pumping mums and airport security don’t mix
Well, the talk went well yesterday, and pumping worked out fine – the conference organiser lent me her office, which was great. Airport security was not so great. My breastpump has an insulated compartment and a cooler pack that you freeze and then put in the insulated compartment so you can store the milk in there and it will stay cool. On my way to Oslo I took it through as hand luggage – without milk since I hadn’t pumped yet, and the security people (young women) said it was fine and waved me through. On my way home, the airport train was delayed and I didn’t have much time for my flight. I assumed since Bergen had said the cooler pack was OK, I’d be fine taking the pump, milk and cooler packs through security again. But no – this time the security guy (an old man – coincidence?) stopped me and said the milk was OK but not the cooler packs. I asked where I could find complete guidelines as I hadn’t been able to find anything about breastmilk when travelling without a baby or about cooler packs online. They were obviously not into people asking questions and said I’d have to ask the airline (?) or the general information desk for the airport. And if I was worried that the milk would go bad I could dump it.
I’ve never been angry in a security line before, but I sure was this time. I grabbed my stuff, marched out, and checked in my backpack with the milk and cooler packs in it – I took my laptop out and carried it. The breastpump would need a strap or something to be checked as the cover doesn’t fasten completely – and I’m concerned about whether it’s even sturdy enough to go through as checked luggage, it’s an expensive piece of machinery after all. I then raced to the gate, which was closing, and was the last person on board the plane.
Luckily my backpack got there despite being checked in so late – and the milk was fine.
The thing is, the Norwegian government wants me to breastfeed until my baby’s at least a year old. The Norwegian government ALSO wants me to get back to work and let the baby’s father have some parental leave. Starting in 2009, parental leave is 44 weeks (at 100% pay, or 56 weeks at 80% pay). Three weeks before the birth and 12 weeks after the birth are reserved for the mother. Ten weeks (usually taken at the end) are reserved for the father. And the remaining 19 (or 31 at 80% pay) weeks can be shared however the mother and father choose. This means that mothers on the 100% pay schedule will start to work again when their babies are just over 7 months old. That’s assuming the father takes the shortest possible leave. So you have to assume – or at least hope – that mothers will be breastfeeding and pumping at for at least five months, until their babies are a year old.
Pumping in the workplace is protected. More or less. But what about pumping while travelling for work? What about jobs where you must – or should – travel?
I can opt to travel less while I have small children. Many mothers and fathers do. But if I opt not to travel as much because pumping while travelling is too hard – partly due to security regulations – is that a gender discrimination issue? Or am I exaggerating, here?
Half of me wants to kick up a big fuss. At a minimum write a letter to the airport security people, to the Gender Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud, to Ammehjelpen (the Norwegian equivalent of the La Leche League) and to every parenting magazine in Norway. Increasing the firepower: call some journalists as well.
The other half of me just thinks ah well. Deal with it – travel less and when you do have to travel, dump the milk (pump MORE when you’re not travelling so you have enough to do this). Or use frozen peas as a cooler. Or check it all in. Unless you’re travelling for 12 hours. Current security rules are stupid and disadvantage many people, not just you.
But most people aren’t disadvantaged BECAUSE they’re breastfeeding, working mothers. Women that current government policies specifically want both in the workforce and breastfeeding.
What do you think I should do?
Update: I rang Flypassasjer.no which is owned by Luftfartstilsynet, the Civil Aviation Authority, which is in charge of airport security in Norway. Turns out bottled breastmilk with liquid-filled cooler pack is permitted! And that the problem is simply that some people “misinterpret the rules”. The friendly inspection boss I spoke with sent me an email confirming this and promised to add it to the F.A.Q. on the website “soon”.
(Photo by GodzillaRockit/Ionan Lumis – CC)
Links I discovered:
- There’s an Article about this very issue in yesterday’s New York Times!
- Here’s a discussion with contributions from, oh, 100 or so Wall Street Journal readers about how they dealt with pumping and business travel
- The Mama Bee links to the New York Times article and has five suggestions for how to make travel easier for pumping mums