AirAsia adds shawl to uniform for breastfeeding mothers

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Most new mothers take a break at work to sit in a separate area when they need to pump. But how do flight attendants manage this? There is little privacy in a narrow airplane. AirAsia has come up with a solution. From now on, breastfeeding women at the Malaysian airline will receive a shawl as part of their uniform.

AirAsia adds shawl to uniform for breastfeeding mothers

You might wonder how a shawl can suddenly provide enough privacy for pumping. On Instagram, the airline shows in a video how the shawl can be used.

Although the woman in the video is sitting behind a curtain, the shawl offers the possibility to pump discreetly, for example, in a corner without a curtain. Women can drape it over their shoulders and fasten it with a snap button, allowing them to have their hands free.


AirAsia adds shawl to uniform for breastfeeding mothers

According to Intan Shahira Mohd Shahru, Chief People Officer at AirAsia, the shawl is part of a broader initiative.

“Women in operational roles face unique challenges. They have to work in shifts in an unconventional work environment. Adjusting to flight schedules while also managing the responsibilities of motherhood can significantly impact their well-being, especially for those who are still breastfeeding. Since last year, we have been exploring policies and practices that can facilitate their return to work.

This campaign is important for AirAsia to stand by our mothers and say that it is normal to be a working mother. It is also part of creating a safe and supportive work environment.”

The lack of privacy while pumping on an airplane is a problem for many new mothers. Sometimes, flight attendants take longer leave or choose only short flights for this reason. But not everyone can afford this. The leave is often unpaid, and short flights are less well-paid than long flights.


More breastfeeding mothers

Women who do choose to pump on board often face disapproving looks from both passengers and colleagues. If there is even time to pump, since the workforce at many airlines has shrunk since the pandemic. This leads to higher workloads and thus less time to pump.

Research by the American Association of Flight Attendants found that 88% did not have enough time to pump between flights. Additionally, 85% did not have a separate place to do so, other than the toilet. However, toilets are often cramped and are considered unsuitable for hygienic and spatial reasons. Washing and sterilizing the parts was also a challenge. In 60% of cases, there was no space for this, and 20% had no place to store the milk. As a result, three-quarters of the women had to stop pumping early. The rest resigned.

At the end of 2022, a law was passed requiring all American companies to provide a separate space for pumping. There must also be space to store the milk. Employers must offer this for at least one year after childbirth. Unfortunately, cockpit crew are excluded from this. Thanks to Airlines for America, pilots and flight attendants are not entitled to this. According to the lobbying group, breaks for pumping pose a risk to flight safety.


Why a shawl for breastfeeding mothers

I have always been puzzled by the controversy surrounding mothers who breastfeed. Why would you make a problem out of something that probably also raised you? It is one of the reasons we exist. We live in a world where the sexualization of women (even at AirAsia) has gone too far. So far that even the natural feeding of a baby must be kept secret because it comes from a woman’s breast.

If a flight attendant wants to do this, she should be able to choose. An employer should not dictate what kind of nutrition a woman gives her child through a policy. I think the shawl from AirAsia is a good initiative. It shows that they are aware of what women go through. Whether there is space or not, pumping in the air is, of course, no fun. But an employer who considers this makes it a bit easier.



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