Breastfeeding In the Classroom

American University professor Adrienne Pine speaks out about breastfeeding her daughter in class here. American University response here.

So here’s the story, internet: I fed my sick baby during feminist anthropology class without disrupting the lecture so as to not have to cancel the first day of class. I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it. But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one.

9 thoughts on “Breastfeeding In the Classroom

  1. I saw this a few days ago on the Frisky and defended the professor in the comments. Most of the comments were, not surprisingly, attacking her and calling her irresponsible etc. Sickening.

  2. I am at a loss how the mere presence of an infant does not allow for: “professional conduct in the classroom at all times, including a focus on high standards for teaching and respect for students,”

    It’s also kinda funny that the professor chose to bring her sick kid to class precisely because she didn’t want to have the TA cover the class on the first day. Ya, clearly she has no respect for the standard of education her students are receiving, ensuring that they are taught by the actual Prof. and all.

  3. I don’t really see the issue with breastfeeding in class when the need arises and there aren’t any alternative arrangements.

    But I’m wondering what people think about bringing a child with a (presumably) infectious cold into the classroom. I understanding that we sometimes have to teach with a cold. I’ve taught with a cold any number of times. But maybe it’s more concerning to bring someone with a cold to the classroom when that person isn’t an essential part of the class? Anything we can do to prevent college campuses from being a hotbed of infectious illness seems to be a positive.

  4. I agree with Matt. A feverish baby does not belong in anyone’s work place, it’s not in the child’s interest to be carted around and crawling on a classroom floor while ill, and it’s not fair to expose students to an infectious illness. And, it seems to me after reading both pieces, the child was both a distraction for the professor and the students. To me the issue isn’t the breastfeeding, but having to lecture and take care of a baby at the same time. There are times during a job when to do the job properly, you can’t have your children around. A firefighter can’t be looking after her child while fighting a fire. Children require attention ( as demonstrated by a student having to point out the baby had put a paperclip in her mouth), and there are times when your job requires your full attention, like a college level lecture.

  5. As a child I spent nearly all of my sick days at my parents’ office. Yes, maybe it wasn’t great to have me in a place exposing me to other germs, and yes, my parents had to spend some time taking care of me when they were at work, but it was the only option they had. What alternative do you suggest? This is a single mother and professor who is trying to do the best by her child and her students and getting an incredible amount of criticism for it. Maybe I would have done something different; maybe I would have done the same thing. But why do we all get to stand on our pedestals and insult her decisions? There are plenty of situations where (a) parents do not do the absolutely best thing for their kids, and (b) professors do not o the absolutely best thing for their students. Even assuming both are the case here, why make a big deal about this case?

  6. I find it a touch ironic that in order to avoid disrupting the lecture, she chose to engage in an activity that any reasonable person in possession of the most basic familiarity with the typical sniggering college student crowd would find unsurprisingly disruptive of lecture? Likewise, I thought it odd that a motivating reason for her deciding to breastfeed her sick child whilst mid-lecture (trusting that her expert nipple-hiding skills would not fall short) was a very serious concern that her tenure chances would be harmed were she simply to have handed over lecture to her TA.

    Don’t get me wrong. I do not think breastfeeding SHOULD be regarded as a particularly noteworthy sort of activity at all, let alone one disrupting or derailing a college lecture or factoring into a tenure decision. That said, you have to be either incredibly stupid or colossally dense to think that breastfeeding while lecturing WOULD in fact not be so regarded by the relevant folks involved (students, administrators, Republican-appointed Board of Governors looking for an excuse, etc.). Yes, people need to get over their paralyzing fear of exposed boobs and the vast psychological and moral harms thought the province of the nip-slip. This, however, doesn’t somehow make the professor’s actions–especially when understood in light of her reported motivating reasons–any less a result of good ol’ fashioned dumbfuckery.

  7. I’m generally inclined to sympathize with Pine, and be annoyed at anyone who tried to make trouble for her. However, here is one quote from her story that bothers me:

    I sped through the lecture and syllabus review with Lee, dressed in her comfiest blue onesie, alternately strapped to my back and crawling on the floor by my feet. The flow of my lecture was interrupted once by “Professor, your son has a paper-clip in his mouth” (I promptly extracted it without correcting my students’ gendered assumptions) and again when she crawled a little too close to an electrical outlet. Although I specifically instructed my teaching assistant, Laura, that helping me with my child was outside her job description, she insisted on holding and rocking Lee, allowing me to finish class without any major disruptions.

    I was a TA once upon a time. If the professor for whom I worked brought her (or his) baby into class, and this baby got “a little too close to an electrical outfit”, I would thereafter ignore any instruction, specific or otherwise, that my job responsibilities did not extend to child care. First, of course, because I would worry about the baby. But, second, because I wouldn’t really believe that the professor meant those instructions. When responsible adults place a baby on the floor and allow themselves to become distracted, it is clearly intended that other responsible adults in the vicinity will attend to the baby.

    Which is to say: there’s more than a hint of exploitation here. TAs are not child carers. They are certainly not paid as well as child carers. Of course, there are systematic problems here, regarding the burden of child care on women in junior academic positions. But the solution to these problems is clearly not to transfer the burden to women (or men) in still more junior positions, some of whom have child care burdens of their own.

  8. I’m sorry, to me this incident is just another example of a younger generation of female professionals being smug about their motherhood. Please get over yourselves. Mothers have been holding jobs for centuries. So, recognize that you are not the only person in the world who can take care of your baby, even or especially when he or she is sick; recognize that you are certainly exploiting your TA; recognize that you are putting students in an awkward position – they couldn’t care less whether you have babies or cats at home and would really rather not know you have a private life at all. The issue here is not the breast feeding; I’m more concerned about a baby crawling around on the floor in a lecture hall – and we think students are distracted by the internet or texting!

  9. I agree with Matt. A feverish baby does not belong in anyone’s work place, it’s not in the child’s interest to be carted around and crawling on a classroom floor while ill, and it’s not fair to expose students to an infectious illness. And, it seems to me after reading both pieces, the child was both a distraction for the professor and the students

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