Though breastfeeding mums often travel without their babies, Singaporean Gayathri Bose, found herself in a humiliating situation after doing so. The 33-year-old was questioned by Frankfurt Airport Police after a breast pump was found in her carry-on bag during a security check, and told to squeeze her breast to prove she was lactating.
Gayathri, who has two children, aged three years and seven months respectively, told the BBC: “While I do respect the need to do security checks on items that may seem suspicious, to outrage a person’s modesty is crossing the line.”
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The incident happened when Gayathri was on her way to Paris on Jan 26, alone. The transport company manager was stopped after her bag went through the X-ray machine. She was then taken aside for questioning.
“(They had) an incredulous tone. ‘You are breastfeeding? Then where is your baby? Your baby is in Singapore?’,” she said.
The officers did not seem to believe her when she insisted the device was a breast pump, she added. She was then led to a room by a female officer for further questioning. Once inside, Gayathri said the officer asked her to prove that she was lactating.
She said: “She asked me to open up my blouse and show her my breast. She wanted me to show her by hand-expressing a little.”
Gayathri said the incident left her traumatised and shaken. She told the BBC: “I was in shock, I was going through the motions. I wasn’t sure what would happen to me if they decided to make trouble for me. It was only when I came out of the room that I began to slowly understand what had just happened. I just started to cry, I was terribly upset.”
The Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group told The New Paper that it advocates education and public support of breastfeeding, and does not condone the actions of anyone who would place a breastfeeding mother in such a compromising state where she feels criminalised for lactating or breastfeeding her baby.
Ms Jolene Tan, the head of advocacy and research at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), said the officer’s actions were disrespectful and unacceptable.
“It shows a lack of understanding of breastfeeding, and the reality that many women take a pump with them when the child is not there to keep the milk supply going,” she said. “There are many other ways to do it. Maybe the mother has photographs of her baby that the airport could check.”
Ms Tan said that even if the breast pump could pose a security threat, it did not justify the officer’s actions. “Concerns about security should not be used to bully or ridicule others,” she said.
How To Breeze Through Security If You’re Carrying A Breast Pump
While this mother’s experience was extreme and unwarranted, there are times when breastfeeding mums may be questioned by airport personnel when travelling without their babies.
Here are some precautions you can take when carrying a breast pump and milk on board flights.
Text: Felicia Choo/The Straits Times, Additional Reporting by Foo Jieying and Lisa Twang