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Breast-feeder's ouster from plane protested

The Baltimore Sun

About 30 mothers toted their babies to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport yesterday to protest Delta Air Lines and other companies that have hassled them for breast-feeding in public.

The "nurse-in" at BWI and several other airports around the country was in response to a nursing mother's removal from a Delta commuter flight last month after she refused a flight attendant's request that she cover up.

Delta has since said it "fully supports a mother's right to breast-feed her baby on board our aircraft" and that removal of Emily Gillette and her family from a plane in Burlington, Vt., was not in keeping with Delta's service standards. Freedom Airlines, which operated the flight for Delta, apologized to the family and said it has used the incident as a training opportunity.

The mothers, loosely organized through various groups, said yesterday's event was an opportunity to bring attention to the larger issue of the healthful effects of nursing and the rights of women to do it in public places.

"You can't expect to breast-feed if you can't do it in public, because babies eat very frequently," said Lorrie Leigh of Columbia, one of the BWI nurse-in organizers. "If women see other women breast-feeding, then they'll feel comfortable coming out of the home. It will encourage other women to breast-feed."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 73 percent of U.S. infants were breast-fed for some time. Leigh said more women would nurse, or nurse longer, if there were no stigma attached to doing it in public.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breast-fed for six months.

The protesting mothers said they and others have often sought attention after incidents involving public breast-feeding. They have staged nurse-ins outside Starbucks, Toys 'R' Us and Victoria's Secret stores, and ABC studios after Barbara Walters of The View said seeing women nurse in public made her uncomfortable.

It has won them attention from legislators. Forty-three states, including Maryland, now have some kind of law that either expressly states a woman's right to nurse in public or exempts them from public indecency laws, according to information collected by La Leche League International, an organization that supports nursing.

Seven states and the District of Columbia do not address nursing in public.

"Nursing is the healthiest thing," said Lorig Charkoudian of Takoma Park, who came to BWI with her 6-month-old Raffi and a T-shirt that said, "I make milk. What's your superpower?"

"People are uncomfortable because they don't see it a lot," she said. "We'd like to see a federal policy be implemented that encourages and protects mothers."

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