What do you see when you look at this photo of 6 active duty women, representing the Air Force, Army, and Navy, breastfeeding their children on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC? Do you see six mothers who are able to combine the rigors and challenges of serving in the military with motherhood? Or do you see six mothers who are out of uniform and bringing disgrace upon the military? The gorgeous photo above, taken by Vanessa Simmons of Candid Perspective Photography as part of her Normalize Breastfeeding Tour, hopes to change that perception and make breastfeeding in the military just as normal as breastfeeding in any other profession.
Unfortunately in the male-dominated, war-fighting culture of the military, breastfeeding is not the norm and photos like the one above are very controversial. Rates for breastfeeding in the military lag far behind those of civilian moms, in part due to the challenges of finding a time and place to pump, but also due to the fact that active duty women don’t see other women in the military breastfeeding. It’s just not normal to see photos of women breastfeeding in uniform. The few that have been taken and shared publicy have caused massive controversy and reprimands for the individuals photographed.
But it’s important to continue sharing photos like these because we know, from numerous studies, that when women see other women breastfeeding they are more likely to start or continue breastfeeding. This is especially true in the military where many women don’t even begin breastfeeding because they don’t think they can be successful. Even with breastfeeding policies in place, and the newly implemented 12 weeks of maternity leave, moms in the military find it difficult to continue when faced with deployments, unsupportive supervisors, and harassment from co-workers.
Seeing photos like these in the media, of actual women serving in the military, wearing their uniforms while breastfeeding babies and toddlers successfully, has a two-fold purpose. It makes breastfeeding in the military commonplace and therefore less controversial. But more importantly it shows other moms and moms-to-be that they too can be successful.
Breastfeeding in Combat Boots (BFINCB) has been helping to normalize breastfeeding in the military for over 7 years now. From the beginning Robyn, a Navy veteran who breastfed while on active duty and now the Executive Director of BFINCB, has been advocating, informing, and supporting breastfeeding mothers in the military. Through her efforts via the book and this website, the Facebook Page and Instagram account, speaking at various military installations worldwide, and the creation of the non-profit, thousands of military women have been helped to be successful at breastfeeding. Robyn was thrilled to meet the active duty moms at this photo shoot, listen to their stories, offer encouragement, and give each of them a BFINCB Challenge Coin to acknowledge their success.
We encourage you to visit the Facebook page for support from fellow breastfeeding moms on active duty, in the Guard or Reserves. We also hope you’ll share your military brelfies (photos of you breastfeeding in uniform) so that we can continue to normalize breastfeeding in the military. Read more about this photo shoot, and the individual stories of each of the moms pictured, at the Normalize Breastfeeding blog.
Have you taken a photo while breastfeeding in uniform? Do you think it will help to normalize breastfeeding in the military? Or will it cause more backlash? Leave a comment below!