Why a Challenge Coin for breastfeeding in the military? Because breastfeeding while serving in the armed forces is tough with multiple challenges to overcome and breastfeeding rates have been shown to increase when mothers feel supported. A Challenge Coin signifies accomplishment and provides a tangible piece of evidence for a job well done. As a US Navy veteran who breastfed while on active duty, I launched a very successful Kickstarter Project to create a Challenge Coin to honor and celebrate the wonderful achievement of giving the breast for baby and country. The coin is designed for all mothers who have breastfed while serving in the military (whether on active duty, the Guard, Reserves or Veteran).
Breastfeeding in the Military is Challenging
Breastfeeding has many well-known health benefits for both mother and baby, however making it work while serving in the military is a challenge due to many factors such as long hours, deployments and separations. Add to that the challenge of finding a place to pump (hangar bay, back of a C-17, HUMVEE, tent in a field) and a time to pump (between flights, rounds of qualifying at the range, Airborne school) is it any wonder that most mothers in the military quit before their 6 weeks of convalescent leave is over? These and other challenges such as physical training and weight standard requirements, co-worker harassment, lack of command support, child care issues and pumping in uniform make it very difficult to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months as the AAP recommends. While the services, with the exception of the Army, all have breastfeeding policies in place, current breastfeeding rates for the military range from 18-39% at 6 weeks depending on branch of service, with fewer than 14% making it to 6 months and only 3% making it to 12 months of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is Successful with Support
With all the challenges listed above, how are breastfeeding mothers in the military able to be successful? It is through information, but more importantly, support. Women, civilian and military alike, who are given support while breastfeeding continue to breastfeed for longer periods of time. Support can come in many forms: in person at meetings, on the phone, via text or email, through lactation policies at the workplace, from friends and partners. For military women, support from co-workers and their command are integral to their success. As an example, Aviano Air Base in Italy has a breastfeeding support group that is open to military women, and every year during World Breastfeeding Week, they honor all the mothers who have breastfed exclusively for 6 months or more with a Challenge Coin. La Leche League of Ft. Belvoir in Virginia also honors military mothers with a Challenge Coin for breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months. The mothers who have been honored in this way say that it makes all the difference knowing that they are supported in their efforts, and the daily reminder of seeing that little coin makes all the hard work and challenges worth it. Other mothers say that knowing they would get a Coin at 6 months is what kept them going through the rough patches.
History of the Challenge Coin
Challenge Coins are a special tradition within the military and date as far back as the Roman empire. They are used as a form of recognition for a “job well done” or to acknowledge service and appreciation. Coins are collected and valued for their uniqueness and the prestige of the organization they represent. Traditionally, they are given to prove membership when challenged and to enhance morale. In practice, challenge coins are normally presented by unit commanders in recognition of special achievement by a member of the unit. They are also exchanged in recognition of visits to an organization. Challenge Coins come in nearly every shape and size, most commonly they are round or oblong in shape, to make them easy to carry. What makes each coin unique is the distinctive design of the unit’s insignia and motto. Coins given as awards for accomplishments are normally given to the recipient during a handshake, passing from the right hand of the giver to the right hand of the awardee. It is also normal for the giver to offer a brief explanation of the reason for awarding the coin.
In addition, the tradition of a ‘Coin Check’ is the most common way to ensure that members are carrying their unit’s coin. The Challenge begins with one person loudly rapping or slapping their coin on a table or bar. Everyone else must produce their coin immediately, anyone failing to do so must buy a round of drinks for everyone present. If everyone has a coin, the Challenger buys a round for the group.
The Breastfeeding in Combat Boots Challenge Coin
The coin is 1.75″ with the front of the coin showing 2 mothers, one officer and one enlisted, breastfeeding their babies, with the 5 branches of the military on a white field, surrounded by the words “Giving the Breast for Baby and Country” on a green field.
The back of the coin shows a pair of combat boots and the slogan “Protect, Promote and Support” on a white field, surrounded by the words “Breastfeeding in Combat Boots”.
The officer and enlisted mothers represent the breastfeeding mothers of ALL ranks within the military who have the common goal of providing breastmilk to their babies.
The boots represent the hard work of providing breastmilk through deployments, separations, and long work days away from one’s baby.
The color pink represents breastfeeding.
The color green represents the military.
The color gold represents the ‘Gold Standard’ of breastfeeding.
What better way to support every mother who is successful at breastfeeding in the military than by giving her a Challenge Coin. They face unimaginable challenges everyday to provide their milk to their babies. The support, as small as it may seem, of a Challenge Coin to remind them of their successes against those challenges is huge. I forsee a future when breastfeeding mothers are sitting in a lactation room at their command, pumping milk for their babies, and one pulls out a BFinCB Challenge Coin. Instead of a Coin Check however, the others each recount the Challenges they faced breastfeeding while serving in the military, and how they overcame them with information and support. Or they talk about when and where they received the Coin, how long they have been breastfeeding, and offer each other the support that only comes from someone who has been there, done that. Either way, the Challenge Coin represents a tangible piece of support for a job well done and Challenges overcome!
You can order a Challenge Coin for yourself, or in Bulk quantities for giving out at your Command, via PayPal or Square at the STORE page.