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Mom of triplets thanks Delta Air Lines: A victory for breastfeeding?

A mother of triplets thanks Delta Air Lines for accommodating her breastfeeding needs. Is this a sign of a societal shift toward nursing mothers? 

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Camie Goldhammer, chairman of the Native American Breastfeeding Coalition, holds her daughter Johanna, 6 months, after testifying before the Seattle City Council April 9, 2012. Legislation defending a mother's right to breastfeed is one part of a national shift in favor of breastfeeding.

Elaine Thompson/AP

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A mother of triplets has called out a company over breastfeeding, but this time it was to thank Delta Air Lines flight attendants for consideration. Is this another sign that years of debate are shifting American society in favor of nursing? 

Jenna Mde posted on Facebook after two flights in which Delta flight attendants relocated her to an empty first-class seat so she could breast-pump in comfort:

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"They offered me snacks and provided TONS of water during my pumping session," Ms. Mde wrote in a post with over 48,000 likes. "I am incredibly grateful for the lengths these individuals took to make my role as momma much easier and impressed by the advocacy this company has provided for breast-feeding and pumping."

Delta previously had a mixed record on breastmilk, as a mother in December posted an angry letter on Facebook because flight staff would not allow her to bring breastmilk onto the plane because it was packed in dry ice. In this case, however, a Delta representative contacted Mde on Monday and asked for her flight information so the flight attendants could be thanked personally, Fox News reported. 

Delta's response may indicate a shift toward welcoming breastfeeding, as American society grows more supportive of a practice that was once discouraged by the medical community.  

"This is starting to penetrate the public’s mind, and mothers are starting to understand that this is not a choice between Coke or Pepsi," says Marsha Walker, an advocate with the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy and trained nurse, in a phone interview.

The shift began in the medical community, she says. When Ms. Walker attended nursing school, she heard "not one word" about breastfeeding; now pediatricians and nurses receive training and information on helping new mothers learn how to breastfeed. The science, Walker says, has shown dramatic decreases in money spent on healthcare, even into middle age, for people who breastfed as babies. 

For many mothers, however, friends trump science, and Walker says the shift trickled into social norms when the Internet provided a wealth of information. Not everything online points women in the direction of breastfeeding, but through blogs and social media, women could join an online community of other mothers who are learning to breastfeed at the same time as they are.  

Social media has hosted numerous breastfeeding debates, but there, too, the tide has turned. Facebook's policy of removing nude photos originally included breastfeeding mothers, but after protests, hashtags, and en masse postings of breastfeeding photos, Facebook changed its policy in June 2014 and will review such photos only if users complain, Caitlyn Dewey wrote for the Washington Post. 

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Among new moms, the "tipping point" toward breastfeeding is past, as 77 percent of mothers initiate breastfeeding at birth, according to the Center for Disease Control. Airports in New York and New Jersey now have designated nursing stations so women can breastfeed their babies in private, reported The Christian Science Monitor.

But some barriers to the practice remain as many women in lower-income communities in large cities, and some in the southern US states, likely never saw breastfeeding mothers and may not view nursing as a part of child-rearing. 

Where women lack social support, professional lactation consultants can guide new mothers through the sometimes tricky starting process, but insurance does not usually cover such services. Mothers who must return to work weeks after giving birth can also face barriers to establishing breastfeeding habits. One force for education is Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which distributes baby formula, but also educates women who need help with breastfeeding.

The shift can also be measured by state law, as 49 states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing a mother to breastfeed anywhere she legally is, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. If it were truly the norm, however, a Facebook post from a mother of triplets would not go viral.  

Attitudes about breastfeeding in public have come a long way in the US. The 2014 Lansinoh Global Breastfeeding survey revealed a wide range of views among women in Brazil, China, France, Germany, Hungary, Mexico, Turkey, the UK and the US. One of the survey questions asked if breastfeeding in public is: embarrassing, perfectly natural, unavoidable, or wrong. 

In the US, 57 percent said it was "perfectly natural," while 18 percent called it embarrassing. But French women still have a problem with it. Some 41 percent of women in France called it "embarrassing" and only 35 percent said it was "perfectly natural."

"If it were a normal part of everyday life [the controversy] wouldn’t even be worth talking about," Walker says.