Breastfeeding in the Military
Sgt Leah Bailey
Fort Leonard Wood MO USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 2, March-April 2006, p. 60
I am a breastfeeding mother, a member of La Leche League, and on active duty in the US Air Force. Before my son, Eliot, was born, I was determined to breastfeed, regardless of my working situation, but I was not sure how exactly I could make it happen. I knew of only a couple of other active duty mothers who had nursed their babies and pumped at work. They had breastfed their children for up to six months. My goal was similar: I would nurse my son for at least six months, and I hoped I could continue for a year. I purchased a double electric pump and found a place to use it at work. After I gave birth, the Air Force gave me six weeks of maternity leave and I took two additional weeks on top of that. We needed that time to establish a good nursing relationship because breastfeeding got off to a rough start for us. I was committed to giving Eliot only my milk, but it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. With my local La Leche League Leader's help, I was able to get past sore and cracked nipples, poor latch-on, and mastitis. By the time I went back to work, Eliot was breastfeeding like a champ!
Going back to work was a heartbreaking and emotional time. It was so tough to leave my son every day, but I had signed a contract, and I was obligated to fulfill it. One regulation in my favor was that after the delivery, the Air Force gives new mothers six months recovery time and stabilization: so I knew that I could breastfeed and not worry about deployment for that six-month period. Unfortunately, that is all the time we get. So, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a mother breastfeed for at least the child's first year, a mother in the military can't be guaranteed that time. Luckily, the Air Force and my immediate supervisors have been very supportive of my breastfeeding. My husband is a stay-at-home dad and is able to bring Eliot to me to nurse during my lunch. I have been provided with a room to breastfeed in and both Eliot and my husband are always welcome. I have been able to pump on my breaks and, when our schedule permits, I attend La Leche League meetings on post. The meetings are very refreshing and they encourage me to continue to provide my son with the best nutrition and nurturing possible.
I realize that my situation is somewhat unique, and for that, I am grateful. Breastfeeding has been everything I have hoped for and more. One of my favorite benefits of breastfeeding is that even after a 12-hour day, I can take my son into my arms, put him at the breast, and all that time just melts away. There is no better way to reconnect and stay attached. My son and I are fortunate that we have been able to maintain our nursing relationship for over 16 months now with no temporary separations or deployments, and I hope that we can continue until he weans naturally.