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Busted for Breastfeeding on Amtrak

This is the sort of thing I read about in newspapers, but isn’t supposed to happen to me. But it did. A couple of weeks ago, after spending Rosh Hashanah in New York, we decided to travel back to Boston on the Acela train. Zev doesn’t love long car rides, and he’s got a great set of lungs, so we thought it would be less stressful and quicker (not to mention quieter) to take the train. Here’s how it went down:

We herd all three kids into Penn station and make our way onto the assigned track. By the time we board, there are no seats left together. A very unhelpful attendant tells us to just sit separately, but when the other passengers are faced with the prospect of having to babysit a child for the duration of the trip, they balk and miraculously a four-way seat opens up for us. Zev starts screaming at some point in the negotiations, which probably also goes in our favor.

So we’re finally getting seated, and Zev is really hungry. The other passengers, who looked nervous when we first boarded, are now silently apoplectic because there is a screaming infant in their midst. So my priority is to get him quiet and quell the growing anxiety on the train. I start nursing in a hurry. The attendant, who had been so unhelpful mere moments before, now comes running over brandishing a cloth napkin at me. “You can use this to cover yourself,” she says. I politely thank her, bewildered by her sudden attentiveness, but decline. A few minutes later, she approaches again; the expression of annoyance has returned. She stands in the aisle, hands on her hips and she says, “Ma’am, you need to cover your body if you’re going to breastfeed on this train.” I’m speechless and before I can recover, Eli reaches into my diaper bag, finds my Bebe au Lait nursing cover and throws it over me. As my surprise begins to crystalize into fury, Eli looks at me, his eyes pleading with me to stay calm. So I do. I wear my nursing cover for the duration of the ride, fuming through four states.

I update my Facebook status from my iPhone, the only available outlet to vent about my predicament. By the time I arrive at home, a friend who is a La Leche League leader has already emailed me this:

N.Y. Civil Rights Law § 79-e (McKinney 2002) guarantees a mother the right to breastfeed her baby any place she has the right to be, public or private, even if the nipple is exposed during or incidental to breastfeeding.

The next morning, I fired off a letter to Amtrak. I heard back from them by later that afternoon. I received a phone call from a customer service representative apologizing for my experience. She assured me that this is not the company’s policy, and that this attendant was acting on her own personal bias. She thanked me for my feedback and hung up the phone. I give them points for response time, but no credit for going the extra mile.

In any case, hopefully this won’t happen again. The Acela could be a very family-friendly way to travel, but not if the attendants are going to make a habit of harassing breastfeeding moms.

Cheers to the product that saved the day: my Bebe au Lait. I’m not shy about nursing in public, but I do like to keep this cover in my bag in case I’m ever in a situation where I feel uncomfortable or the baby is too distracted by his surroundings. It is a fabulous design, with a rigid hoop built in to the collar, so I can see the baby, he can see me, but no one can see what’s going on underneath. It folds up small enough to be an insignificant addition to my load. I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t had the Bebe au Lait in my bag. Either a big argument or a cloth napkin. Or both.


  1. You know what’s sad? I carry a copy of NYS breastfeeding laws in my diaper bag, because i’m just that paranoid of someone saying something to me. It’s incredible to me that people are still so biased against nursing mothers!

    Good for you for complaining. I really hope that Amtrac gets the word out to its employees that such behavior is not okay.

  2. you go girl!
    and i’m quite certain that breastfeeding kid #3 and all the expertise that goes along with it entails very little skin exposure.

  3. You would think that Amtrak attendants could be more useful – instead of harassing breastfeeding mothers they could – oh, I don’t know – help families of 5 get seats together? Maybe. I hope Amtrak disciplined the person who harassed you.

    PS – I agree the Bebe Au Lait is probably the best, most diaperbag friendly nursing cover ever.

  4. You are sooo mature and reasonable. I would have been sorely tempted to agree to cover up my breast if she would cover up her offensive face with the cloth napkin. Not a very productive response, I know. But if the issue is going to be covering up things that upset other people….her face would qualify in this circumstance. Besdies, I get upset when people bottle feed their babies. Maybe next time I’ll ask a helpful Amtrak employee to ask the mother to cover that operation up with a blanket or something;)

  5. Wow, it’s hard to believe that this is still happening and it clearly is after your terrible situation. I’m so sorry such a time of renewal was tainted by this event 🙁

    BTW, did you ever get my baby gift for Zev? They were Fortune Tooties and Tshirt I had specially ordered from my friend that hand makes them…I just hope they got to you safely.

    All the best,

  6. Yeah, I feel like I probably would have whipped it out even further while reciting the state law. But I’m honestly not sure what I would do IRL, being fairly non-confrontational and all.

  7. I think that is so sad that the attendant made time to tell you to cover up, but couldn’t work things out to help you all sit together. I am a mom of three, too. I have always nursed my babies wherever I am. I try to be contientious of people around who might be uncomfortable, but I am very discreet in general. The Bebe au lait always looked interesting to me, but I prefer to nurse without a coverup – the cover ups always seem to shout – “Hey look, I am nursing under here!”, where most people just think I am holding a resting child. Although I do wish I had a cover up like that when my little ones were brand new and their head just doesn’t cover everything or I needed to really look at our latch in the early weeks. Good for you for following up with Amtrak.

  8. Fantastically well told story. And way to keep you cool. Don’t always get to the blog but this makes me want to read it more.

  9. I am so pleased you contacted Amtrak and they made a (IMO) reasonable attempt to fix the situation.

    I would have been furious. That said, I always use my Bebe Au Lait as I am paranoid and a bit bashful!

  10. My mom gave me one of the breastfeeding cover-ups because she saw how handy it was for my sister-in-law. I tried using it but always felt more conspicuous trying to use it than to just pull my shirt up and feed my baby. Fortunately, I live in Europe where nobody bats an eye at me feeding in restaurants, bars, parks, trains… It really saddens and frustrates me to hear your experience. I am pleased to hear that you followed up with Amtrak.

  11. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that! I wonder if perhaps this attendant assumed other passengers might be offended and therefore made the suggestion? Either way what a nightmare! As a mother of two that breastfed both her children it was one of my fears when I travelled back home to North America. Suggestions that I should feed my child in a family bathroom (Would anyone want to take their lunch into the toilet?) or that I should take a towel to cover myself with seemed incredibly ridiculous but I caved and many times found myself running back to the car to avoid the hassles from others. Kudos to you for making yourself heard and for posting about this so others may be informed.

  12. ONLY in America this could happen. I travelled all over Europe with my 3 month old son and breastfed everywhere, mostly covered bcs he is very sensitive to the surroundings, but when I could not cover him, no one said anything or even gave me a funny look. Quite the contrary, people went the extra length to make us comfortable. The problem is that Amtrak does not train their people properly – to repremend the attendant is not the way to go. They called you just to cover their bases, bcs Amtrak was in unlawful territory by pushing a policy that was agains the law. But again maybe you where in Massachusets state lines and maybe they have other funny laws there 🙂

  13. Just a thought – may be the attendant was trying to think of a way to appease the other passengers, who had already been inconvenienced by first having to change seats and second listening to your child screaming. I am a mum, I breastfed in public and I will again, but I am also aware of the fact that other people have a right to not be annoyed by my children or myself. I really can’t believe your massive over-reaction to this – they did not tell you to stop breastfeeding, only to be more discreet. I suggest you stop putting yourself first and start thinking about other people.

  14. Wow. I think that’s a little unfair. Here’s why.
    1. I was sitting next to the window at the very front of the car, in a 4-way seating configuration, facing forward. So the only people who could even see me were my daughters, seated across from me, my husband, seated next to me, and the attendant, who was working from the front of the car.
    2. I did not “overreact” on the train. And in fact, it was out of respect for all the other passengers on the train that I didn’t cause a scene.
    3. I covered up and remained covered for the entire trip.
    4. The attendant said “You need to cover your body if you are going to breastfeed on this train.” The implication here was that if I did not cover up, I would need to stop.
    5. For what it is worth, my daughters were beautifully behaved from the moment we got on the train to the moment we got off. And the baby only started screaming because he was hungry and the attendant would not help us to get seats together, which delayed our getting settled and him getting fed. He screamed for a total of maybe one minute before I got into a seat, and then he was completely quiet for the remainder of the 3+ hour ride.

    The point is, there are laws in place specifically to prevent this kind of behavior on the part of this attendant, and she should not have done what she did. Period. Regardless of what you, she, or anyone else thinks, it was illegal.

    Fundamentally, I think I understand where you’re coming from, even if I’m disappointed by your reading of my situation. I agree that parents should be respectful of people around them, and teach their children to be well-behaved in public (and this applies to teenagers and adults, too). But I also know that there are times when even the best kids have a bad day, or something totally outside your control can set something unfortunate in motion. As moms, we have a choice when we witness a bad scene: contempt or compassion. I guess this is where we differ.

  15. I believe that everyone has the right to feed their child anyway they wish. However other people shouldnt have to see another persons naked breast even if they are feeding a baby. I have two children that I breastfeed but I always covered up in public. yes, the covers did point out what I was “doing” but people always smiled and were polite. You can feed and bond with your child without trying to make a public statement.

  16. I worked with a breastfeeding mother many years before I even contemplated having children. She brought her baby to work for the first few months, and when she nursed she didn’t wear a cover-up of any kind. My coworkers are typically the last people I want to see naked, but it was never a problem — even if I’d been really trying to get a gander at her boob, it was covered by the baby. Frankly, I don’t understand what the big fuss is all about. I see more boob on the beach or on TV. I think that anyone who gets worked up about a breastfeeding woman must have serious issues.

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