Mission Accomplished: How One National Guard Unit Supports Breastfeeding
In 2016, the Department of Defense lifted all gender-based restrictions on military service and, as a result, women now make up 15% of active-duty military personnel. At the 179th Airlift Wing, a unit of the Ohio Air National Guard, women account for more than 20% of Airmen (the term used to refer to anyone of this rank, regardless of gender). And many of these women are breastfeeding moms who now have an advocate in Master Sgt. Cortney Fleming.
Be a champion for moms
Master Sgt. Cortney Fleming, a Munitions Specialist at the 179th Airlift Wing, knows firsthand how hard it is to be a breastfeeding mom in the Air National Guard. She first joined the 179th Airlift Wing as a new mom and had to pump in the bathroom on base. Her breastfeeding pumping “tour” didn’t last forever—but it did made a lasting impact. She continued to notice breastfeeding moms pumping milk in bathrooms.
“I’d see extension cords running from across the counter and into the shower stalls so moms could have privacy” said Fleming.
Fleming, who’d moved up the ranks, made it her mission to advocate for the moms serving below her and improve conditions for the next generation of breastfeeding Airmen.
“It was important for me to speak up for other women Airmen when it comes to having a respectable place to provide food for their babies,” said Fleming.
Educate the leadership team
“It’s very important that we show our people that we care about them and their quality of life here and abroad,” says Fleming, underscoring that the Air National Guard is committed to supporting its ranks.
Her leadership team simply wasn’t aware that breastfeeding Airmen were hiding in bathrooms to prepare food for their babies. “How would they know?” she says.
Fleming drafted a proposal for providing dedicated lactation spaces on base. Her commanders were supportive and she was able to secure funding through a grant for workplace innovation.
Pave the way for more dignified lactation spaces
The 179th Airlift Wing purchased two freestanding Mamava lactation pods for their breastfeeding Airmen. Of the two pods, one is located on the base and the other is located with the 200th REDHORSE Squadron.
“[Our unit] is very forward-thinking and inclusion is important to us,” says Fleming, “We’re not afraid of change.” The 179th Airlift Wing’s leadership in lactation space accommodations is driving more change—by inspiring other Air National Guard units to do more to support their breastfeeding airmen.
“Everyone is recognizing that if a woman wants to provide milk for her baby, then she should have the opportunity to do so in a respectable, private place,” says Fleming.
Note from The 179th Airlift Wing: “We value and know that the Airmen that make up the organization are the most valuable assets we have. Making strides to increase the quality of life by thinking outside the box with new, innovative ideas, takes care of the Airmen and helps ensure the mission can be accomplished. “