A Retired Military Member -- and Mom -- Questions the Breastfeeding in Uniform Controversy

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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.

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