I was forced to stop breastfeeding on a plane — despite expert advice

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By Dan Sears

All passengers, please buckle up, stow your tray tables and stop breastfeeding.

On Monday, a TUI passenger took to Facebook to share a “majorly disappointing” experience with the airline.

On a flight out of Manchester, England, last week, Chelsea Williams, 28, attempted to breastfeed her 5-week-old baby to stop the infant from crying out in pain. However, just before takeoff, a crew member approached Williams and asked her to stop.

Afterward, Williams and her husband — who had accompanied her on the flight — reached out to TUI customer support and asked if breastfeeding “during takeoff and landing was permitted.”

“There are no official restrictions,” a representative for the airline replied, “however, we would not recommend it because it could make other people uncomfortable.”

Frustrated with the response, Williams shared her story on Facebook in a post that has since attracted 932 comments in the course of two days, many decrying the airline’s behavior.

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A TUI plane flies in the air.
Airline passenger Chelsea Williams had a “majorly disappointing” experience when a TUI Airlines crew member asked her to stop breastfeeding her baby during takeoff.
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When she was first asked to stop, the mother was “shocked [breastfeeding] wasn’t allowed as it left [her] baby screaming as a consequence.” The company’s official reply, she wrote, only made “matters worse.”

To her knowledge, the mother wrote on Facebook, breastfeeding during takeoff and landing is encouraged to help with infants’ ear pain. This is consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which explicitly advise nursing during takeoff. The mother also had her baby secured to her body, in compliance with in-flight safety regulations.

Speaking to the Washington Post about the incident, lactation specialist Lyndsey Hookway elucidated the double standard regarding nursing mothers.

“We wouldn’t discourage bottle feeding on the flight, or refuse to allow people to suck boiled sweets during take-off and landing,” Hookway said.

A TUI plane is grounded.
Williams posted to Facebook on Monday, where she was met with support from hundreds of commenters speaking out against the discrimination.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

The specialist continued, “The assumption that a baby may feed wherever and whenever they want/need to should be the standard.”

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Williams was disappointed in the “discrimination” she faced from ill-trained staff, and revealed to the same publication that the incident left her “on the verge of tears.” The beginnings and ends of flights can be uncomfortable for anyone, let alone a 5-week-old, and Williams said she’d never had trouble breastfeeding on planes before now.

In response to the uproar, TUI jumped in to offer Williams a mea culpa.

“As a family-friendly company,” a representative wrote in an email to the Washington Post, “we support breastfeeding on our flights at any time.”

The email continued, “We are currently conducting an urgent internal investigation and will be making sure that all colleagues are retrained on our breastfeeding-friendly policy.”

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