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TSA asked to allow breast milk on airlines

In a hotel room far from her baby boy, Spokane mother Justine Maebius did the unthinkable: She pumped milk from her breasts – and then she poured it down the sink.

The 37-year-old genetic counselor would have liked to preserve the precious fluid to feed 4 ½-month-old Colter, but she knew that new airline security rules wouldn’t let her carry breast milk on the plane without her baby.

“I just wound up not saving it,” she said. “For those who are pumping, it’s just awful. It is a terrible thing to have to pump and dump.”

Across the country, other nursing mothers agree. Spokane residents are among some 2,200 people nationwide who are petitioning the federal Transportation Security Administration to relax rules that ban bottled milk in carry-on luggage unless the baby is on board.

“They’re not really seeing that breast milk is different than formula,” said Jesse Rattan, the Atlanta woman who crafted the online petition. “It’s a life-supporting bodily fluid for babies.”

Since August, when a terror attack foiled in London prompted restrictions on creams, gels and liquids that can be carried on airplanes, nursing mothers traveling without babies have been forced to place bottled milk in checked bags – or to discard it.

The Spokane International Airport hasn’t removed any breast milk, said Jim Spinden, the new TSA federal security director who arrived Oct. 1. But Spinden said the rule is in place for a reason.

“I don’t know how to address the concern that some women have who want to pump on the go,” Spinden said.

A terrorist would not hesitate to pose as a new mother and carry liquid explosives on board a plane, he said.

“We allow baby food and formula,” he said. “But you’ve got to have an infant.”

Babies shouldn’t pay the price of increased security, said Rattan, a 40-year-old CARE worker who breast-feeds her 10-month-old daughter, Emerson. When she travels to India for 10 days next month, Rattan would like to be able to pump 25 to 30 ounces of breast milk a day and then bring it back in her carry-on luggage.

If she has to, she’ll check the milk, but Rattan worries that the perishable liquid won’t be handled carefully – or that it might not arrive at all.

Apparently, she’s not alone. More than 2,200 people have signed the Internet petition Rattan posted less than a week ago, including a couple dozen from Washington and two from Spokane.

“I had 1,000 in three days,” she said.

The Spokane women who signed the petition didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Rattan would like to elicit the support of breast-feeding advocacy groups before she presents the petition to TSA officials.

Some groups are considering it, said Karen Querna, a Spokane woman who is on the board of directors for the United States Lactation Consultants Association.

Across the country, about 3 million babies start nursing each year. In the Inland Northwest, about 85 percent of the 8,000 babies born in the region begin breast-feeding.

Maintaining breast-feeding for the full year recommended by pediatricians and government groups can be difficult, especially for working mothers and those who have to travel, Querna said.

The TSA ruling may be just another obstacle.

“For people that are totally committed to their baby receiving strictly breast milk, that would probably force them to make a different choice, if they couldn’t bring all their milk back,” Querna said.

She understands there are serious security concerns but believes that babies’ needs should come first.

“When TSA understands how much milk a woman can make on a flight, a lactating breast might be considered a deadly weapon,” she joked.

For TSA officials such as Spinden, it’s no joking matter.

“On 9/11, we lost a lot of our liberties,” he said. “Our way of life changed. There are people in this world who want to hurt us.”

Meanwhile, mothers like Maebius are coping creatively with the ban. On a recent business trip to Louisiana, she realized that her son required more milk than she’d left behind.

Pumping more milk wasn’t a problem – getting it to Colter quickly was. So Maebius wound up going to a seafood house to find ice and packaging.

“When I got to the shipping place, the man said, ‘You tourists always want to ship shrimp and sausage back home,’ ” Maebius said. “When I told him it was milk, he gave me the box for free.”


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