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Military mom 'proud' of breast-feeding in uniform, despite criticism. Your thoughts?

Posted by on May. 31, 2012 at 8:43 AM
  • 11 Replies

Brynja Sigurdardottir

Military mamas breast-feed with pride. A photo shoot at an Air Force base, intended to raise awareness about breast-feeding, has stirred up controversy.

By Pamela Sitt

Is breast-feeding while in uniform conduct unbecoming to a military mom?

The debate over nursing in public got a new layer recently, when photos taken on an Air Force base began to circulate online. In the series of tasteful professional photos showing beaming moms as they nurse their kids, one jumps out: the photo of two servicewomen with their uniform shirts unbuttoned and hiked up to breast-feed.

"A lot of people are saying it's a disgrace to the uniform. They're comparing it to urinating and defecating [while in uniform]," says Crystal Scott, a military spouse who started Mom2Mom in January as a breast-feeding support group for military moms and "anyone related to the base" at Fairchild AFB outside Spokane, Wash. "It's extremely upsetting. Defecating in public is illegal. Breast-feeding is not."

It was Scott's idea to ask photographer Brynja Sigurdardottir to take photos of real-life breast-feeding moms to create posters for National Breastfeeding Awareness Month in August. One of the moms photographed in uniform, Terran Echegoyen-McCabe, breast-feeds her 10-month-old twin girls on her lunch breaks during drill weekends as a member of the Air National Guard.

"I have breast-fed in our lobby, in my car, in the park ... and I pump, usually in the locker room," she says. "I'm proud to be wearing a uniform while breast-feeding. I'm proud of the photo and I hope it encourages other women to know they can breast-feed whether they're active duty, guard or civilian."

She said she's surprised by the reaction to the photos, which also feature her friend Christina Luna, because it never occurred to her that breast-feeding in uniform would cause such a stir.

"There isn't a policy saying we can or cannot breast-feed in uniform," Echegoyen-McCabe says. "I think it's something that every military mom who is breast-feeding has done. ... I think we do need to be able to breast-feed in uniform and be protected."

The Air Force has no policy specifically addressing breast-feeding in uniform, according to Air Force spokesperson Captain Rose Richeson, who added, "Airmen should be mindful of their dress and appearance and present a professional image at all times while in uniform."

Brynja Sigurdardottir

Terran Echegoyen-McCabe, left, and Christina Luna breast-feed their children. Terran says she's proud of the photo, though she didn't expect it to get such a reaction.

Robyn Roche-Paull has been advocating for such a policy since she left the U.S. Navy 15 years ago. Her challenges in breast-feeding her son while on active duty - she recalls her "flaming red face" upon being reprimanded for nursing in a medical waiting room - prompted her to write a book called "Breastfeeding in Combat Boots" as a resource for military moms. She is now an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant who remains close to the military through her active-duty husband and her blog for military moms.

"If you follow the comments on my blog, a lot of the comments are that the breast-feeding mothers are the ones who need to be covered up. Nobody sees anything wrong with bottle feeding mothers or fathers," she says. "Asking mothers to feed a baby by bottle when they are together, simply because they are in uniform, can both affect the mom's milk supply and her willingness to keep breast-feeding or stay in the military. It's simply one more barrier they have to face."

The criticism of the photo goes beyond the usual nursing-in-public debate, though. One commenter on Roche-Paull's website who identified herself as a retired captain in the Marine Corps said she advocated for breast-feeding moms in the military and now, as a civilian, she nurses freely on base. However, she writes:

"I would never nurse in uniform. I took my child to the bathroom or a private office when her nanny brought her to me .... Not because I was ashamed of nursing, nor of being a mother. All the guys knew I pumped. The military is not a civilian job. We go to combat and we make life or death decisions, and not just for ourselves but for those we lead. The same reason I would never nurse in uniform is the same reason I do not chew gum, or walk and talk on my cell phone, or even run into the store in my utility uniform. ... We are warfighting professionals. Women before us have worked too hard to earn and retain the respect of their male peers. I don't want my Marines to look at me any other way than as a Marine. When I am asking them to fly into combat with me and do a dangerous mission, I do not want them to have the mental image of a babe at my breast. I want them to only see me as a Marine. Let's be a realistic folks. We give up many freedoms being in the military...Breastfeeding in front of my fellow Marines was one of them."

Another commenter on the blog replies:

"There is N-O-T-H-I-N-G more authoritative than a strong mother standing tall breastfeeding as she barks orders. It's AWESOME that you've worked so hard promote breastfeeding, but I think you *might* be selling yourself short."

The women in the photo have given some thought to the whole question of military versus maternal duties. To those who believe breast-feeding in uniform undermines the authority of a female officer, Echegoyen-McCabe says:

"I guess my thoughts are, if you don't want to breast-feed in your uniform, you don't have to. But you should have respect for those who do. ... If anything, it should make people look at you as someone who is able to multitask."

by on May. 31, 2012 at 8:43 AM
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Replies (1-10):
by Ruby Member on May. 31, 2012 at 8:46 AM

If a mom wants to breastfeed her hungry baby, she should, no matter what

by on May. 31, 2012 at 8:48 AM
Anyone should be able to breat feed anywhere they need to.
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by Gold Member on May. 31, 2012 at 8:48 AM
This is the third or fourth post on this.
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by on May. 31, 2012 at 8:56 AM
I see nothing wrong with it. Some people need to take the stick out of their asses. Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing and natural.
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by on May. 31, 2012 at 9:02 AM

I think if you are a breast-feeding mom and in the military and I was when my son was born and for 6 months after he was born you have to be able to breast-feed in uniform unless they are going to let you where civilian clothes. I left work during the day and drove over to my day care providers home on base and breastfed - I also pumped in uniform at work in a conference room.

by on May. 31, 2012 at 9:12 AM

I see nothing wrong with it. I am in the military. I wasn't able to breastfeed, due to my daughter being born with a cleft lip and palate, but I applaud those who can. I even feel a little jealous, lol, but that is besides the point.

For those who look down on women, or think their authority is lower because of breastfeeding, they are just misguided and misinformed.

It's just something all women, or most, can do. It's a function of our body and babies need to eat. People need to stop being so prude about it and stop oversexualizing it and being over dramatic. It's boobs, we feed babies with them.

We also gain pleasure from them in other ways, but that doesnt mean breastfeeding is sexual. People need to seperate the two ideas.

by on May. 31, 2012 at 9:16 AM
I think they should stop using their position in the military to get attention and I hope these women are ready for the "attention" they will get from their command for these photos
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by on May. 31, 2012 at 9:24 AM
Ps I am all for bfing but i bf all my kids and i made it to 17mo with my dd. I'm just so sick of people making all this public and being attention whores about it
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by on May. 31, 2012 at 9:41 AM
I remember awhile back a pic of a military mom overseas pumping. That pic got no where near the controversy this has. They fight for thier rights so let them feed thier kids how they see fit.
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by on May. 31, 2012 at 9:45 AM

Military moms sacrifice a whole lot, from only getting 6 wks maternity leave to having to leave their newborns with someone else for most of the day. Its not like they can just switch jobs either or quit. And military kids can use all the extra bonding with mom and dad they can get, so if nursing on her breaks while in uniform helps keep them bonded, then good for them. The sad reality is this- at any time, those moms can deploy, and possible never make it home, so let them feed their babies while they can.

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