New mom Kristen Hilderman was breastfeeding her 5-month-old son Caleb aboard a United Airlines flight from Houston to Vancouver on Sunday when a male flight attendant approached her row.
As she recounted in a tweet about the incident, the flight attendant named Keith asked Hilderman's husband if they were together, and after he answered in the affirmative, she says Keith "tossed a blanket at him ... and said tersely, 'Then HERE, help her out.'"
Humiliated, the mom says she asked the flight attendant multiple times, “Help me out with what?”’ But she claims he persistently ignored her. Another passenger called out, “Because you’re breastfeeding … he wants you to cover up. That is so offensive."
Hilderman told the Huffington Post that she was happy with the "swift and positive response" from her fellow passengers. "I was relieved to see that the people around weren't bothered by me breastfeeding, in fact, most didn't even know until the flight attendant called attention to it."
Here is her full account of what happened:
"I felt embarrassed and self-conscious, like I was doing something wrong by feeding my baby without putting a blanket over his head," Hilderman told The Huffington Post, adding that she never had any negative experiences breastfeeding her baby in public before this incident.
Hilderman shared her story on Twitter the following night to get the airline's attention. "I think that if we don't speak out about experiences like this, they're just going to keep happening," she explained. "I hope that from this, other women won't experience similar situations and that they will feel comfortable feeding their babies in public."
The mom's tweet has over 1,700 retweets to date. Hilderman was overwhelmed but pleased by the response from the online community. "I'm glad that it's receiving so much support and that there's a conversation going on about a woman's right to breastfeed her baby in public," she said.
As her tweet gained more and more traction, United responded on Twitter on Monday, and a representative for the airline later called Hilderman to apologize.
A spokesperson for the airline confirmed to The Huffington Post that United did in fact issue an apology to Hilderman and added, "United welcomes nursing mothers on board and we ask that crew members do their best to ensure their comfort and safety as they do with all customers."
As for Hilderman, she's happy to contribute to the conversation about public breastfeeding her story prompted. "Saying that women should 'cover up' is simplifying the issue here," she said. "First off, it's not that easy ... my lively 5-month-old will rip off a blanket or stop feeding and start shoving it in his mouth. He doesn't want his face covered while eating any more than you or I would, he's still a human being."
"And secondly," she continued, "What are people so afraid of? Are they worried about the idea that they might possibly see a part of my nipple if they stare directly at me while my baby latches on?"