Photo credit: Tonya Ritter Photography
This Veterans Day we honor all those who’ve served our country. We also want to recognize all the breastfeeding mothers in the military who are doing double duty by serving their country and nourishing their infants. The military has come a long way in recent years to introduce more family-friendly policies: in 2015 they opened all combat jobs to women for the first time in American history and in 2016 the Pentagon extended paid maternity leave to 12 weeks for all branches of the military. And now all five branches of the military are making sure breastfeeding mothers have dedicated lactation spaces.
Breastfeeding mothers need a lot of information and a lot of support, but breastfeeding mothers in the military may need even more. Historically male-dominated, the military’s traditions and spaces are also heavily weighted towards men. So for the increasing number of military mothers, breastfeeding can also mean educating coworkers, supervisors, and commanders about the benefits of breastfeeding, the logistics of breast pumping, and why breastfeeding women need a private place to pump.
Information Is Key
Educating everyone about breastfeeding in the military--from the moms to their commanders--is the goal of Robyn Roche-Paull, BSN, RNC-MNN, IBCLC, and author of Breastfeeding in Combat Boots. Robyn also runs the website, Breastfeeding In Combat Boots, as a one-stop resource center for moms in the military, complete with downloadable resources for new moms and healthcare providers. You can find Breastfeeding in Combat Boots on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Mamava is a huge fan of Robyn’s work and we reached out to her to find out more about her mission:
“We need to normalize breastfeeding in the military which is why I post photos of moms in uniform breastfeeding or pumping. So many women in the military work in male-dominated fields where they might be the only woman in a 100 men and she may never see another woman in uniform breastfeeding or pumping. But if she sees a photo of a mom in uniform who just successfully made it 6 months of the breastfeeding, maybe she thinks, “I can do that too.”
Robyn encourages breastfeeding moms to post and share “brelfies” to help spread the message that breastfeeding moms are everywhere and to raise awareness that breastfeeding can be successful for military moms, but that they need the support of everyone around them. More information about military breastfeeding support groups can be found here, with additional resources available on Mom2MomGlobal's website.
Support = Community + Lactation Spaces
Two kinds of support are essential to help mothers meet their breastfeeding goals. First, they need an informed community that understands and appreciates what they’re doing. Madigan Army Medical Center now has a “Breastfeeding Buddies” group to make sure the mothers can share experiences and questions. The group also includes medical appointments and information for newborn infants so the support group has both communal support and medical professionals to help answer questions.
But breastfeeding mothers also need a very specific kind of support and that’s a dedicated lactation space so that mothers can pump milk when they’re away from their infant. Pumping gives mothers the ability to maintain their milk supply and meet the recommendations put forward by both the The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization to exclusively breastfeed for at least the first six months (and beyond if possible).
Lactation spaces don’t need to be fancy or elaborate, but they do need to be private, comfortable, and available when mothers need them (while individual pumping schedules may vary, every pumping mother needs a space she can count on multiple times a day). A lactation room is a wonderful amenity, but for locations or facilities that lack the space or resources to build out a new room designed to support breast pumping, Mamava has invented a smart turnkey solution. And now, as part of their growing commitment to supporting families, all five branches of the military have Mamava pods for their service members!