The professor who breast-fed while teaching: Inappropriate?

A professor's decision to nurse her baby while lecturing her students has re-ignited the "lactivism" debate. Were her actions understandable or unprofessional?

Adrienne Pine, an Assistant Professor at American University
(Image credit: Courtesy American University)

On the first day of her "Sex, Gender Culture" class, American University Assistant Professor Adrienne Pine found herself in a conundrum when her baby awoke with a fever. Unable to drop the infant off at daycare, Pine brought her to class and began to lecture, keeping an eye on the baby as she crawled on the floor; at one point, a teaching assistant held and rocked the baby. But then the baby grew "restless." Pine chose to breastfeed the baby while continuing to lecture, until her offspring fell asleep. Though Pine saw the situation as a non-issue, AU's student newspaper tried to interview her on the "incident" — and the controversy has grown exponentially from there. Facing public scrutiny, Pine has published a defense, declaring “whether it is private or public has no bearing on whether I would choose to feed a hungry child.” But critics have argued that her actions were inappropriate and unprofessional. Did Pine cross a line, or did the college-aged students overreact to a non-incident?

Pine was making the best out of a bad situation: This is yet another disheartening example of how society "expects women, especially highly educated and ambitious women, to breast-feed, but forbids them to do so while pursuing their ambitions," says Amanda Marcotte at Slate. Pine was in a bind that should "draw sympathy from those who aren't inclined to immediately think the worst of women." She could stay home with her sick baby and risk her chances at tenure, or bring her sick baby to class. The controversy over her decision only proves "the underlying anxieties about sex and gender" in American society.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up
To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us