re trying to manage your supply with a baby’s demand.
And it turns out the TSA agents were wrong. Passengers are allowed to have gel ice packs for medical purposes, and they must not be frozen.
But their understanding of politics aside, the fact that they could not infer the necessity of the packs based on the reality of breastmilk expression speaks to the need for broader breastfeeding education. .
Calandreli share that moms had flooded her inbox with their own TSA horror stories after she shared hers. “It’s extremely common to encounter @TSA agents who don’t know their OWN rules about bringing breast milk/infant formula pumping equipment onto airplanes,” she wrote.
“Yesterday I was humiliated to have to explain to three grown men that my breasts still produce milk when I’m not with my child,” she added. “Yesterday I was embarrassed to tell them about my fear of mastitis if I didn’t pump. Today I’m furious.”
She also shared that the TSA agent treated her like “an irritable kid, trying to get her toy through security” when he told her not to “try to get it through another time.”
“There’s so much pressure to breastfeed, but @TSA makes it impossible,” Calandrelli wrote. “This is yet another system in place that makes it harder for women to return to work after starting a family.”
Indeed, there are so many ways in which our society does not support motherhood, no matter what the talk is about. According to the CDC, more than 80% of babies are breastfed from birth and more than half are breastfed at six months. Not all of these babies are necessarily exclusively breastfed, but it is recommended – and not uncommon – that breastmilk be a baby’s only source of food for the first six months.
So we’re talking millions of nursing mothers at any given time, many of whom will at some point travel without their baby and have to pump. And yet, we have so many people who have no idea about breastfeeding. Shouldn’t the general population better understand how it works, considering that it is a basic biological function and a common experience? Isn’t that something we should be teaching in schools? It seems like it would be far more useful and valuable knowledge than most of what we force children to learn and memorize.
If these officers had understood how breastfeeding and expressing work, there would have been no problem. Pumping is, in fact, a medical need when a nursing mother is away from her baby for a long period of time. The officers wouldn’t have asked such disconcerting questions or acted as if this mother was doing something wrong.
If we really want to be a society that values families and supports babies, we need to make sure the basics of biology are understood and that systems don’t make things harder for parents than they should.
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