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American University professor defends classroom breastfeeding

8:46 AM, Sep 15, 2012   |    comments
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ABC News' Claire Shipman reports:

A single mother and professor at Washington, D.C.'s American University who sparked controversy after she breastfed her toddler in class says that she wasn't trying to start a revolution, but was trying to manage an untenable situation.

Adrienne Pine, an assistant anthropology professor at American University, was scheduled to teach her "Sex, Gender and Culture" class on Aug. 25 when her 1-year-old daughter, Lee, woke up with a fever. Her daycare, which doesn't accept sick children, was not an option.  Pine was encouraged by a friend to take Lee with her to class and use it as a "teachable moment," Pine did just that.

"It wasn't the ideal option but the fact is there were no ideal options and it was the best of the options available to me," Pine said.

As described by Pine herself in a posting on her blog, the baby was "dressed in her comfiest blue onesie, alternately strapped to my back and crawling on the floor by my feet" while Pine lectured the 40 students.

Baby Lee was fine at first, but soon she started to fuss. Pine did what she always does - at home, on buses, at restaurants: breastfed her. And she continued with her class while she did it.

"People seemed largely charmed - you know, by the humanity that I think children can bring to a workplace environment, without necessarily detracting from the seriousness," Pine said.

Later, Pine she learned of a tweet from one of the students in her class about her behavior.

"Sex, gender, and culture professor, total feminist, walks in with her baby, midway through class breast feeding time #wtf," the tweet said.

When the school paper got wind of the story, the campus started buzzing - with some students voicing that they were offended.

Pine received an email from a reporter with the school's newspaper asking for comment.  Anticipating any coverage would provoke headlines, Pine decided to take the issue head-on herself in the blog posting, titled "Exposing My Breasts on the Internet."

"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," she wrote in the Sept. 5 post.  "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."

Some students at American feel that what Pine did was not appropriate in a classroom.

"I think what's inappropriate is that she brought her child to class in the first place. It's very distracting to a lot of the students," AU student Sarah Miles said.

Still, many students say that they were not at all offended by Pine breastfeeding her baby in the classroom.

"She let us know that she was about to do it, so I wasn't too surprised. I think she handled it in the most professional way that she could," said AU student Nia McCarthy.

Melissa Lawrence, the co-founder of Cloudmom, a website that gives advice and tips to mothers, said that it should not be that big of a deal.

"I think that in a situation like this, which is unique and again she wasn't making a habit of it, we really need to cut her some slack," Lawrence said.

Pine told ABC News that when she decided to breast-feed Lee, she wasn't trying to spark a debate - she was just attempting to manage, like so many moms do, a shaky situation that was thrown into her lap.

"I'm surprised at the hostility that is clearly aimed at women in the workplace and women who breast-fed in the workplace in particular," Pine said.

She's hoping, at least, her actions will spark not just controversy, but a deeper discussion about how  wrenching these childcare struggles can be, especially for people with no cushion.

"Can we set up a sort of collective childcare system, so that not every single woman in the workplace is facing these issues as an individual, but rather, we're discussing them together?" she asked.

American University officials declined to comment directly to questions from ABC News, saying the university "does not comment on personnel matters."

The university later issued a statement saying they "support faculty and staff as they face challenges of work life balance" but disagree with Pine's blog posting.

"AU does not agree with Counterpunch blog post," the statement read.  "The views expressed in the blog were those of the faculty member."

ABC News

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