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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Uniform Behavior

Photo credit: Brynja SigurdardottirPhotography & Mom2Mom Breastfeeding Support Group Fairchild AFB
The United States Air Force does not endorse this photo, however permission was given to the individuals to have photographs taken while breastfeeding in their uniform.

I must admit this photo is controversial, and I am not certain about my feelings concerning this issue. Why? Motherhood and military service hold very special places in our hearts. We do not wish to do anything to undermine the sanctity of either. Change always brings certain conflicts, and we must attempt to resolve any issues with utmost concern for all. Today, I wish to present the photo, post pros and cons and let you contemplate whether women should breastfeed in uniform.

Do you believe it is wonderful to see two military mothers breastfeeding their children (one a toddler and the other a set of twins) in public, or is it disgraceful that they would be breastfeeding their children in public while in uniform?

At this point in time, no policies or regulations permit or deny a mother’s right to breastfeed in uniform. The decision is left to the mercy of whoever is in charge at the base clinic, hospital, post exchange or child development center. But, U.S. law states that a woman may breastfeed her child in any federal building or on federal property

Consider the following information taken from the blog "Breastfeeding In Combat Boots." The entire entry is here:

Against Breastfeeding In Uniform

* There is no way, discreet or not, that one can maintain a professional military bearing while nursing in uniform. Period.

* According to a National Guard spokesperson: "military regulations prohibit the use of the uniform, title, rank or military affiliation to further a cause, promote a product or imply an endorsement…for example, military members may not wear their uniform to a political rally, a protest or to sell a product."

* Breastfeeding an infant automatically makes the woman "out-of-uniform." This is particularly true if she uses any type of blanket or covering thrown over the baby to "hide" the actual act of breastfeeding, or "hikes" up her shirt, or unbuttons her overblouse to breastfeed.

* Breastfeeding a baby in uniform undermines authority because the act is very nurturing and feminine. Others who serve should not openly "see" a person in uniform in the capacity of being a mother.

* Breastfeeding in uniform is akin to PDA, and regulations state people are not allowed to hold hands or kiss in uniform except during homecomings and deployments.

In Favor of Breastfeeding In Uniform

* A "stigma" surrounds any woman who chooses to breastfeed in public, and the perceived sexualization/sexual act that must be happening.

* Breastmilk is, by far, the best nourishment, and straight from the breast is so much better for both mother and baby. 

* By breastfeeding, the military mother is helping her command, and by extension, the military, as it reduces her baby’s illnesses and thereby her need to take time off.

* For mothers who are struggling with milk supply issues, it can be a death-blow to her supply to ask her to give a bottle when instead she could be boosting her supply by breastfeeding at the breast. Not only will she have to use up some of her precious stockpile of milk, but she will then have to pump to make for the missed breastfeeding session. The very arguments used against breastfeeding apply to bottle-feeding: both require the mother to be "out of uniform," both show affection (PDA) and nurturing, and both are "unprofessional."

* The lack of policies or regulations that permit or deny a mother’s right to breastfeed in uniform is a major deterrent for many women considering whether or not they even want to attempt to breastfeed when they return to duty at 6 weeks.

* A mother may stay in the military longer rather than getting out if she feels supported and not stigmatized. Making her feel badly about breastfeeding in uniform, or worse yet, writing her up for it will make her second guess her commitment to staying in. 

Closing Remarks

It wasn’t until the 1980s that it became the norm for women to remain in the military after their pregnancies, and soon maternity uniforms were added to the line.

Might it be time to create a regulation, nursing-friendly t-shirt, and maybe a camo print drape to make it easier to breastfeed in uniform?

What is the answer? I hope you struggle with this issue and submit the best possible compromise for the solution. Certainly we need both breastfeeding mothers and a strong, respected, modern military.

Whether or not to breastfeed in uniform? Could the real issue here be whether or not to take photos of mothers breastfeeding their children and posting the photos while using the uniforms to promote an issue? And, even if these women did, is that wrong when a cause is just? Help, please.
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