Robyn Roche-Paull has authored Breastfeeding in Combat Boots: A Survival Guide to Successful Breastfeeding While Serving in the Military. While written primarily for active duty military breastfeeding mothers, Breastfeeding in Combat Boots contains practical information to help all mothers who must be separated from their babies—especially those in non-traditional workplaces such as police, firefighting, construction— overcome the Booby Traps™ that are present. The author has included numerous true-life stories from mothers currently or formerly breastfeeding while serving in the military. The book also contains numerous appendices that include hand-outs and sample pumping plans. To learn more, visit www.breastfeedingincombatboots.com.
When I work with mothers that are serving in the military, I hear time after time about the many Booby Traps ™ that they face from the moment the pregnancy test comes back positive to when they finally ‘hang up the horns’ from pumping. Some of these Booby Traps ™ are what any employed mother might face, but others are definitely unique to the military culture or other non-traditional workplaces such as police, firefighting, construction, airline pilot, or long distance trucking, just to name a few. In this blog I am going to talk about a few of the more ‘common’ Booby Traps ™ that can trip up even the most diehard and gung-ho of military mothers (and others) including:
- Time to Pump – From working the flight schedule, either as ground crew or as a pilot, or as an air traffic controller with a console that must be monitored nonstop; mothers in the military face the hardships of not having time to pump or not being able to pump on a steady schedule.
- Place to Pump – Mothers in military find themselves in some pretty unique situations ranging from pumping in the back of an aircraft, or under a poncho while on the firing range, to shipping milk home from the sands of Afghanistan. Creativity becomes paramount in finding suitable places to pump with a modicum of privacy!
- Hazardous Materials exposure – Some mothers face the added dangers and stress of having to work around or with hazardous materials such as JP-8, oils, solvents, paints and more in order to fulfill their job duties.
- Deployments – Deployments lasting from a few days to 12 months or more are the name of the game while serving in the armed forces and can mean the difference between premature weaning or not.
- Supervisor/Co-Worker/Rank Issues – Unsupportive supervisors, co-workers who harass and feel that the breastfeeding mother is getting something ‘special’ when requesting time to pump, and rank issues between enlisted and officer all can combine to make breastfeeding in the military difficult to say the least.
- Uniforms – Not only is breastfeeding or pumping nearly impossible in certain uniforms, there also aren’t any regulations governing whether a mom is even allowed to breastfeed or pump while in uniform.
So given these seemingly insurmountable Booby Traps ™, how do mothers go on to be successful at breastfeeding? More importantly, how can you overcome these and other Booby Traps ™ so that you too can breastfeed your baby for as long you desire? The key lies in attitude, information and support. Your attitude is probably the biggest determinant of your success at breastfeeding in the military. In story after story that I hear from breastfeeding mothers around the world and in all branches of the military, the theme that comes up over and over is ATTITUDE. All of the mothers I have spoken with have had the attitude that breastfeeding was just going to work, period. They also have a gung-ho, can-do spirit and a good dose of perseverance to boot. There was no trying, or thoughts that it might not work out. These moms went into it believing in themselves, their babies and their breasts. As one mother wrote “My biggest advice to anyone wondering if they’ll succeed at breastfeeding in the military is: DO NOT TRY. Just DO. You WILL breastfeed. Do not allow yourself an alternative. That is not to say it’ll be easy or that you will never give your baby any formula. You can always adjust your goal. However, make it a goal you WILL keep. I WILL breastfeed for 3 months or 6 months or a year…”
As with most things related to breastfeeding, having the proper information allows you to make good choices and plan ahead. While it is vital to your success to know the basics of breastfeeding and pumping, it is more important to know the regulations and policies of your service or workplace regarding breastfeeding and pumping. Have a plan written up before you speak with your supervisor or HR personnel, including when, where and how often you’ll need to pump. Know whom you need to talk to…who are the ‘gatekeepers’ at your workplace? Do you need to speak with the Training Officer or Logistics Officer, what about your Occupational Health representative if you’ll be working around HAZMAT? Speak with your immediate supervisor or other gatekeepers BEFORE the birth of your baby. Being an informed mother regarding your rights as a breastfeeding mother in the military can go along way towards making breastfeeding a success for you.
Last but certainly not least is lining up your support even before the baby arrives. Call on your local IBCLC or La Leche League Leader for information on the basics of breastfeeding and any problems that might crop up. Attend breastfeeding classes on base, and check out your local New Parent Support Team. Talk with the baby’s father about his role in breastfeeding, he’ll be your biggest support after the baby is born! Speak with co-workers and friends that have successfully breastfed while on active duty and think about starting or joining an active duty breastfeeding support group such as the Mom2Mom groups available on some Army bases. Above all don’t be afraid to ask for help, the military is a 24/7 job and so too is breastfeeding. We all need a helping hand and some encouragement to keep going when the going gets tough.
A few other tips to remember when breastfeeding in the military or other non-traditional job field include:
- Your milk supply is dependent on how often milk is removed from your breasts, whether it is by a pump or your baby. You should aim for at least 8 pumping sessions or breastfeeding sessions (or any combination thereof) in a 24 hour time period. Remember the saying “You must REMOVE milk to MAKE milk”. Whether that means you can only pump twice while at work and your baby reverse-cycle feeds and you manage 6-7 nursing sessions during your off-hours; or you can pump 4 times during the day and breastfeed 4 more time while at home, you need to aim for 8 in 24, if at all possible.
- Your pump is vitally important to the success of your breastfeeding career. If you don’t have a high quality, reliable pump your milk supply may falter due to the pump not being effective or pumping may be painful for you. Do yourself a favor and spend the money on a new double-electric pump from a reputable manufacturer (and preferably one that abides by the WHO code). Ameda and Hygiea both make excellent pumps for military working mothers that are WHO code compliant.
- HAND EXPRESSION! Please learn hand expression...you never know when the power might go out, you’re sent on an unexpected overnight TDY, a pump piece breaks or what-have-you. It happens and knowing how to hand express will keep your milk supply intact and your milk flowing until you can get back home or the power returns. Mothers have also found that hand expression combined with using a pump yields more milk.
- When at work give bottles, when at home give the breast. Breastfeeding is about more that just the milk, by using bottles ONLY while at work, you put the BREAST back in breastfeeding and help to cement that wonderful bond between you and your baby. It also helps to keep your milk supply up as your baby is the best pump available, and the skin contact and snuggling with your baby boosts your milk-making hormones too.
- Consider co-sleeping and reverse-cycle feeding to boost your milk supply. It’s a well-known fact that mothers whose babies breastfeed during the nighttime hours have increased milk supplies due to the higher levels of prolactin (the milk making hormone) during the night hours. By allowing your baby to sleep near or with you, you can more easily facilitate breastfeeding during those precious night hours. Babies may take matters into their own hands by reverse-cycle feeding, that is breastfeeding heavily during the night hours and sleeping a lot during the day, which also means you don’t need to provide as much breastmilk for the daycare the next day!
- Remember that it is NOT all or nothing! Whatever amount of breastmilk, for whatever amount of time, that you can provide to your baby is wonderful. While we would all love to give 100% of our breastmilk, 100% of the time…sometimes and in some situations it just isn’t possible. Do the best you can for your baby, no one else has to walk in your boots!
Give yourself a big OORAH for breastfeeding, no matter if it’s 6 weeks, 6 months or 2 years! Breastfeeding in the military is not an easy task to accomplish, and any amount you can give your baby is to be celebrated. Remember, you are giving the breast for baby and country!
Robyn Roche-Paull, IBCLC, LLL Leader is the Author of Breastfeeding in Combat Boots and Founder of the companion website www.breastfeedingincombatboots.com. In her practice she primarily helps military mothers balance returning to active duty while continuing to breastfeed. Robyn is not only an advocate for active duty military mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding with military service, she is also a US Navy Veteran who successfully breastfed her son for over a year while on active duty as an aircraft mechanic. She is the mother of 3 long-term breastfed children now 15, 12 and 8, and wife of 17 years to her husband, a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy. Visit her at www.breastfeedingincombatboots.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/breastfeedingincombatboots, you can also follow her on Twitter at BFinCB.