Celebrating All Veterans: Breastfeeding in the Military
The military has long been a male-dominated institution, with traditions and spaces heavily weighted towards men. The number of women serving, however, is on the rise, and many of them are mothers. Women make up 15% of active-duty military personnel, 17% of active-duty officers, and 15% of enlisted personnel.
Recently, the military has introduced more family-friendly policies: in 2015 they opened all combat jobs to women for the first time. Then 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 military mothers are doing double duty by serving their country and nourishing their infants. But they're also educating coworkers, supervisors, and commanders about the benefits of breastfeeding, the logistics of pumping, and why they need appropriate lactation accommodations.
Information Is Key
Educating everyone in the military about breastfeeding--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, Breastfeeding In Combat Boots, an online one-stop resource center for moms in the military. 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’s goal is to raise awareness that breastfeeding can be successful for military moms, but 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 professionals to help answer questions.
Breastfeeding mothers also need a dedicated lactation space so that they 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 elaborate, but they do need to be private, comfortable, and available when mothers need them. A lactation room is an important amenity, but for facilities that lack the space or resources to build out a new lactation room, Mamava pods provide an all-in-one turnkey solution.