Jenna Elfman Part II: Hospital Booby Traps, the TSA, and Nursing in Public

Best for Babes’ latest Champion for Moms, actress Jenna Elfman, shares Part II of her exclusive breastfeeding story with us, candidly recounting her “run-in” with the TSA over breastmilk screening and other adventures of nursing in public (NIP).  She shares the sweet triumph of  beating the booby traps™ with her second son, Easton, and road-maps for other moms what it took to get there, especially overcoming hospital obstacles.  (Read Part I to hear Jenna’s amazing story of donating her pumped breastmilk to save a severely ill baby, and how she herself overcame barriers— Jenna’s story struck a high note with moms who could relate to her struggle, and can help others avoid common pitfalls.)  Don’t forget to check out our helpful tips and resources at the end of the interview!  

BfB:   Jenna, your story will go so far and we are so grateful to you . . . you are a perfect example of what can go wrong,  and how badly it can go wrong  . . . and yet you fixed it yourself, with Easton!  Moms really need to be on guard about the breastfeeding booby traps™, because most moms want to breastfeed but are not making it through the first few weeks breastfeeding exclusively.[1] 

Jenna:  My birth class spent about 30 seconds on breastfeeding.   I tell every pregnant woman who is planning on breastfeeding “Great, now you need to read Breastfeeding Made Simple [2] and take a class where you actually learn.”  Trying to learn a whole new subject when you have a brand new baby in your arms and you are sleep deprived and hormonal, it’s nearly impossible .[3]  I also recommend the baby-led breastfeeding video[4].   A doula[5] gave it to me and I had no idea, I didn’t know that babies could do that, find their own way to the breast right after birth!    If moms know how important the right latch is, and letting the baby lead, that’s key.   That bottom jaw was the kicker for me, the nurse kept saying “up and over”, and it didn’t make sense until I knew that the bottom jaw was the working jaw and shouldn’t be on the nipple.[6]   

BfB:  And nobody in the hospital could help you get the right latch?  

Jenna:  No.   And I had lactation specialists come see me after both babies were born.  I don’t know if it was my state of mind because I was tired and hormonal, or if it was their teaching ability, but it was like listening to the grown-ups on Peanuts  . . . “wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah”.  With both lactation specialists at the hospital, I can honestly not tell you one thing they said to me.[7]    

BfB:  Some of the so-called “lactation specialists” in the hospital don’t actually have nearly enough training . . . not enough of them are International Board Certified Lactation Counselors, or IBCLCs.  

Jenna:  And frankly, they couldn’t spend more than a few minutes with me.  

BfB:   That’s a common problem, and one of the reasons we talk about the hospital booby trap so much.   Not enough hospitals have strong breastfeeding protocol and trained staff in place . . .  the CDC found that MOST hospitals in the U.S. score a D on breastfeeding support! [8]    So too often, we’re trying to educate moms about breastfeeding minutiae, when simply having more certified Baby-Friendly Hospitals in place would make the biggest difference.  We really can’t expect every mom to have a PhD in breastfeeding science.  

Jenna:  Yeah, they are not going to have the attention or interest to do that.  

BfB:   And we’d really love to see more moms have the experience with their first baby that you had with your second.  

Jenna:  Me too!  I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through the first time.  It was horrible!  

BfB:  What did you love most about breastfeeding?  

Jenna:  My favorite thing with Easton was laying down and feeding him.  I always thought that had to be one of the most glorious things ever, and I never got to do it with Story, because of the difficulty latching.   So when I did it with Easton, we napped together, and it was so rewarding.  

BfB:  You tweeted famously that that your breastmilk was vapor tested by the airport TSA officials.  

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Jenna:  Yeah, without asking me!  I walked over and they had the breastmilk bottle open, with the vapor thing over it!  They are not supposed to do that.  They are supposed to tell you and ask you and walk you through it.   I got mad.  I walked over and said “That’s breastmilk” and she was very defensive.   I found the whole thing very offensive.[9]    

BfB:  You’ve been named to various “Best-dressed” lists.  What are your breastfeeding style must-haves?   

Jenna:  I made do with the clothes I had.   I like things that unbutton or unsnap, so I did buy a couple of shirts that unsnap so I could just pop it open.  I was also a big fan of the Elle McPherson nursing bra.  

BfB:  You tweeted:  “Boy, trying to nurse your infant in public, especially when you’re ‘famous’, is AWKWARD!”  Has it gotten easier?   What made you feel more comfortable?  

Jenna: I never did too well with the nursing covers, they were just too hot and I would start sweating under them.  And Easton didn’t really like it.  I would just tuck a muslin into my bra and work it however I worked it, plus it felt a little more subtle than wearing a big colorful tent, which just made me uncomfortable. [10]  

 If I was on a park bench I would just face the other way.   If I was on a plane,  I would just say to the person next to me, “I have to feed my kid because I want his ears to pop, so if you don’t like it, look the other way.”    That time I had my breastmilk vapor-tested, I walked through security, and  saw a woman sitting down and nursing her baby, and I was so happy . . . all the TSA guys were right there, and I was like “You pull out that boob, and do it for everybody!”  

BfB:  Any other hurdles?   

Jenna:  Easton went through a bit of a phase . . . I was doing a lot of filming, so he was also getting a lot of breastmilk from bottles.  When he was 3 or 4 months, he went through a finicky phase where he didn’t want to nurse.   

BfB:  A nursing strike! [11]  

Jenna:  Yes he did.  And I was worried, and having flashbacks to Story, afraid that I’d have to exclusively pump.   I thought I had mastered this!  So I just did it more, without forcing him obviously, I presented him with more opportunities to breastfeed.  I also scaled back the bottles . . . I had gotten really busy, with travelling and filming.  When I did try to breastfeed him in public, it became a huge struggle.  So I was struggling, and then I was NOT comfortable . . . if my boob is out and the kid’s on it that’s fine, but if it’s out and I’m struggling with a flailing infant, and I’m starting to sweat, that’s not something I want to have happen in public.  So I didn’t nurse that much in public because I never knew how it was going to go.   

BfB:  Moms need to know about nursing strikes because it’s such a common refrain.    We often hear “my baby lost interest in breastfeeding” or “weaned himself”, when usually that’s not the case . . . if those mothers had gotten the right advice, they would have learned that babies don’t really wean themselves before a year, but they will go on nursing strikes to let you know something is going on, it happens sometimes but it’s not the end.  What did you do?  

Jenna:  I would try to see when he would nurse, what were the circumstances that were more favorable to him?  Easton had gotten where he liked to nurse laying down.   So I thought great, I’ll take a little time out and lay down on the bed with him, just to get him reacquainted, and more willing to nurse from the breast more often.   

BfB:  You’re a smart mama!  

Jenna:  Now he’s totally fine with breastfeeding again.  He’s humongous and he’s awesome.  

BfB:  Do you have a top amazing moment?  

 Jenna:  I do remember a time when I was home, sitting in my chair with him, and it was around the time when he was starting to self latch.  I remember he went right on.  I was sitting around talking with my girlfriends, and then he pulled off and looked at me.  I looked down at him and he just gave me this huge grin, and then he went back on to the boob and kept nursing.    I was just so content and happy, I had no pain, and it was everything I had wanted to have with Story, but didn’t.  It was that “win” . . . that moment of having that “win” with breastfeeding.  I have this happy, healthy chubby baby that just gave me a huge grin while nursing.  

BfB:  He was saying thank you!  

Jenna:  Totally!  

BfB:  What do you think will help more moms succeed at breastfeeding?  

Jenna:  I think it’s education, and enlightenment.   Women are an awesome, awesome species.  If we’re given the education, and the facts, innately as a mother we know what to do.  But if you don’t have the facts, then you don’t know what to do, as with anything.   

 BfB: We couldn’t agree more, or have said it more beautifully.  Thank you, Jenna, for sharing your story, your insights, and your lessons-learned with us so that more moms will be enlightened and be better prepared to avoid and beat the booby traps!   


[1]   The sad news is that while initiation rates are up, most moms give up within days or weeks because of the breastfeeding booby traps™ –the cultural and institutional barriers they face:  86% want to breastfeed, 75% begin breastfeeding, but only 13%  make it to the recommended six month exclusive mark.   For more on how to Avoid and Beat the Booby Traps™ see BFB’s Help for Expecting Moms.    

[2] Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett.  

[3] Not all breastfeeding classes are good, and classes at hospitals with low breastfeeding rates are a Booby Trap! To find a class that’s up-to-snuff, get a recommendation from: a successful breastfeeding mom, a La Leche League leader (find one at www.llli.org), an excellent International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, www.ilca.org, a breastfeeding-friendly doctor, a “store front” birth/breastfeeding education center, a reputable childbirth educator, or doula (birthing or postpartum coach) in your area (see note below).     

[4] Yes!  Healthy newborns can actually crawl to the breast and latch on all by themselves!  Watching this amazing feat will boost your confidence oodles, and hit home the point that the less we interfere with babies’ (and moms’) innate programming –  by facilitating skin-to-skin and a first latch soon after birth, delaying  cleaning and routine tests, not separating the duo — the easier “next stop the boob” becomes!  Check out the video Initation of Breastfeeding by Breast Crawl.  For more on how to get breastfeeding off to a great start see Getting Your Best Breastfeeding Game On.     

[5] A “doula” is a birth (or postpartpum) coach whose assistance is proven to result in a better birth and early mothering experience: births with fewer interventions, complications and c-sections, better breastfeeding, and a more empowered sense of being able to mother a newborn.  To find a doula near you go to DONA.   

[6] Many moms have never seen a baby breastfeeding  up close – another Booby Trap.  Your best bet is to watch another mother nurse at a support group like a La Leche League meeting, but there are also excellent videos on Youtube and on DrJackNewman.com.       

[7] Two common booby traps that befall millions of moms:  1) regarding breastfeeding as an “after-birth” issue and saving the planning and learning for it until then; and 2) expecting hospital staff to be true experts on whom you can rely to get you off to a good start.  For more on how to Avoid and Beat the Booby Traps™ see BFB’s Help for Expecting Moms  and our Ultimate Breastfeeding Checklist.  

[8] The CDC Report Card on the quality of hospital breastfeeding support gives most U.S. birthing facilities  a score of  65 out of 100 – or a D. Only 3.8% of US hospitals and birthing centers follow steps proven to provide moms and babies with proper breastfeeding care.  These hospitals have achieved the coveted designation “Baby-Friendly.”     

[9]  TSA rules permit alternate screening of breastmilk because the effects of X-ray screening are unclear.   TSA Agents have reportedly failed to a follow their own rules in the handling of pumped milk, resulting in allegations of unfair treatment, detainment, and harassment. Earlier this year, the TSA targeted a breastfeeding mom, detaining her for over an hour and harassing and humiliating her. See SustainableMothering.com by Jake Marcus, JD (also Senior Editor at Mothering magazine) and The Stir by Christie Haskell.       

[10] Negative attitudes towards nursing in public can be a major Booby Trap and an unfair burden on moms.  See BFB’s Help for Expecting Moms.  BFB’s goal is to create a cultural zone of comfort for all new moms. A must-read is Phdinparenting.com’s 50 Reasons for Breastfeeding Anytime, Anywhere.  

[11] Nursing Strikes are when a baby suddenly appears to lose interest in nursing  because of a physical or emotional change, i.e., a stuffy nose, sore gums from teething, a change in mom’s supply, a developmental spurt causing easy distraction.  Self-weaning occurs over time, and rarely happens in a baby under the age of one (or even two). With a little bit of wooing and patient understanding, most babies come back to their most-favorite and profitable pastime within several days.  La Leche League offers great help on this subject.



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3 Responses to Jenna Elfman Part II: Hospital Booby Traps, the TSA, and Nursing in Public

  1. MomAgain@40 says:

    What a great inspirational story! I wish I had known more about the booby traps, but glad that I persevered. My toddler is nearly two, and breastfeeding is still one of the most rewarding things for me to be able to share it with her. It is different breastfeeding now, than when she was small. We have a whole conversation going while she is latched, with sometimes saying a word, or looking into my eyes. Nowadays the doll sometimes has to “nurse” from the other breast… :D

  2. Alicia Love says:

    I love this! I was able to breastfeed my first son until he was 16 months old and am currently breastfeeding my second son (5 months old). Breastfeeding in public is the most difficult part – between trying to find a comfortable position to the stares! But I wouldn’t trade a millisecond of it ever! :)

  3. Megan says:

    I loved this. It made me teary because I had a similar experience, my baby would unlatch, look up at me and smile so contently, and then just go right back to breastfeeding. Such tender memories.

    It’s so refreshing to read about a celebrity talking to candidly about breastfeeding, instead of the usual you hear about celebrities giving birth — you know, losing weight amazingly fast afterwards or a tummy tuck right after a c-section. Thank you, Jenna.

    Celebrity or not, breast is best!!

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