A Retired Military Member -- and Mom -- Questions the Breastfeeding in Uniform Controversy
I am a retired United States Navy Corpsman. I am a mother. I had my children while I was on Active Duty in the Navy. I did try to breastfeed my children, however, I was physically unable to produce enough milk to nourish my children. Even with medication to increase my milk supply. I was devastated, but I decided that I would give my babies the milk that I could and I pumped for 9 months post delivery of each of my babes.
I remember telling this story to my friend Robyn Roche-Paull when I was visiting her at her home a few years ago. This was when she was writing her book Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, which she has since published. Robyn is an expert in all things that have to do with breastfeeding, and instead of me listing her many, many credentials, just feel free to check out her website!
Robyn is intelligent and kind. She is wonderful and beautiful. She is my friend. So I feel a strong need to support her! Why would I need to publicly support my friend?& Well, it is because she deeply believes in a cause. The right of all women to be able to breastfeed their children without limitations. She is an amazing advocate for military women and breastfeeding (hence her book) and wrote a blog post on May 21st that started a firestorm.
The photo on her blog (which she used with permission from the photographer AND the women in the photos by the way) went viral, and brought on many many positive comments, and unfortunately also brought out some not so complimentary comments as well.
I think one of the things that troubles me the most is that people who are getting in such an uproar over whether or not breastfeeding in uniform is a good idea or not have skewed the original intent of these photos, the photographer and the military women in the photos. Let's recap:
1) These women started a group on their Air Force base that was allowed by their local commanders to support breastfeeding women. They call themselves Mom2mom Breastfeeding support group. Their intent was to do a photo shoot to be used to raise awareness of breastfeeding during August which is National Breastfeeding month. August was established as Breastfeeding support month in August 2011. "On August 6, 2011, USBC (United States Breastfeeding Committee) officially declared that August is National Breastfeeding Month, at a Community Baby Shower event hosted by Howard University Hospital and the DC Breastfeeding Coalition. " You can read their proclamation here. So these women decided to work with photographer Brynja Sigurdardottir to photograph them with their babies. The photos show the women breastfeeding in uniform as well as in civilian clothes. You can see all the photos on the photographer's website.
2) The military supports mothers breastfeeding their children. The Navy even allows for a 12 month non-deployment status for nursing mothers.
3) These women did this to raise awareness for breastfeeding. A healthier way to feed children then bottle feeding. Women have been nursing children for hundreds, even thousands of years... what is the problem anyway? This is a natural thing. The purpose of the female breast is to feed offspring. Nothing more
The women who founded Mom2Mom need to be supported and applauded, not chastised and ridiculed!
Robyn posted about the issue of nursing while in uniform and how there is no specific regulation that discusses the specific topic of breastfeeding while in uniform. The photo that caused the outcry of support and dissent was:
Photo Credit: Brynja Photography.
I want to add that the wonderful military women in this photo have been asked by their commanders not to talk to the press anymore. There was even an official comment made by an Air Force spokesman that the women violated rules by promoting a "cause" in uniform. Since when is breastfeeding a cause?
I will readily admit that I am not an expert of the regulations of all the services, but I am pretty well versed on the US Navy regulations that pertain to breastfeeding and pregnancy. In fact OPNAVINST 6000.1C states that "requests to breastfeed infants during duty hours should be handled on a case-by-case basis."
However, when Robyn wrote her post she received over 570 comments, and many of them were an outcry to women being "out of uniform" to nurse. Quite a few military women said they supported the right to nurse in uniform, but argued that it should be done in "private," not in public. I suppose what these naysayers forgot was that this was a staged photo done by a photographer. These women were NOT, let me say it again, were NOT sitting on a bench in the middle of the base nursing their babies in uniform. I daresay, if they were to nurse in public, they would probably use a nursing cover up. I have to admit I have seen many women nursing in public, yet I have rarely if ever seen a mother nursing in public without a light cover up, even if it is a nursing top with well concealed buttons for discreet nursing.
AND, even if they were nursing with no cover up, what is the big deal? Even my son, "The Genius" who is 12, has seen a mostly exposed breast in PG-13 movies. Breasts are not mysterious things. They all pretty much look the same, except for size and skin color. I have to admit in my 46 years, every breast I have seen, (in locker rooms, while seeing patients, in movies, etc etc etc) all have the same basic shape. The problem, friends, is not that these women are breastfeeding, or even that they are breastfeeding in uniform. The PROBLEM is public attitude about breasts. We see breasts as sexual objects, not as nourishment for babies. Look at the outrage regarding the Time magazine cover photo of a woman with a toddler standing on a stool to latch on to her breast.
If that same toddler was latched onto her knee would it have garnered the same outrage? What if he wasn't so tall? What if it was a girl toddler? What if the mom were a little less "photogenic"? A little heavier, or more harried and tired looking, with rollers in her hair? What upsets people about this photo is their own sexual ideas. Don't think for a second the details (boy child, tall boy child, young beautiful mother) escaped the publishers of Time magazine. DUH
I have an idea...
The military has already had the great sense to modify uniforms for women while they are pregnant. They are called maternity uniforms. Navy women even receive an allowance for the first set in the first pregnancy. In the US Navy, women are allowed to wear their maternity uniform after delivery: (quoted from US Navy Uniform Regulations, Chapter 6)
"Certified maternity uniforms are mandatory for all pregnant women in the Navy when a uniform is prescribed, and regular uniforms no longer fit. Personnel are expected to wear regular uniforms upon return from convalescent leave, however, commanding officers may approve the wear of maternity uniforms up to six months from the date of delivery based on medical officer diagnosis/recommendation."
So here is my CRAZY idea: why not modify the uniform shirt to allow for nursing. You know, buttons to allow for access to breasts, and let women wear them post delivery? I know crazy, right? I mean, how crazy is it to modify a uniform already in issue that a woman can use to discreetly nurse her child? Navy policy provides for a 12 month non-deployment period to allow mothers to nurse their children. Navy workplaces are also supposed to provide lactation support and an opportunity for women to pump during on duty hours.
I think if we were to engage in a meaningful non-judgmental conversation about this topic, we would be able to come to some agreement with naysayers and breastfeeding advocates alike. The difficulty arises when either side refuses to hear what the other side has to say. Although I will say that the naysayers had many more disrespectful comments on Robyn's post that the supporters. For example:
"so it must be ok for you RACHEL to pee in public or are you mad becuse[sic] you cant. the subject it breast feeding so all you females than are for it in public take a picture of some kid sucking on your nipples and post them on u tube for all to see. we men dont[sic] want to see a kid that is old enought[sic] to drink out of a cup sucking on a breast, and dont[sic] say its ok to disgrace the american uniform . keep it button the pants and shirt line up hat on stright[sic] boots tided[sic] and looking and proper etiquette while in uniform.."
"I want all women to be able to breast feed in public it is a natural thing. Also natural is masturbation. I want to be able to masturbate while watching these women breast feed. Both natural things that should be allowed in public. Hundreds of beautiful women with their engorged breasts out feeding the hungry little babies while my penis is out being jerked mad in the hopes of a monumentous orgasm. All natural and out in the open."
Those and other comments like that are so disrespectful, and I am not sure they could ever be talked to with reason. Because they are the 3.
So Robyn Roche-Paull, you keep supporting women who choose to breastfeed. Nay, the women who have the right to breastfeed in private and public. In civilian clothes and a military uniform. And I will continue to support you!