Dear Heathrow Airport,
I’m writing in regards to the recent incident involving the disposal of Alyssa Milano’s breast milk. As she stated, it’s not okay. I want to elaborate on why. Then I’ve got some questions as well as a call to action to change your policy. While currently the villain, I implore you to exit this story the hero. With a little humility, you can.
Your policy on carrying breast milk through security is as follows, “If you are travelling with a baby or infant you can carry a reasonable amount outside of your liquid bag for your journey. If you are not travelling with a baby / infant all your liquids must comply with the 100ml rule.”
The majority of lactating mothers who travel with their nursing infants feed them directly from the tap. Yes some moms exclusively pump. Some are shy and prefer to pump and bottle feed in public. But most simply breastfeed their children. There is little reason to ever carry breast milk on a plane with your nursling, though I am happy your policy allows for this.
If a mom does not have her nursling with her and she intends to continue nursing upon return from her trip, she must pump. Not just once or twice or when it’s convenient; travelling lactating mothers without their nursing child(ren) must express on a regular basis, every 3 – 4 hours, regardless of flight times and travel schedules. Thus, these mothers will have breast milk in tow.
How much milk will she have? Well, the average one to six month old drinks 24 ounces a day. Let’s say mom had a three day work trip – that’s 72 ounces, a far cry more than can be parsed out in 100ml containers.
Your policy demands that she make tough decisions. In addition to having a pump, having milk storage bags, making sure she has a way to keep her milk cool, and being willing to pump in airports, on planes, in the car, at work, and in undetermined odd locations – mom has to also consider the following:
- While she’s in a city she may or may not be familiar with, she must locate and purchase dry ice with appropriate timing before her flight so that it keeps the milk frozen and she can check it. Because she has to check it, she may have to pay associated baggage fees. Not to mention her work trip demands long hours and high focus – so she probably has a lot of time to make this all happen.
- Even if mom times things well so that her last pumped milk gets in with the dry ice and her next pump session happens post-airport security – even if she’s a Super Planner – she’s going to have to pump in the airport or on the plane. How does she explain her milk to customs? How is it okay inside her breast but a hazard on the outside?
- Another potential is that she hook up with local moms who need donated breast milk. She can give away her milk to a family in need. In exchange, she has depleted 72 ounces of her stash at home in order to keep her baby fed while she is away (because she’s Super Mom and has that gold prepared in advance), and she is out the 72 ounces that she pumped on her trip. She’s got to build another stash up before going on her next trip if she is to sustain more travel and keep her child exclusively breast fed. But she helped a local mom in need . . . because she is internet savvy, found a community of nursing moms, identified a recipient family, drove her milk to the location of the mom in need – all in the middle of a quick paced busy travel trip.
- She can pump and dump. Oh God, it hurts to write that.
You can say – well, look, that’s her choice to breastfeed. That’s her responsibility. That’s her burden. Yes, that’s her choice. It’s also her child’s choice. Probably her partner’s choice. It’s her community’s choice, her nation’s choice, the world’s choice. Do we want healthy children, who are equipped with the best immune systems and set up for optimal brain development? These babies are the friends, family members, and coworkers of tomorrow. It behooves us as a human race to bend over backwards to support breastfeeding moms and not isolate lactation as their choice and problem.
With regards to your policy on carrying breast milk through security, I’ve got some real questions:
- Why is it a security risk for mom to travel with breast milk only but not when an infant is present? Are we afraid that lactating babyless terrorists are prolifically walking around? Are you so certain terrorists don’t have access to sacrificial babies? (I know, crazy talk! But, seriously.)
- Your policy states a parent can bring breast milk through “if you are travelling with a baby or infant”. Are you aware that the World Health Organization “recommends breastfeeding up to two years and beyond”? Does “travelling with a baby or infant” include two year olds? Three year olds? Four? . . . Six?? I’m super curious as to whether airport security takes a position on the length of time a woman and her child should nurse. Would I be able to bring milk through with my nursing five year old travelling alongside me?
- Why can toiletries be screened but breast milk cannot?
- What is “a reasonable amount” of breast milk? Does that amount vary for each mother/child pair? Does it differ based on who is staffing security? Can a mother not be trusted to make decisions about how much milk she carries all on her own?
- Who induces lactation for the hell of it? Are there women (men?) out there who take medication and pump around the clock in an effort to induce milk production because . . . because . . . I’m just curious here. Why are you so afraid of the ill intentions of lactating persons? They have BABIES TO FEED.
I understand your policy. I understand that you confirmed with Alyssa Milano that you were in fact following your policy. Blindly following a policy rooted in erroneous logic and sexism is not admirable. And, quite frankly, it’s a cowardly excuse. For example, denying women the right to vote or couples the right to marry because it was against the law didn’t make it right.
That being said, you have a very public choice to make. Women and men of the world are watching for your response. Will you dig your heels in and stand by a policy that discriminates against parents? Against women. Against working mothers. Against parents who are painstakingly trying to give their children the best. Or will you pause? Call a summit. Face the reality that your policy is illogical, based on fear, and creates barriers to being a travelling mom. Bring in decision makers. Change your policy. Be a world leader. Apologize.
Should you do the latter, nursing moms will likely rally behind you. They will express genuine awe at your ability to reflect, regroup, and choose the rational and ethical path. They will forgive you. They’re super cool and understanding like that.
Listen, I was recently in Australia attending a funeral for the baby of my best friend. Due to the sensitive nature of the visit, my nursing 12 month old stayed in the US. After 12 months of freezing any overage of milk, I had about an 80 ounce stash (that’s more than most). I had multiple friends donate to bump me up to 120 ounces so that my son had enough milk during my absence. When I arrived at the Sydney airport to return home with my 100+ ounces of pumped-around-the-clock milk, I cried hard when they told me I had to discard it. One hundred ounces. Fortunately they were empathetic. They stood by their policy, but they gathered a cooler’s worth of ice, triple bagged it with my milk in plastic car seat covers, checked it, held the plane, and walked me through security to make the flight. However, they have yet to change their policy that an infant must be present to bring expressed milk through security.
Consider the burden you are placing on moms, on working women, on families. Do the right thing and change your policy. Be the hero in this story.
Rachel Saunders, nursing and travelling mom for 7 years
UPDATED: Below is a letter I received in response to the above letter, from Passenger Communications:
Dear Dr Saunders,
Thank you for your email.
The regulations for security at all UK airports are set by the Department for Transport (DfT) and, as an airport operator, we are in constant dialogue with them to ensure we follow their requirements.
The DfT are explicit in their instructions to airport operators that an exemption from the 100ml rule for liquid baby foods can only be made if an infant is present. If the infant is not present, then the passenger must adhere to the 100ml liquids regulation.
We do, of course, empathise with nursing mothers and the problems they face, but It is the DfT who establish the regulations and we are not in a position to advise on any future changes to the current regulation.
I am very sorry that we are unable to help you further. Should you wish to take the matter up with the DfT directly, their contact details are: https://www.gov.uk/government/
Here is my response:
I fully understand that UK airport security is following guidelines set forth by the Department of Transportation. You mentioned that you are in constant dialogue with them about their requirements. The fact that you regularly discuss the policy to ensure you are following requirements and then enforce them lets me know that you implicitly agree with the policy. Inaction on your part to question a policy that clearly discriminates against nursing mothers greatly concerns me. I’m not inclined to travel through your airport. In fact, in fills me with anxiety to think about navigating that scene, as I am currently lactating.
If you truly “empathise with nursing mothers and the problems they face”, stand up for our rights. Make airport security the least of our troubles. In the US, nursing mothers are allowed to bring any amount of milk through security with or without the nursing child present. We realise there is no real risk in supporting mothers’ basic needs.
Don’t just blindly follow discriminatory policy – question it, suggest revisions, support your traveling moms. Please confirm with me that you will add to your dialogue with the DfT a revision plan. Please confirm that you will actively seek a policy that trusts mothers to make their own decisions about when they need to travel with breast milk.
I would be happy to work in collaboration with you to draft such a policy. We can submit it to the DfT. You would have the support of every nursing mom in your nation as well as nations world wide.