Breastfeeding Military Mothers Receive Criticism

military mother

Once again, women are divided in their opinions concerning breastfeeding. This time around, the debate has taken a new form: Is it appropriate for military mothers to publically breast-feed while in uniform?

Professional, tasteful photos were taken, on an Air Force base, of two servicewomen, shirts unbuttoned while they breast-fed, for posters that were being created for National Breastfeeding Awareness Month in August.

“‘A lot of people are saying it’s a disgrace to the uniform. They’re comparing it to urinating and defecating [while in uniform],’ says Crystal Scott, a military spouse who started Mom2Mom in January as a breast-feeding support group for military moms and ‘anyone related to the base’ at Fairchild AFB outside Spokane, Wash. ‘It’s extremely upsetting. Defecating in public is illegal. Breast-feeding is not.’”

A retired captain in the Marine Corps said,

“I would never nurse in uniform. I took my child to the bathroom or a private office when her nanny brought her to me … Not because I was ashamed of nursing, nor of being a mother. All the guys knew I pumped. The military is not a civilian job. We go to combat and we make life or death decisions, and not just for ourselves but for those we lead. The same reason I would never nurse in uniform is the same reason I do not chew gum, walk and talk on my cell phone, or even run into the store in my utility uniform … We are warfighting professionals. Women before us have worked too hard to earn and retain the respect of their male peers. I don’t want my Marines to look at me any other way than as a Marine. When I am asking them to fly into combat with me and do a dangerous mission, I do not want them to have the mental image of a babe at my breast. I want them to only see me as a Marine.” 

Really? Have we taken feminism so far that we can’t even publically show signs of being a woman? If you are at war and you give an order to a man, and instead of following your orders, he stares at your breasts and imagines a baby nursing, we have much bigger issues to address here.

Instead, I choose to agree with another blogger’s comments:

“There is N-O-T-H-I-N-G more authoritative than a strong mother standing tall breastfeeding as she barks orders. It’s AWESOME that you’ve worked so hard to promote breastfeeding, but I think you *might* be selling yourself short.”

I think you can be a Marine and a woman with breasts. Women have breasts. Breasts produce milk. We need to stop over-sexualizing breastfeeding! I think you can be a nursing mother and an authoritative figure in the military too, without compromising your authority. Public breastfeeding, while in uniform, should not be compared to defecating in public!

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Breastfeeding Military Mothers Receive Criticism

Kimberly Shannon is a wife, a mother, an editor, a writer ... She is always working to find the perfect balance¹! After Kimberly received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism, she worked on two master’s degree programs (Creative Writing, and Marriage and Family Therapy). At various times in her life she has signed up to study Naturopathy, only to back out at the last minute, and humored the idea of returning full-time to the world of dance. Kimberly has also started 10 different children ... More

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151 comments

  1. Anna says:

    I completely agree with the captain sited in this article. I gave birth to a healthy baby girl while serving in the Navy. I breast fed and supplemented with formula because I couldn’t produce enough milk to keep up with my hungry little girl. When I was at work, I pumped and was provided a clean environment in which to do so. I understand that breast is best and don’t think it makes me weak at all. With a 2nd baby on the way I also plan to breast feed and hope not to need to supplement. I think women should be able to feed their children in the manner they choose. I personally plan to use a cover because I would feel too exposed without it.

    That being said, when you are in uniform. You are in UNIFORM. It is a standard, not a choice. I wasn’t allowed to go outside without a hat on, much less without a shirt on. It isn’t a question of taste or propriety or rights. Servicemen and women volunteered to perform their duty. They rose their right hand and took an oath of office. When you sign on the dotted line, you are agreeing to relinquish your civilian rights and adhere to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That includes maintaining the uniform standard.

    Generations of women worked very hard and made difficult sacrafices for our right to wear a military uniform, to perform the duties that are required when you put that uniform on, and to be respected while we perform those duties. A large portion of those sacrifices are made by the family. Being out of uniform in any manner, is to me, disrecpectful to the uniform, and disrespectful to the women and families who have made sacrifices to uphold the standards of their post.

  2. Melross83 says:

    First of all, the very first paragraph of this article states that these women were posing for a tasteful poster. That this was meant as part of a awareness campaign creates BY the air force. I can guarantee that these women do not have time to actually breastfeed their children in uniform. Most of the time their children are in some sort of child care and they are probably pumping behind closed doors, so lets not get all crazy stating that these women are “disgracing the uniform” or “wrong for not covering up” This was meant as a specific advertisement for a specific purpose. I can PROMISE you, that these women are not actually nursing in public…the uniforms are a pain in the butt to get in and out of in the first place let alone to just try and feed a baby lol. I was lucky enough that I didn’t have my little one until AFTER my time in was over. I will tell you cover or no cover I still get questions and dirty looks out in public. I think its ridiculous for someone to compare feeding a baby to going to the bathroom in public…really? Whoever said that is an idiot and probably doesn’t even have kids to begin with. Or their just a miserable person. As for soldiers viewing you as weak because you breastfeed…come on…really? If your leadership is in question because of THAT then there are issues with your leadership style that goes far and beyond this issue, and maybe you should start looking in the mirror to figure out what ELSE you are doing wrong. MY soldiers wouldn’t have EVER questioned my orders regardless because they KNEW better. I think people really need to start minding their own business on this issue. Women are so adamant about equality and rights, and yada yada but then we are the worst ones for tearing each other to pieces.

  3. Summer says:

    It is crazy to me that something that is how we are meant to feed our babies (regardless of what you choose to do, formula is NOT natural and your breast ARE made to feed babies, even if you choose not to) is looked down on. Really? We can’t just think it’s amazing that these women can be moms and in the military? However, I dont necessarily think that she needs to strip out of her uniform either. The issue with that is more how strict the uniform guidelines are, bot really about breast feeding as a lot of things are not allowed. This situation though I think was specifically to raise awareness for breastfeeding, not that these women do this every day.

  4. Dj says:

    Like anything else, be respectful. Cover up. It’s not hard and if people did we would have less problems. Do you realize how many conversations are up asking what is the “right” way. My baby is a year and a half I still feed her anywhere. I cover up to not only avoid conflict, but to keep our unique bound. Why would anyone want to share that?

  5. Jennifer says:

    First and foremost to every military mom on here thank you for what you do. When it comes to breast feeding, do what makes you comfortable. Breast feed in private or wherever you wish. Be proud that you are taking care of your baby and of your service. You are amazing and strong. Thank you.

  6. Mindy says:

    Women have breast Men have breast too and males can lactate. Males have more protein in their breast milk than females even if she is producing milk for a male child neat right? It was necessary when we were nomades if a women died in childbirth and she was the only woman in the group then they would put smashed grapes on the males nipples let the baby root and latch on until the male started producing milk for his offspring. Ever wonder why men lose testosterone and their hormones change a little bit while their wives are pregnant? We are mammals and our offspring getting proper nutrition comes first and foremost over any uniform. It is illegal to tell a women that she can not breastfeed in public the country that she is fighting for is supposed to protect her too. If your child is hungry don’t make it wait because by the time you find a “private area” that baby might be in full swing crying it’s eyes out in hunger pains mode and then you are going to have a tough time feeding that baby that was just rooting or sucking on it’s fingers. Why would someone want their offspring in pain anyway isn’t that cruel imagine if you felt hungry and you had the stomach the size ping pong ball and you had to wait an extra half hour for your meal. I’m not for pumping and giving a baby a bottle either if you are breastfeeding then you are breastfeeding there should be no shame in doing something that is programmed in your DNA to do. By the way breastfeed is standard nutrition for our offspring try as the scientist might they just don’t have all the answers in a formula bottle. That and you don’t want a baby with nipple confusion because that baby will become a full time bottle feeder by three months and that is unfair to the mother and the baby just for some childish social stigma.That and the babies saliva determines the kind of milk it needs in that moment whether your baby is tired, sick or male or female a pump doesn’t usually have your babies saliva around the shield. The human body is fascinating and that infant should be breast fed into childhood until about 6 to 8 years old when the rooting reflex diminished and the immune system completes. Now I don’t care if you are choosing to breastfeed get donor milk from a breast bank or formula feed as long as the child is fed that is what matters. Because nobody should put each other down I am appalled at this woman this ‘Marine” in uniform protecting her country and at the same time not expect the same rights to respect and dignity back to her while she breastfeeds her child what a disgrace to our county and to women everywhere. You have the right to protect this country than you have the right be protected and to breastfeed in or out of uniform stand up for women and babies rights everywhere don’t tear them down.

  7. Rose says:

    As a military mom pregnant with my first I plan to breastfeed my baby while in uniform…but not in public. I’m not sure why there would be a need (or a desire) for military women to breastfeed in public while in uniform when their commands are required to provide a room (not the bathroom) for them to express milk in. In order to breastfeed, I’ll have to unbutton my blouse then untuck my t-shirt and lift it up…not something I plan to do out in the open (and I realize women of different services wear different uniforms so the logistics may be different). Either way I think if a woman does need to breastfeed while in uniform, she should use a plain (black/navy) nursing cover so that her undone uniform is not seen…but I personally have no desire to do that in the public eye. Oh and comparing breastfeeding to defecating in public is so over the top!

  8. Trace says:

    I can sort of understand with the Marine’s viewpoint a little, though I don’t necessarily agree with it. If having seen a woman nurse her baby somehow changes their opinion on her strength and whether she’s fit for command, then there’s some other underlying issue there; the nursing isn’t going to make them have some sudden epiphany that you’re not who and what they thought you were.

    If anything, I would think the epiphany (if they have one) is the sudden sledge-hammer to the forehead realization of what exactly it is they’re fighting for; why exactly it is that they’re out there risking it all to begin with.

    Because, I don’t know of a single soldier who signed up because he had some kind of undying love for the politics behind it all. Nor do I know of one whose idea of a good time is traveling 6,000 miles from home under cover of darkness to land in an unfamiliar country where everything right down to the insects seems to want him dead for coming.

    The soldiers I know (including my husband) are putting their lives on the line for their family and friends. They’re not fighting for a political ideal, or a cause, they’re fighting in memory of their child’s first thin, warbling cry; they’re fighting for the wife who was brave enough to say “I do” knowing the stresses she was agreeing to as a military wife and having to let him go sometimes; they’re fighting for their families, and the families of their men.

    The current mission may not seem to be about the safety of their family on the face of it, but that’s the ideal they’re fighting to protect, that’s what gets them through it, when it’s dark and horrible and they don’t know if they’re going to make it home.

    Seeing someone nursing while in uniform shouldn’t lessen what a female soldier is doing, if anything, it should strengthen other soldiers’ resolve and remind them why they put on the uniform in the first place.

  9. audra says:

    I think it is a bit extreme to compare breastfeeding with defecating in public. Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing and very important in the nourishment of your child. I do see the point that a service woman may not want her associates or military personnel to see her breastfeeding, especially in uniform. While I see nothing “wrong” with it, it is a personal choice and we should respect the choice made by each individual regardless of weather or not the person is in uniform. Also, if you have regulations about such things then you should follow them. I am sure the regulations were there and known ahead time. I am not criticizing, just saying these women made an informed choice and should honor whatever regulations are in place.

  10. Adriana says:

    As a mother and Navy sailor I have to point out what I noticed other servicewomen have already touched on. The military isn’t saying that it’s not ok to breastfeed your children, they are saying that there is NO reason for a servicewoman to nurse in public view of her fellow shipmates/comrades. I believe all branches of the military( I know the navy does for sure) have an instruction on how breastfeeding protocol will be met at the digression of the command. My command has provided me with a room to go nurse/express, not a bathroom or locker room, as per the instruction.
    I’m a total advocate for breastfeeding, even in the military but the standards are clear. They may be made and enforced by our male counterparts, but the military is a uniform “job”, man or woman you are subject to the same standards as everyone else. Only a woman who wears the uniform, and respects the very fact that she earned all the ranks and ribbons that she wears upon that uniform by standing equal with her brothers will agree. We may not all be cut of the same cloth, but in the military, we all have to wear and maintain the same cloth.

  11. Haley says:

    Please don’t take this as an insult, because it really is not. But, if it came down to it, I’d rather respect my baby and give it breast milk, than respect a uniform any day. No, I’m not in the army, i never have been, so.. i may not exactly understand, but I do understand that I feel like a woman’s’ offspring is more important than her country.

  12. Mariely says:

    I am a veteran, I see nothing wrong for a women in uniform to breastfeed. That’s just so ignorant, regardless in uniform not, your child comes first. If its time for a feeding and you weren’t able to pump enough ahead of time, there should be no problem. If your fellow soldiers don’t respect because of something so silly then that, then they have never respected you before. You are always a soldier regardless. But breastfeeding should never be problem, wether in uniform or not. Ppl till this day still have trouble with women who breastfeed in public. I commend women who do, I have myself as long as your covered up. I’m for breastfeeding, in uniform or not! Proud veteran and a mother of 2 soon to be 3!!

  13. essence says:

    wow this is quite amazing to me, i have never seved and i thank those who have, But really we fight for the right that we are granted in this country but it it taboo to breastfeed a child in public, To me I comdend her for doing so in unform and all. Is it not our childern we fight for and there future so why not support the most natrual way to feed our child. I dont think it would have mad a difernce in civilan attire, it just the stingma most peopl have with “poping a breast out” to feed our babies has we americans become so vain that nature now disgraces us. I hope not

  14. Judy says:

    First of all, if you are a civilian and commenting on anything relating to the military, then you just need to excuse yourself out of the conversation for many reasons. No one who has not worn the uniform understands the symbolism behind wearing it and you never will. It is not even ok to hang a pen from the front pockets of the uniform. What makes anybody any more special as to be able to disgrace the uniform by hanging your breasts out of the uniform in public? It’s not a matter of being too “feministic” or “equal rights” or “women’s rights”. It is about respecting the same uniform that every single service member before you, since the Revolutionary War fought and died in. You are wearing that same uniform. If you cant respect that, if you cant understand it, then you dont need to wear the uniform. I totally respect a woman’s right to breastfeed, but that doesn’t entitle her to disrespect something that is held so dear to so many service members just because she wants people to respect her right.

  15. Julie says:

    Well isn’t the baby a little solider? Put him in uniform and let each individual mother in the military choose! I mean that’s like telling a man to sit down and pee because were at the ball! And its a women thing! I commend any women in the military!

  16. Cait says:

    I think that there is nothing stronger than a mom maintain her work and taking care of her child.

  17. TaKeisha says:

    I don’t see what the problem is. I would not breastfeed in public. That is totally up to the nursing mothers who are breastfeeding if she decides to do so in public or not. Besides it doesn’t make you less of a marine or any other military service woman!

  18. Ashley says:

    I think its OK to feed your baby in public just have a blanket over u and its nothing wrong being in uniform doing it!!!!!!! If you have a problem don’t F looking!

  19. Shorts says:

    I personally wouldn’t breastfeed in public anyways. No one needs to see my boobs…???

  20. Lynette says:

    I don’t believe that its disgraceful or anything of the sorts. You are a mother and you do what a a mother does.

  21. Kat says:

    Being in uniform an breastfeeding is not disgraceful… breastfeeding is a natural thing

  22. Danielle says:

    If breastfeeding publicly was the norm I would have breastfed longer… If it was more socially accepted I really think more mommas would breastfeed. What better woman than our service woman to make something socially acceptable? I salute them. There are immature men no matter where you go. If they can’t look at you without sexualizing you when you give orders or can’t focus then maybe the military is not the place for them. Hell the military is changing anyways (stress cards etc,uniforms)

  23. Diamond says:

    The problem that I find with a lot of people comments and just the general approach to this issue is the idea that a “man” is the ideal level to measure up to. Some of you are saying that next to a man, a female soldier breastfeeding in her uniform is not equal? The problem with this notion of equality is using the man as the model and measuring everything to the standards of a “man”. Equality should be about reasonable accommodation for all, considering all roles and duties, including that of a soldier who happens to be a mom.

  24. maggy says:

    Uniform Or Not.. I Would Not Eat a Meal In A Public Bathroom. I Do Cover MySelf While Breastfeeding In Public, But I Do Think It Is Horrible That WoMen Have Been Made To Feel As If Feeding Their Child The Way The Human Body Was Designed To Is Like Committing Some Type OF Crime. When You Have Children, Their Needs Are What Comes First Whether In The Middle Of Walmart, At Home, Or At Work.

  25. Elizabeth says:

    I am a breastfeeding mom and I do breastfeed in public. I was raised by a military mom. I understand that there are traditions but those same traditions are what kept woman out of it for so long. If your fellow soldiers see you feeding your child and have issues respecting you afterward, their lack of respect for mothers is the issue not your breastfeeding. If the are watching your breast afterward then that is the issue, odds are they did it before hand. The military still has a long way to go in accepting women as equals and realizing that they are in fact women. Women have babies and women breastfeed. Doing it in uniform isn’t an issue they should encourage them to breastfeed and it isn’t always convenient to go hide when you do. And to the comment about urinating or defecating in uniform. I find it hard to believe that the military requires a change of attire to use the latrine.

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