Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates *Should* Say to Military Moms

Used with permission.
Used with permission.

1. “You can do it!”
While we shouldn’t assume every mom can breastfeed, being positive and encouraging  with our fellow mamas is awesome. Support and positive affirmations can give a much-needed boost to an expecting mama’s confidence and that’s a great thing!  We just need to be mindful that sometimes positive thoughts and will to succeed won’t enable a mom to nurse her baby.  Military moms need to hear that they CAN breastfeed while serving their country.  This simply isn’t said enough.  Far too many active duty military moms are led to believe that it simply isn’t possible to breastfeed while serving their country and so they don’t even start.  Encourage the active duty moms you work with, help them to brainstorm ways to find the time and place to pump, and let them know that except for some unusual situations…they CAN DO IT!!

2.  ”Use a cover if that’s your personal preference for NIP (Nursing In Public).”
This is a very divisive issue in the “lactivist” community. On the one hand, using covers can send the message that breastfeeding is something that should be concealed.  That adds stigma to nursing in public, no doubt, and can be a way to shame moms. Commitment to the idea that a nursing mom should not use a cover can’t interfere with actual breastfeeding, though. If a mom prefers to use a cover when she breastfeeds, she’s breastfeeding.  Encouraging her no matter how she chooses to do it is really important.  This is tough one for active duty moms in the military as nursing covers aren’t standard issue uniform items and by using one they can be considered ‘out-of-uniform’.  But at the same time AD moms have been told that they cannot breastfeed in uniform and need to ‘cover-up’ or move to a private area.  Keep in mind too that some uniforms are more breastfeeding-friendly than others…AD moms need to be free to do what they feel comfortable with and what their command allows.

3.  ”You can have a drink or two and you probably don’t have to ‘pump & dump.’”
The facts on this one are clear: if a mom wants to have an alcoholic drink or two, that’s compatible with breastfeeding. If she’s not comfortable and doesn’t want to, that’s okay, too. Most of the time, it’s not necessary to “pump & dump,” either. Alcohol metabolizes out of breastmilk the same way it metabolizes out of blood, so as mom becomes sober, so does her milk.  Milk expressed *while* mom is inebriated should be discarded and moms should pump if they’re missing nursing sessions while they’re away from baby.  We all like to relax with a beer or two, especially after a long, hard day at work…and never is this more true than in the military.  Yes, if Mom wants to have a beer or two (and she is not on duty) she should feel free to do so.  But she needs to be wise and not over do it.  This isn’t the time for her to down a six-pack by herself.  If she is too drunk to drive, she is too drunk to take care of her baby. Period.

4. “You need to supplement? These are the options.”
If a mom is saying she needs to supplement,  giving her ALL the options are key; not just the ones we want her to use.  That means discussing milk banks, milk sharing, maybe even wet-nursing, AND formula. Because as much as we want all moms to have access to breastmilk for their babies, not all of them will (or will want to).  Accepting choices for supplementation that aren’t aligned with what we would personally do comes along with offering any advice in the first place. (And of course, if you suspect a mom might not need to supplement, you can always back into the conversation about her reasons for thinking she needs to — after you give her the info she asked for on supplementation.) Not all moms in the military have the time and place to pump their milk while on duty, or they simply can’t pump enough milk no matter how many times they pump or what kind of pump they have.  Some AD moms have to supplement, and they deserve to know about ALL their options, including using formula if need be.  It isn’t all or nothing.  If she is giving her baby some breastmilk, like at night and on weekends, but supplements with formula while at work…and that is what works for her, then great!  She is doing her best and deserves nothing but the best information about how to supplement safely.

5. “Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s not always easy.”
Giving moms a realistic picture of the learning curve of breastfeeding is important.  Because we’ve lost a generation of breastfeeding moms, we haven’t grown up seeing it. We don’t know how it works.  So giving moms a realistic take on what it will be like is key, and it sets the expectation that they’ll need to prepare for breastfeeding (take a class, see a mom breastfeed in person, read a book, watch a movie -anything that prepares her to be successful at nursing her baby).  She should know that there are Booby Traps out there before any of them are staring her in the face. Don’t sugar coat the realities of breastfeeding in the military.  It is NOT going to be easy, and anyone who says otherwise is blowing sunshine up the wazoo.  Breastfeeding in the military carries it’s own unique challenges and military moms deserve to know what they are facing BEFORE they begin their journey.  Supply them with the facts, good and bad, and then offer plenty of ways to make it work for their situation.   

6. “You don’t want to breastfeed? That’s okay.”
I know some of you are cringing right now. But hear me out: meeting moms where they are means we’re going to meet a lot of them in that exact place. We live in a formula-dominated culture and a lot of moms expect to use it; they are uncomfortable with the idea of breastfeeding and they might not want to. (Ask me, I was one of them!)  Bringing a mom who’s on the fence to a place where she actually wants to try breastfeeding means honestly accepting her thoughts and feelings on the subject – whatever they may be – and moving on from there.  There are many moms on active duty that simply do not want to breastfeed, for whatever reason (they know it simply isn’t possible with their workplace/schedule/deployment) and they deserve nothing less than our acceptance of that fact.  No need to browbeat them, or grill them as to why they won’t even consider it.  Meet them where they are and who knows…maybe with the next baby they will remember back to how nice that IBCLC or La Leche League leader was and they will go on to breastfeed because their circumstances have changed AND they felt accepted.

7. “You want to breastfeed? Here are some resources.”
Encouragement will only take us so far and awesome resources need to pick up where that leaves off. When an expecting mom shares that she’s going to breastfeed, it’s good to have a few resources to offer: a great book or website on breastfeeding (like Best for Babes), the local La Leche League chapter info, etc.  Having the number of a local IBCLC is great, too!  I can’t stress this one highly enough…send military moms to resources that speak to the challenges that she is facing.  It does no good to send her to a group composed of stay-at-home moms or CEO’s.  She needs military-specific resources.  Many LLL groups are on or near military bases and the Leaders are familiar with military resources.  New Parent Support teams can be a good resource as well.  And of course, the book “Breastfeeding in Combat Boots” was written specifically for breastfeeding mothers in all branches of the military.

8. “ANY amount of breastfeeding is fantastic!”
We aren’t doing ourselves any favors by setting the bar impossibly high. For some moms, exclusive breastfeeding is something that circumstances might not allow. In those instances, encouraging moms for the breastfeeding they are doing is key. Second-guessing them, judging them: these negative reactions are going to discourage mom. Could she be doing more to be exclusively nursing? Maybe, but tread lightly: answering “I breastfeed and supplement” with “Here’s how to breastfeed MORE!” leaves mom feeling like she’s not doing a good enough job.  Instead, answering with encouragement and then giving her more info on how to nurse more if she wants it, is the way to go.  YES, YES, YES!!  I’ve said it before…breastfeeding in the military is NOT ‘all-or-nothing’.  Any amount of breastfeeding that an active duty mother can manage is wonderful and she needs to be commended and praised for that.  For some moms in the military breastfeeding in the evenings and weekends may be all she can do, while others can pump out 5 ounces at a time without batting an eyelash.  Help her to set reasonable goals (1 week, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months…) as she meets them she will be more inclined to set another and then another.  Before you know it she will have gone beyond what she ever thought possible.  And don’t forget the praise!

9. “You used formula? That’s okay.
I can already see the fingers hitting the keyboard to tell me that’s most certainly not okay. Again, bear with me: If we can’t accept what a mom has already done, we’re not helping her. If she’s used formula, it’s done.  Giving her the space to talk about that freely and without judgment is the biggest favor we can do for her. If a mom has used formula in the past and we slap her with a knee-jerk judgment at the word ‘formula,’ we close the door to any further conversation (like how she might breastfeed her next baby, if she’s interested in discussing it). We don’t necessarily have to condone it, but at least meeting sans judgment is a must.  This goes along with the post above actually, and continues with my mantra that breastfeeding in the military is not ‘all-or-nothing’.  While any amount of breastfeeding is fine, on the flip side…any amount of formula needs to be fine too.  If that is what she needs to do to tide her baby through the day, and you’ve discussed all the many ways to increase her milk supply and it simply isn’t working, then so be it.  She has to use formula, and it is NOT the end of the world.  Meet her where she is and she will be more likely to listen to you now, and in the future.

10. “I am proud that I breastfed my child.”
Breastfeeding is an amazing thing!  Mamas should own their successes and be proud of them. It’s an accomplishment and it’s okay to talk about it! Sharing our successes is one way to let moms who are on the fence know that this can be done. Like any other accomplishment, there are tactful and acceptable ways to brag on the wonderful thing we’ve done by breastfeeding.  It’s a feather in the cap of motherhood; not a parenting trump card.  Active duty moms who have breastfed while serving their country certainly deserve to be proud of their accomplishment!  It is one of the hardest things to do, combining military service with breastfeeding, and anyone who has done it successfully knows how challenging it is!  So go on, be proud, but spread some of that hard-earned knowledge to the moms that are coming up in the ranks behind her, so that they too can be successful.  You might hand her a Challenge Coin as a tangible piece of support for a job well done too.  

I want to thank Amy West for allowing me to repost her blog post, “Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates SHOULD Say” with my own comments on how military mothers are particularly affected by these types of statements.  My comments are in bolded italics after each statement.

Is there anything else you would add?  What helped you to be successful?  What do you want to hear from breastfeeding advocates?  Leave a comment below.  And check out the post, Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates Should *Stop* Saying to Military Moms.




4 Responses to Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates *Should* Say to Military Moms

  1. Does anyone know if Active Duty service members are protected under the Affordable Care Act, or is it only for civilians?
    The Affordable Care Act, signed into law on March 23, 2010, amends section 7 of the Fair labor Standards Act “to require employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk. Employers are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

  2. Robyn,
    This is an amazing amount of wonderful information. As always you prove without a doubt why you are regarded as “THE” expert on Breastfeeding for military personnel! I always learn something from you, and although my time as a breastfeeding mom is long past, I take your words of wisdom to heart and pass them along to young mothers/pregnant women I meet!

  3. I would also like to know if service members are protected under that law. Trying to pump standing up in a crowded bathroom is awkward and simply uncomfortable. I nursed my daughter today with a nursing cover in uniform. Was I in regs? Probably not. But I am willing to stand up for my right to breastfeed!

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